Debora Szpilman’s gossamer illustrations are like a song – full of organic rhythm
We chat to the Brazilian illustrator about her signature delicate line work and a recent commission for Norwegian cheese company Stavanger Ysteri.
- Ruby Boddington
- 19 May 2021
From a young age, Debora Szpilman has used illustration as a remedial and very much internal tool. For a long time, it was an add-on to her career in architecture and then in fashion – “my ideas always stood out through illustrations, and that’s where I got the most satisfaction from,” she explains. Born in Vitoria and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Debora moved to Paris in 2013 where she still resides. It was while working for a prominent fashion designer in the French capital that she began to feel “suffocated” and “started to put all my feelings on paper through poetry and illustrations. It was an immediate feeling of relief.” Having always drawn, it was only then that she turned to illustration as a full-time career.
Today, it’s clear Debora made the right decision to switch paths as she’s absorbed by her chosen medium. “I can spend hours studying the different possibilities of compositions, researching the theme, and finding solutions for how to represent them… it’s like being in a trance,” she tells us. She continues that she finds “great freedom in illustration” and favours how it allows her to create things that don’t exist and explore multiple subjects at the same time.
When working on a new brief, Debora usually spends a significant amount of time studying her subject “and the ideas come to me in unexpected ways”. She’s also always got one eye open when “watching a movie, listening to music, putting my daughter to sleep” for any further unforeseen inspirations. “There are illustrations that take time to mature and others that are born almost ready,” she adds. “When the euphoria of a project delivery has passed, there’s always melancholy, like a small death, and then the spiral starts again.”
Debora’s portfolio has a delicacy to it. She utilises a combination of detailed line work and soft washes of colour and we found ourselves particularly drawn to her monochromatic work for its unique gossamer qualities. Interestingly, Debora explains this style is born from her trying to “create a rhythm that has an organic and fluid aspect. A kind of movement, almost like a song or a dance”. When it comes to her characters, she often depicts them with their eyes closed because “there is a feeling of hope, a desire to surrender when we close our eyes,” which “reflects an emotional state of mine today. I often say that I have already died a few times and each time I renew myself. This certainly has an impact on my type of visual language.”
She employed this approach on a recent commission for Stavanger Ysteri, a Norwegian artisanal cheese company run by Lise Brunborg. Lise’s cheeses are used by the best restaurants in Norway and she employed Olssøn Barbieri to revamp the company’s identity who, in turn, brought on Debora to create the illustrations. She visualised characters for three kinds of cheese: Fønix, Pan and Konrad, incorporating the stories behind their names into the designs. For example, Fønix (Lise’s star blue cheese and the first she ever made – it has a dish of its own at three Michelin star restaurant Maaemo) is named after the Phoenix so Debora interpreted the mythological icon while ensuring it remained recognisable.
On the stickers for Konrad and Pan, Debora drew figures which pull on her love of classical painting styles but “with a twist of modernity that has been my big obsession.” Other illustrations were used to nod to Lise’s methodology and background. On smaller stickers, for example, appears a tree stump that, according to Olsson Barbieri’s website, “is a symbol of Lise’s connection to the community of Stavanger — being rooted in the city, as well as being part of the new ‘sprouting’ food scene”. Overall, Debora’s distinctive drawings add narrative and character to Stavanger Ysteri’s identity, “all of them working the balance between full and empty through the insinuation of textures, bringing them all together in this atmosphere of tenderness,” she says.
Of late, Debora has been working on how she can broaden her visual vocabulary, delving into “how colours can be part of my universe”. Importantly though, she concludes, her focus will always be on how she can make her lines dance, so we can expect more beautifully intricate drawings from Debora in the future.
Debora Szpilman: Pan, Stavanger Ysteri (Copyright © Olssøn Barbieri, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.