Though you’d never think it to look at her portfolio today, Paola Saliby never considered illustration as a career. “To be honest, I wasn’t aware that illustration could be a full time and serious profession,” she tells It’s Nice That. Paola grew up in a “mid-sized” city in Brazil, known for it “insanely hot weather and sugarcane farming” before moving to São Paolo in 2007 to go to university. The problem was, however, that a degree in illustration doesn’t really exist in Brazil and so, instead, she pursued fashion design.
She dabbled with illustration throughout her degree, “moved by the life drawing and illustration classes” she was taking, but it wasn’t until she graduated and found herself “working my ass off as a fashion designer for a Brazilian brand and feeling miserable,” that she seriously considered a switch up. “I had no idea how to start over and the transition was frightening and exciting at the same time,” she recalls.
A quick glance at Paola’s beautifully sensitive works and it’s clear the decision to move to illustration was the right one. Her works are centred around colour, and it’s something she employs to achieve the “dreamy atmosphere” of her imagery. “I’ve recently realised that in my personal work I rarely draw groups of people,” she details. “I think my characters are mostly experiencing solitude and it seems that they are all on a personal journey through their inner worlds.” This decision is Paola’s response to the world, which she feels is too fast-paced, remarking on how we often forget how precious silence and solitude is.
“There’s this beautiful word in the Portuguese language which is ‘saudade’ and it’s kind of impossible to translate to other languages, but it resembles the feeling of missing something or someone, sort of a nostalgic emotional state,” she continues. “It sounds a bit melancholic but to me, it’s more about memories and being in deep conversation with ourselves and what’s inside us – our fears, our dreams… I would say my illustrations carry a pinch of those feelings.”
It may have taken her a little longer to find her feet but now Paola is staunchly in love with her chosen medium. “I have a very busy mind and a tendency to overthink, so working with illustration allows me to be fully immersed in the experience of drawing without having to deal with too much information at the same time,” she explains. “I enjoy the synchrony between my hands, eyes, and mind when I’m drawing or painting. It’s a bit cliché to say this but it really resembles a meditative process. The privilege of experiencing silence or listening to some music while working is something that excites me about this medium.” Plus, she adds, “I’m amazed by how much can be hidden behind shapes, lines, colours.”
As a child, Paola wasn’t always found scribbling – a story we often hear from illustrators – and that reflects in her practice today. “I’m not an artist who draws all the time and my creative process involves a lot of observation, taking my time to process information and trusting my memory,” she says. What this allows her to do, however, is relieve some of the pressure of constantly needing to come up with new ideas or absorb everything happening around her. “Sometimes you just have to let the thought go and then maybe one day, you’ll find out it was actually floating inside your brain the whole time and you can bring it back to life through your practice,” she says. This approach is one she developed in order to relinquish some of the control over her work, instead, allowing narratives to develop gradually and organically.
In terms of the thematics of her work, Paola is largely guided by exploring concepts related to emotions, a direct response to her studies in psychoanalysis over the past three years. Reading is also a massive part of her practice, with Paola finding continual inspiration in literature. She, therefore, carves out time every day to simply read. “I often come up with ideas for my illustrations when I’m studying, reading or before going to bed,” she elaborates. “When a word, a sentence or an abstract idea sticks to my mind, I feel tempted to explore that concept visually.” In turn, her work is often concerned with the symbolic potential of the everyday.
To explain this further, Paolo points to several works of hers: The Romanticized Artist, Honeyland, The Flower and Sonia. While not part of a series, the images share the same atmosphere, in which colour and composition combine to create “a sort of magical mood.” In each, the characters are interacting with the natural world and so the works are very much about touch and sensibility, but they are quiet and meditative in their expression of these notions.
With so many other works we could delve into, Paola is one of those creatives whose portfolios just keep on giving. It takes time to dig through the layers of meaning in her illustrations and paintings but the pay off is worth it. Paola’s works leaves you feeling more positive about the world. Through delicate colour palettes and quiet compositions, she provides a moment of calm and reflection, which is no mean feat in our modern world.
Paola Saliby: Flor (Copyright © Paola Saliby, 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.