There’s a Japanese philosophy called wabi-sabi (you may have heard of it). In traditional Japanese aesthetics, it’s a world view centred on transience and imperfection. In other words, appreciating the beauty of something that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It’s a way of thinking that makes a lot of sense to the Brazilian illustrator and artist Raysa Fontana who tells us, “I’ve been trying to translate this concept into my drawings (my bad if I’m perverting wabi-sabi here) but it explains what I’m trying to say beautifully.”
Her colourful illustrations are a mix of children’s book nostalgia and retro magazine covers, not to mention a smidge of the vintage Japanese art form of Kimchi Okatamoto. Raysa herself admits these influences are evident in the work. But it wasn’t always illustration that occupied her creative hands. She recalls her first dabbling in the arts when, as child, Raysa came up with the spontaneous idea to prepare a romantic dinner for her parents. “I wanted them to feel somewhere else besides our standard 90s apartment,” she explains, so she dug out the finest China, hid as much furniture as she could under her parents bed and attempted a spectacular installation.
Fast forward a few years, she found herself in the role of art director working predominantly with photography. It was a career she was happy enough to facilitate, until “the pressure to conciliate my creative side with life’s money struggles forced me into the ‘pictures of newborns in watermelon baskets’ market. So with her wife’s encouragement, the couple moved out to the countryside, where they still reside. There, Raysa came into her own creatively. They found themselves a 120 year old house to turn into a shared studio, used it to host bands, cook, film, photography, sketch, paint and more. “Most of the time,” she says of this idyllic hub, “it was us, the horses, the creatures and the woods.”
To balance this nature-centred existence, at night, Raysa and her wife enjoyed long marathons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show the illustrator credits as “a key element in developing my confidence in who I am and what I create.” And with this newfound confidence, we find ourselves up to date in Raysa’s story, pretty near the beginning of this new illustrative path. In fact, she’s just recently begun to share her work. She’s developed much of this work using an intuitive process. First, picturing an emotion or idea that resonates with her and capturing it as best as possible in a harmonious composition. “I’m usually so unconscious when drawing, I hardly ever consider the technique behind it,” she adds. And, like most new ventures, there is a lot of trial and error.
Ideas tend to pop into her head at any moment. Raysa could be in the depths of cooking, watching a movie, or out in nature when an idea for a new illustration comes to her. Luckily, she’s learned to deal with this randomness, grabbing anything she can to sketch or write down the plan. In her phone’s notes for example, you can find a bunch of phrases like “queen of spider/spiderweb/staff/veil” which then inform Raysa’s doodles which she confesses are everywhere due to their habitual frequency.
Recently, she’s been working on a series of quarantine illustrations, about people in windows. The initial idea was in response to that “how are you feeling today” meme but as the process continued, Raysa soon forgot about the meme and became more interested in the transient emotions evoked from it. “You wake up feeling one way, you read some news, it shifts your mood, suddenly you feel like changing the world and a few minutes later you want to die,” she gives as an example. “It’s important to normalise this rapid transience of feelings,” she adds, and in this way, her illustrations express exactly that.
For Raysa, drawing is like a journal, a documentation, message or expression of candour. She hopes to continue developing these notions through her work, at the same time, creating stuff with her multi-talented wife who writes beautiful songs and builds guitars. “We've been longing to release our pet project called as ‘meninas’ (which translates to ‘the girls’ as that's how people refer to us)” Raysa finally goes on to say. “It will be a compilation of things we create together: Stop motion short films, children's books and almost-gigantic concrete sculptures are to be expected.” So with that in mind, there’s lots to look forward to from their corner of the world in the Brazilian woods, and we can’t wait.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.