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Work / Illustration

Sebaldo’s airbrush-style is inspired by 90s bowling alley graphics and underwater worlds

Yorkshire-born, London-based illustrator Sebaldo recently entirely changed his style. Having previously concentrated mainly on animation – we featured his entirely felt-tip-pen-drawn short here – the time constraints weren’t letting him achieve the look nor emotions he wanted for his characters. So he decided to focus on illustration, and two life events had a major impact on his newly defined aesthetic.

“One was I acquired a Wacom pad from a friend – this changed my life because I had always been a purist, so hung up on doing things by hand in real life, which got in the way of my flow. Secondly, I always wanted to do the sort of airbrushing technique I saw in bowling alleys in the 90s but when I tried in Photoshop, my shapes were left with a horrible rough edge. One day I asked my studio brothers and they showed me a probably extremely obvious way to solve it, and I nearly started crying.”

Having previously worked on film sets, Sebaldo wanted to bring a story and realism to his work. “I worked on my shading, and thought about light a lot more, and my style really started to develop and excite me. I like to make people’s heads and eyes a lot bigger than they should be, so it’s easier to look into their souls.”

His subject matter draws influence from conflicting scenery – the sea, Yorkshire and Italy. “I used to spend a lot of time playing in rock pools and rivers as a child, imagining the worlds under the water. As a complete contrast to that, I also grew up in a small village in Yorkshire where I get a lot of my human characters from. There were a lot of strange characters in my town and people could make a story out of anything, and now that’s what I do.

“I always used to use the brightest colours I could, because I grew up in greyness so I had to try and escape it. My colours are also heavily influenced by the sea as that’s really where I’d like to live. Also, being from an Italian family, I’m absolutely obsessed with food, which shows up a lot in my work.”

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The illustrator cites Mathew Barney as having a big impact on his use of colour, and artist Paul McCarthy – “his characters were so flipping weird and gross, they really freaked me out but I liked it. I think that’s where I get my love of big heads from, and he used a lot of food too” – as well as Tobias Stretch and Diego Lazzarin.

Among his recent work, his favourite character is from a project called Jesus in the Toast, an aspect of ten designs he’s created as beach towels to release in summer 2018. Behind the comically macabre image is a story best told by Sebaldo himself. “When I was younger there seemed to be an obsession with finding Jesus’ face in food, especially toast, like it was a sign of hope. This character is so depressed and desperate, he takes his toaster to the bath to kill himself but as a last attempt to hold onto his life he starts to look for a sign in the toast in the form of Jesus’ face. He finds it, and all of a sudden he realises that if this could happen then anything is possible so he decides against killing himself. The toaster could have taken his life but in the end it saved it.

“I drew the character as the classic sort of 80s-90s manly man character who likes gambling, football and loads of ‘manly’ stuff. I felt as a child that I had to really try and live up to the idea of what a man should be and I definitely wasn’t that. Don’t show any emotions, don’t talk to anyone about your feelings and don’t laugh too much and if you do, do it in a menacing way. I think I have a tendency to draw men in vulnerable positions because I like showing them for who they really are.”

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