Virginia Gabrielli on leaving the viewer “as free as possible” as an editorial illustrator

Falling in love with illustration after an Erasmus year in Falmouth, Virginia is becoming a master of illustrative interpretation.

29 March 2021


Working largely as an editorial illustrator, Milan-based Virginia Gabrielli says it’s often her job to not give too much away. Whether her piece sits beside a long read in The New Yorker or The Atlantic, “I hope that my images can visually support a better understanding of the text,” she says, “but, at the same time, I also wish they can suggest something more.”

With this in mind, Virginia’s pieces often act like a standalone artwork interpreting themes, details or even just the feeling a piece evokes. Rather than directly referencing words or figures, her work acts like a beautifully still trailer for the piece. “I don’t want to direct too much interpretation to the viewer,” she adds. “It’s like when, before reading a novel, you watch the movie and that completely ruins the interpretation of the characters. Once you read the text you will not be able to imagine any characters other than the actors in the film. I guess it’s the same thing,” ponders the illustrator. “I prefer that other elements speak and give emotions, such as colours and shapes, leaving the viewer as free as possible.”

To reach this ideal equilibrium of illustrative interpretation, Virginia has navigated through several different disciplines before getting settled. Always a keen drawer – “I know that it’s trivial to say (everybody does) but I’ve always drawn as long as I can remember” – Virginia grew up inspired by her mother, an interior designer, and her sister, who is more involved in cinema and art. Deciding to first study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, drawing still ran alongside her painting practice, coming to the forefront during an Erasmus year at Falmouth University, “where I discovered and fell in love with illustration,” she explains. Never before considering the medium as a career path as “in Venice it was not so much around, but the British scene was really vibrant,” Virginia then switched course to further her study specifically in illustration at the ISIA in Urbino.


Virginia Gabrielli: “How seniors can prepare for a “Twindemic” for Re:think (Copyright © The Atlantic, 2021)

Here learning about the publishing world as well as graphic design, today Virginia’s work displays an ability to be a distinct visual communicator. Her time painting, and a newer-found love for animation, all sit beside her illustrative practice informing it “even if it is not immediately recognisable,” she adds. One way a viewer may be able to spot these outside influences however is Virginia’s ability to display texture, even in a digital setting.

Currently her practice is entirely digital and the only constant consideration is an attention to colour – a habit passed on from her analogue days of being obsessed with coloured pencils. Curating a palette from whatever inspires her that day (“from music, photography, cinema and design”), Virginia will begin by considering the dynamism of shapes. Taking care in deciding proportion and the weight an object adds to the image, materiality then begins to take hold. Light, for instance, dips in and out of her works like its own character representing hope or excitement. Airbrushed-like edges also add personality across in-depth backgrounds she sketches out. The result are pieces that lift off screen, a purposeful approach as we’re “daily bombarded with flat images on the screen of our devices,” she explains.

Working daily on her editorial commissions, Virginia has found that the fast-paced, brief-driven nature of the process is best for her to develop ideas, especially if “I don’t have time for the luxury of doubting, and that always helps me focusing the attention on what I’m doing,” she adds. That said, the illustrator is currently developing a children’s book “that I’ve had in my drawer for a few years,” and looking to get back into animation. Hoping to build on her film, Shape of A Moving Idea from 2018, in which Virginia asks creatives to reflect on the artistic practice, she hopes to revisit animation with her newly developed style. With her growing knack for materiality continuing to develop, we look forward to seeing Virginia’s artistic license moving from just a sneak peek of an article into her own fully fledged narrative.


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Virginia Gabrielli: “Countdown to a Coronavirus Vaccine” for The New Yorker (Copyright © The New Yorker, 2021)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.

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