Intro by Shanon Weltman / Interview by Ray Jones
Do you love beautiful hair? Long beautiful hair; shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen. Unless you’re a hair stylist, Gina Schiappacasse probably loves hair more than you and you can tell from her fluidly ethereal illustrations. It’s a wonderful thing when a traditional fashion illustrator breaks the mold, while still maintaining that academic figurative structure. It’s like a photographer telling a model to “do you, be natural” instead of “be bolder, sexier, dahling” or “give me a roar”. We were lucky to showcase Gina in our art exhibition “Tooth & Claw” on Saturday 10/12/13 at The Living Gallery. We reached out to her because we’re big fans of her hair illustrations, but we ended up ironically showing one of her only hair-less illustrations, “Crystallized”. Sit back and read Ray Jones’ interview with the chameleon tressed artist.
RAY JONES: Who are your inspirations?
GINA SCHIAPPACASSE: It’s very broad, I guess. Because I studied fashion design, some of it is designers. I love Alexander McQueen. He’s very different from any other designer because he really has a complete vision, or he did have a complete vision about what he was doing. And it was more than just clothing, it was an idea or concept. I thought that was beautiful. I also really love a couple of fashion illustrators. I love Laura Lane, she’s incredible. She does all pencil, very tiny, all 8.5 x 11 on paper, just gorgeous. There’s so much movement in it, which I find completely inspiring as a fashion illustrator, because so many fashion illustrators are very boxed in to drawing things in a formula system. They don’t really think of it as a broader medium or idea you can experiment with. There are definitely some that are great at that, but not all. I love Danny Roberts, mostly because he’s a self-made fashion illustrator who just started a blog and people started paying attention to his work. He’s actually the reason why I started my own blog and started posting my stuff online.
RJ: You mentioned a lot of people that I’m unfamiliar with, I don’t really know the fashion illustration world.
GS: [Laughs] Yeah it’s a small world. There’s probably like… 6? 8? people who make money full time doing it. Maybe more, but the ones that are very well known and get most of the work or have a very distinct style, the people recognize them easily.
RJ: How do you develop concepts for your work? And, what is the difference between your fashion illustration and your personal work?
GS: The best concept work I’ve done is usually more of a series and less of a one of. I do a lot of one off’s as they’re often based on fashion and photography images that I see and I like and I sort of replicate them with my own kind of style added in to it. Some of the best work I’ve done, I feel is more personal. It’s a very blurry line between my fashion illustration and my illustration. They’re almost kind of the same thing in some situations. I actually think they’re most successful when they are blurred line between the two. I feel like there are rarely fashion illustrators that cross over into a illustration realm, and it’s kind of a mix between art, illustration and fashion. I feel like the best concepts are when I give myself a deeper idea and try to interpret that on a visual level.
For example, I had one show, like years ago in a coffee shop. I just decided to do it, it was like I should try doing stuff that’s larger scale because I generally work small, 8.5 x 11, 11 x 14. I did really big, 20 x 30 something watercolors of women sort of suspended and completely nude, with my sort of signature flowing hair. The interesting thing about that is that it was based on a moment in time when I was a waitress and had just moved to this city and I was a fashion student. I felt so new to NY, I felt isolated in this little bubble.
RJ: What year was this?
GS: This is 2009, I think. Right as I was finishing school. And the women are all curled up in fetal position and hanging in the air. White backdrops, nothing interesting, just one little shadow beneath them to show that they’re suspended. The idea was that I felt like I was developing and cooking, like I was in a fetus state creatively and in my personal life– feeling like time was standing still and I was waiting for my life to happen and I was in this in between state: just moving to NY, developing my creative side, finishing school, figuring out what I wanted to do. It was like the incubation stage. It was really a successful project. I did 7 pieces, of the 7, 4 of them sold which was really cool for me. I hadn’t sold a lot of work at the time. I felt proud of that because it was very original, very conceptual for me. I should probably do more stuff like that. [Laughs]
RJ: Yeah, it feels pretty good right? [Laughs]
From Austin, With Love
RJ: How long have you been in NY and when did you realize you were “making it”?
GS: I’ve been here about 5 years and actually I really don’t feel like I’ve been “making it” until recently. I don’t know how you define that sometimes, but it started to feel like for the first time since I’ve been living here, I’m not scraping together, looking for work. People are coming to me and turning things on. There’s a lot of opportunities that I’m actually more excited about. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been paid solely as a creative and haven’t had to work a restaurant job or y’know, something on the side to pay the bills. It’s extremely fulfilling. It’s very nice to be able to pick and choose what you do. In your free time you don’t feel guilty, you don’t feel like you have to hustle all the time and try to find work. You feel like you can actually express yourself, developing your own personal projects and pursuing that.
RJ: Where do you work right now?
GS: I’m working full time at a company called “If You Knew”, it’s a hair products company actually. But it’s run by the guy who created Bumble and Bumble. He sold Bumble years ago to Estee Lauder and I think the non-compete clauses wore off, so now he’s developing a whole new product line. Non-toxic and eco-friendly and it’s all launching in the spring. I produce a weekly photo shoot for him and do hair transformations. We like, cast people, cut and color their hair, free of charge and take photos, documenting the transformation. I also do all of their social media as well. It’s kind of a multi-faceted job that is very exhausting, but it’s very cool. It’s my first real professional job where I have actual responsibility, but it’s a lot of things that I like. Social media, being on set with people because there’s all this creative energy from lots of different people that kind of share in that energy. It’s weird because it’s not really fashion related, it’s not really art related.
I was explaining this to my boss the other day, it’s kind of hilarious because I remember when I was a little kid we had a terrible school system for art classes. In my high school there was probably 3 high school classes they offered. Drawing I & II, and Ceramics I & II, and they had crafts or handwork. It was very limited. Growing up my Mom would pay for me to go to these classes at an external school that was all these young twenty-somethings that got their arts degrees and were teaching little kids how to draw. She would let me go to these classes. I had this really sweet teacher that used to tease me all the time. He would be like, “You know Gina… if I could get you to draw anything half as well as you drew hair, you’d be amazing. ” [Laughs] I find it hilarious that now I’m working for hair people, because I love drawing hair. It’s actually the reason why my boss first started talking to me. We had a conversation when I was a hair model once and then he went and checked out my artwork and he was like, “This is AMAZING. You’re so talented!” Then, apparently, somebody told me he’s very critical of like everything. At the time I was like, that’s a nice compliment, that he likes my artwork. And then, eventually I ended up getting a job out of it.
RJ: Whoa! That is really awesome.
RJ: What kind of clients have you worked with?
GS: Wow, all over the board. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently, and this is kind of annoying…it’s not very creative when you’re doing ad illustration. I’ve been doing a lot of the storyboarding work for ad agencies through an agency I work with, but it pays really well which is nice. It’s like drawing Chobani yogurt and storyboarding Downey ad’s, which is kind of… it feels like “Aw really, I have to draw this shit?” but then the cool thing about it is that as an Illustrator I probably wouldn’t choose to draw things like that. So, I’m challenged to do things out of my comfort zone. Which I really find appealing and now I have this great portfolio of random images. My other stuff has been kind of everything from like a silkscreen t-shirt collection with a friend of mine to some people asking me to do logo design. Though I don’t think they know the difference between Illustration and Design. They’re like “Oh, you must be able to design logos too!” I just finished a mural, that was cool.
RJ: Are those the pictures on your blog?
RJ: Those are great! Very big.
GS: Thank you! It was so weird for me too, I’m used to drawing so tiny, I had no idea how it was going to work and how it would translate. And it was crazy how natural it feels because it’s like the same movement but instead of using your wrist, you use your full arm, your full range of movement. It was really cool, and reminded me how much I love drawing on anything.
RJ: Would you do more work like that?
GS: Definitely, I loved it. It was really fun. I finished it in like 3 days too.
RJ: How did you come across those Downey ads?
GS: I had a little coffee shop show at Variety Coffee off the Graham stop (L), like two years ago. This guy saw it and he gave me a call, he works with this agency call Warsaw Blumenthal, and they’re not very big, they don’t have any named artists or anything, but they do all storyboarding work for ad agencies. He saw my work at Variety and he lived in the neighborhood. He called me and was like, “Hey, do you want to try this?” I’m like I’ve never done it, but I guess I could do that. [Laughs] It ended up being great! I got a lot of work the situation which has been cool.
RJ: Nice. So you just had to put yourself out there, pretty much?
GS: Yeah! Exactly.
RJ: Last question. Who do you relate to more, Bowie or Jagger?
GS: [Laughs] Oh, that’s kind of hard!
RJ: Is there a third option for you?
GS: I probably relate most to Bjork. Can I answer that way? If I had to choose between the two of them, it’d be Bowie, because he’s weirdly fashion eccentric. Which is probably why I like Bjork too. What she wears and her presentation on stage is almost more interesting than like her music. I love her music! But the costumes add like a whole other element of weirdness. The video project she did with MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, it’s like this very odd futuristic/ primitive video on like a green screen of her sitting in this pit of sand up to her waist. She has this crazy blue fluffy wig on and they did puppets that are like rock formations with human faces that were like cgi.. and there’s an exploding volcano at the end. It’s really cool! I like how weird she is. She’s so eccentric and always does good work.
RJ: Yeah, consistently weird for as long as I’ve heard her music. [Laughs]
GS: And yet she always reinvents herself a little bit. Like every album, I feel has a slightly different sound. I feel like she constantly gets better, the musicality is really amazing too. It’s not just weird for the sake of weird, it’s actually well done.