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Upon encountering Isabella Cotier’s studio, your imagination is left to wander. On her desk, a moodboard – slightly bent as a result of all the many items – sits upright. A collection of postcards from her travels, catalogue images from visits to the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection, as well as tear-outs from her favourite art magazines decorate the walls. Constant and ever-growing reminders of all the things she loves. 

Scattered all around her desk in all shapes and sizes are hundreds of notebooks. Tangible depictions of her inspirations which allow visitors (like myself) to enter her world. A world that consists of impulsive and unrestricted drawings. Drawings of people, objects and spaces that inspire Isabella. Her recent collaboration with Gucci honours a series of Florentine characters, who through their eccentric personalities remind us to stay true to ourselves. We join her in her East London studio to uncover her story.

Perhaps, to begin with, you could introduce yourself to our readers, and talk a bit about your background.
I was born in London but grew up in Florence. Since I can remember, drawing is something I have always done. When I was at school, I struggled to keep up with the academic system and it was here that I discovered drawing was my escape. After graduating high school from Florence, I moved back to London and went on to study Pattern Cutting at the London College of Fashion.
During my first year, a tutor saw one of my sketchbooks of drawings and suggested I transfer to an Illustration degree. Although I had always been discouraged to do illustration as a career, I nevertheless decided to go ahead and completed a BA degree in Illustration. I worked freelance throughout my degree and have been working as an illustrator ever since.
Why drawing?
I suppose what I love about drawing is its immediateness. There is something very ‘old school’ and organic about it. I have always been really attracted to the simplicity of pen to paper. The line of a drawing can be unrestricted and free – I find this very appealing.
The word 'illustration' is thrown around quite a bit, yet many of us don’t actually know what it means. In your own words, what is illustration?
I think the word illustration has developed very commercial connotations. From my experience, when you say to people that you are an illustrator, most presume you draw teddy bears. I think it’s quite simply another word for 'drawing'. I see illustrators being purely commercial, but then I also see a new type of illustrator emerging, one who bends the rules of what this title can express and represent. David Shrigley is an example, as he has swerved into the fine art lane with his massive thumbs up sculpture in Trafalgar Square. An illustrator now can be so many things: ceramicist, printmaker, designer, etc.

How would you describe the aesthetic of your work?
It's really hard to describe your own work. I'm not sure that I even have one specific technique or style as I am constantly experimenting and interested in seeing where the drawings I produce can be taken. I suppose a common theme I try to achieve with my drawings is that of not feeling restricted. Looseness and immediateness; trying to emulate the energy or mood of a person is an ongoing interest. I want my drawings to be impulsive, honest and energetic.
Has your aesthetic always been like this, or has it developed over time?
It has developed over time. When I first started to work professionally, my drawings were quite rigid and stiff. It drove me crazy. I was stressed and it was apparent in the work. I decided to step back from my computer screen (which used to be my go-to for reference images) and totally focus on live drawing. If I wanted to draw a cat, instead of typing 'cat' into google images, I would literally go out and find a cat to draw from life. It was this that eventually led me to discover one of my favourite sources of inspiration: drawing everyday people going about their business on the street.
I also worked on a two-year project that involved inviting strangers from the street, as well as friends, to come sit for me in the studio. This allowed me to study further the human form, which in return helped me to realise how to capture and draw these characters I would see for a split of a second in the street.
Who are your inspirations?
There are so many different artists I am always looking at. I love modern painters like Chantal Joffe and Sanya Kantarovsky, as well as the classics like Botticelli and El Greco. I also am constantly drawn to Cezanne and Soutine's series of Chef portraits.

Who and what become your subjects?
It's always changing! New things are constantly catching my eye, but I suppose a recurring theme in my drawings is people going about their everyday lives. We are so exposed to the filtered lives that look perfect on social media, that seeing real people doing ordinary things is simply satisfying!
Do you feel that the drawings created for a client vary to those you capture personally? If so how, and why?
It depends on the client and the brief. Yes, mostly, the drawings will be similar to the ones I capture personally. I think the more freedom and trust you’re given by the client, the better the work will be.
As you explained, you grew up in Florence, yet studied in London. Do you find one of these two cities lives within the aesthetic of your work?
Both cities are a constant source of inspiration. Florence gives me this appreciation of details, rich colour and a love for all things classic. Whereas London is my go-to for all things modern, and bold in colour. The general ‘go-go’ atmosphere of the city I find really gets me moving and drawing, whereas Florence’s ‘go-with-the-flow’ culture reminds me to stop and absorb the surroundings.

What examples of collaborations have you done in the past? Is there a series of works that you would consider as your favourite?
I have really loved working with Gucci. It was an incredible opportunity to have a personal project be turned into a collaboration with such a fantastic brand and, of course, to then have it shown in Florence. This was a very special moment for me.
Could you tell us more about this project with Gucci?
I have been working on a series of drawings of the local eccentric characters of Florence. I was planning on exhibiting the drawings in a small cafe in Santo Spirito. I was lucky enough that Alessandro Michele was shown this project via social media, and then I got a call asking if I would like to collaborate. It was very exciting!
What were you trying to evoke through the illustrations of these characters? Who are they? What is their story? Why did you choose them?
We live in such a youth-obsessed culture, I wanted to turn the attention on these wonderful older eccentrics. There is something so refreshingly unselfconscious about them. They aren't worried about instagramming their outfits to social media, and simply get up in the morning to be and dress as exactly who they want to be. I love this.

Do you have a favourite character?
Flora, the retired ballerina, is the character that inspired the series.
With so many creatives within the industry, there is mass competition, and I find many artists struggle to persevere. Could you maybe share some words of wisdom?
As everyone is so different and work in many different ways, it would be hard to advise. What works for me won't necessarily work for everyone. I suppose constantly visiting exhibitions is important, as much as continuing to learn and push yourself out of your comfort zones. There are so many incredible exhibitions constantly in London. I find very helpful seeing works in the flesh. Also, pushing yourself to continue learning. You can never know enough about what you do. For example, I am always pushing myself to go to different live drawing classes or to do different short courses.
Four rules you live by?
Don’t overthink. Enjoy and have fun with what you do. Take risks. Operate from a place of hope, not fear.
Should we keep an eye out for you in anything else? Do you have any interesting projects coming up?
Yes, I have lots of new work coming out. Watch this space! A personal project I am looking forward to would be a small show I have planned in Florence. I will be exhibiting a series of drawings that explore the idea of imagination. In the screen-obsessed world we live in, I am curious to explore what the word ‘imagination’ means today using drawings.

Words
Jasmine Boni-Ball
Portrait
Stewart Bywater

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