The mind of an illustrator is an immersed and fervent mind, picking at life’s inspirations to recreate the better half; retelling stories to feed our curiosities. It’s as if there’s a switch — “ON” for bold, buoyant, beautiful thoughts — and in sync with their hands, the illustrator’s wits lets loose on the paper. Artist Margherita Urbani’s switch is forever flipped up.
After leaving pasta for hoagies (never mind an instilled culture and language) in 2008, the Italy-to-Philly transplant boasts dual creative authority, applying two cultural eyes to the experiences she regenerates. Urbani creates with immeasurable openness, observing with eyes, heart and a foreign awareness, as seen in her comic book sketches and graphic design. Her illustrations are candid, streaked with whimsical sincerity, visually partial to the quality and appeal of her artisanal roots, but styled to match her now-metropolis energy.
Charged with talent, Urbani works her hands into numerous projects involving comics, graphic design, short animated films and zines. She ought to wear a bedazzled nametag reading “avid collaborator” with an imposing slew of co-created pieces (lookie: her latest Amadeus collaboration!) in an equally imposing range of mediums. All in all, Margherita Urbani embodies the inspiring and virtuous vibes that we feel for, and we’re happy to introduce her to you all as our talented friend.
Give us the Margherita Urbani spiel. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?
I’m an illustrator and graphic designer originally from Udine, in the North East corner of Italy. I share my studio (and life) with graphic artist Andy Rementer. We collaborate together but we also work independently on personal projects. I love making zines, comics, and I’m always drawn to typography.
When did you start making art seriously? What was the driving force behind that?
I’ve always sketched ideas and drawings, and it naturally evolved into more developed projects. After graduating and working professionally I started creating personal work on the side, and I still am. Being in a busy city environment is very stimulating and somehow pushes me forward.
What types of inspirations do you draw from your small hometown? I can’t imagine the arts scene was very big there.
There is no art scene where I’m from. But the sense of aesthetics, architecture, and respect for art is ingrained in the people. You can’t escape thousands of years of art, even if you’re not necessarily creative. Studying at the University in Venice exposed me to an international environment that I was craving for. From my hometown, and Italy in general, I love the artisanal quality of things, from food to fashion, the nostalgia for the past, and the centuries-old typography.
What made you relocate to Philly? After being there since 2008, can you speak to the creative culture of Philly?
It all started with a relationship, but of course that implied work related choices, and more than that. It’s very hard to leave your family, language and country behind, but you eventually learn how to deal with it.
Everyone here has a creative endeavor on the side, and that is really motivating for me. It’s also impressive to see how many design schools the city offers.
Has your work always lent itself well to editorial illustrations? Was that a conscious decision?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just naturally happened. I always admired the printed world, so it was natural for me to work keeping that in mind.
What is your creative process like? Any habits or oddities while you’re in your working space?
There’s always a first idea, which is almost a gut feeling. In addition I do research, collect inspiration, and pan out many ideas. Some concepts can end up not working when translated visually, and sometimes this makes you start over. Sometimes though that very first idea is the strongest and you end up with it. It’s reassuring when that happens.
Coffee is a staple, wherever I am. I also work better at night than in the morning, making the coffee affair a vicious cycle.
Where do you look for inspiration? What/where/who/why is currently inspiring you?
Vintage books and printed materials are definitely my go-to source. Of course I spend a lot of time online too, but I’d pick a dusty book over a blog. Traveling is also very important for me, especially going somewhere with a lot of history. This is why I’m always looking for antique bookstores abroad.
What: my good illustrator friend Alex Purdy recently showed me “The Art of Living” by Saul Steinberg. I became immediately obsessed with it and bought a copy right away.
Who: Maira Kalman, Esther Pearl Watson, Margaret Kilgallen, Olimpia Zagnoli.
Why: I can’t imagine doing anything else but this.
Very cool video collaborations. What’s it like illustrating for motion versus your normal stills?
Illustrating for motion makes you consider more things at the same time. The storytelling is also based on the timing, the transitions, the animation style itself. It’s more challenging than just making an illustration, but also very fulfilling.
What’s been your favorite project as of recently?
Painting a mural this summer was a lot of fun. I enjoyed working outdoors on a large scale. And of course, drawing free-hand is always a treat. Recently it was a honor to be part of the show Tan Lines 2 in Chicago among other very talented illustrators I admire.
Any upcoming projects, either solo or collaborative?
For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a comic with Andy Rementer for Apartamento Magazine. The next chapter will be out soon, and every time I can’t wait to see it printed. I’m also working on a series of typographic posters for the beginning on next year. Stay tuned.
What’s your favorite place in Philly to get a hoagie? Perfect Philly summer day?
Believe it or not I’m not a hoagie person. But I would recommend the Reading Terminal Market for some good fresh food, and endless people-watching.
The perfect summer day here is somewhere on the beach. Try Cape May, New Jersey: it’s the best.