ELISA VENDRAMIN is an Italian illustrator and graphic designer living and working in Reykjavik, Iceland. Despite the stark contrast between Iceland’s hostile weather conditions and the hot summers of her native Italy, it’s easy to see from Elisa’s work that she draws heavily upon Iceland’s rugged, wintery landscapes as a source of inspiration for her intricate illustrations. Elisa explains the ideas behind her design aesthetic and what life is like as a creative spirit in Iceland’s capital.

“I’d been living in London for three years before moving to Iceland. After spending a few months in Iceland in summer 2011 as artist in residency at SIM, I realised I needed a change of scenario. I wanted to live in a place where I could find more time for myself and explore my connection to nature; in a way, being more spiritual in my everyday life. Iceland also felt like where I could rediscover a bit of magic in things. Obviously, at that time I kind of underestimated the length and the harshness of the winter, but I’m still very happy...

“I’m fascinated by Nordic landscapes and Scandinavian design, which are clearly extremely connected. Since my Masters I’ve started researching Icelandic morphology and using it as a visual reference. There are many aspects of it, which inspire my design; the contrast of colours, the sharpness of the edges, and particularly the way the water and the light interact with each other. The absence of trees, the transparency of the air and the lack of human traces in the view make the horizon so sharp and close.

“Icelandic people are very good-hearted and trustworthy, and as an Italian person I’m always struck when I find those qualities. At the same time they are extremely passionate, a bit hyperactive, yes, but always enthusiastic and open to new adventures. I must admit that I have met amazing people here: great friends, brilliant artists and musicians, explorers and crazy scientists.

“In Iceland, musicians, designers, artists are constantly influencing each other, mixing disciplines and skills, and being creative is just part of your everyday life. People still do a lot of things just because they enjoy it, and it kind of seems like it’s easier to make things happen here. While in Italy there’s a very different attitude at the moment, possibly the opposite.

“My family started understanding what I do just recently, since I’ve been doing more work in Italy that they can relate to – especially the poster for my hometown folklore festival, Sagra dei Osei, at its 738° year. When I graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2010, my mum actually told everyone I was graduating in architecture, because apparently ‘graphic design and illustration’ was too much of an obscure profession that no one would have understood what I was actually doing. In a way I can see why they’re perplexed; I myself find it hard to put my work into a specific category since I enjoy to challenge myself with ‘out of my comfort zone’ briefs.

“My way of illustrating is quite personal and distinctive, the commissions I get generally employ a lot of freedom and authorship, as well as trust from the client. I enjoy this kind of brief the most, where I can be extremely free in my design process and the outcome is totally unpredictable for myself too.

“Stories are the biggest source of inspiration for me. The stories I love come from very random moments and they are equally important to me; there’s no hierarchy, no logic to it. Illustrated books, the lyric of a song, scenes from a Gondry’s movie. I often invent my own stories too, out of old memories of mine mixed with ones found in a photograph and a title. Since the illustration process is very physical, hardly intellectual, I often use these found materials to generate my own narration and encapsulate it into one single illustration.

“Many things are changing for me at the moment; I’m getting more work and exciting collaborations. So in a way I’m waiting for something to happen to me and drag me to my new place, physically and symbolically. I’d like to explore new cities, move for a bit, maybe outside of Europe.

“I often define what I do as image-making, because illustrators don’t always acknowledge my work as it’s not figurative enough. My visual is definitely a language to me, a vocabulary; I can somehow show things that are already in my head to others as well as to myself as well. So in a way, making illustrations is a process of discovery, of escaping and travelling. It is a form of expressing and sharing at the same time. In that sense, it’s definitely related to way I see the world."

Keep an eye out for a display of Elisa’s incredible ‘image-making’ talents in the first ever print edition of Slanted Mansion. Details coming soon…

Interview: Siobhan Frost
Writer and editor: Cleo Andrews

Illustration by Elisa VendraminIllustration by Elisa Vendramin