Interview: Serena Schinaia

I always only use black India ink, ruined brushes, toothbrushes, bamboo nibs, but also branches, stones, and whatever helps me smear the paper.

Serena Schinaia was born in Taranto, but now lives and works in Rome. She studied in Bologna, initially Aesthetic Philosophy and then Illustration and Languages of Comics. Her illustrations have been published in many Italian and international anthologies.
She works as a freelance illustrator in Rome, where she owns a graphic design studio called CO-CO.

During the fourth edition of the Ratatà festival, she will launch “Un pezzetto alla volta dentro un punto nero che finisce col diventare tutto quello che c’è”. We asked her to tell us more about her project:

“Un pezzetto alla volta dentro un punto nero che finisce col diventare tutto quello che c’è” is a project of artistic research. I wanted to experience the relation between my line, painted in black India ink with different tools (rollers, brushes, bamboo nibs or basic small brushes) and paper stripes of many sizes, usually printer or typographical waste. These experiments merge into one large sized paper installation, made of many hand-drawn elements.

Your style is characterised by strong contrasts, a sharp line and the use of black and white. Have you always been faithful to these choices or have you started with different experimentations? How come did you decide to embrace these features and avoid the use of colours?

When I started, I used to draw light thin lines, which were almost pale, and I used to use many colours (Cyclone, 2012). Sometimes, I used to get rid of the outlines, simply filling the colours with crayons. While working on my first comics, I happened to avoid the use of colours and thicken my line, to make it more expressive and vivid (Deriva/Drift, RamHotel, 2014). I think this turning point was quite spontaneous and, over time, it has become my stylistic hallmark, making me recognisable even when the overcolourings and the graphic lines were at their most popular in the world of the self-produced comics in Bologna. But I think that this visual approach is appropriate for the kind of stories I want to illustrate, with little text, no balloons, characters without a name and often even without a face. I like a synthetic narrative and black and white represent the best way to do that. More recently, I have started working on two-toned illustrations (Ceniza/Cenere, Ediciones Valientes, 2016) and grey backgrounds, which allow me to give depth to the pictures (Vicolo cieco, Crisma, 2017). Probably, I am looking for new patternings to tell new fierce stories.

Do you also organise performances?

Yes, I do. Some of the works included in the “Un pezzetto alla volta…” installation are created within a live performance, in which I paint on the spot basing on musical improvisation by Polisonum, a collective of artistic sound research with whom I work. They have a transformed my working table into a real musical instrument. It has sensors and microphones transforming my movements into sound. The result is like a map of sound patterns, sketching places and landscapes made of India ink.

Is there anything inspiring you, or helping you produce your work?

Literature, music, cinema, palm trees in the wind, neon signs in a metropolis, atmospheres.

How important is it for you to add the text to your works? Do you enjoy reading? Which are the books you are fond of the most?

The text is fundamental to me, and I also think that it is the most interesting part of my work. Both when I am writing down the stories and when I am setting up a sequence, I try to create a visual rhythm that accompanies the text without making it a caption. Even in my abstract works, I consider the writing part fundamental. I didn’t choose the title “Un pezzetto alla volta dentro un punto nero che finisce col diventare tutto quello che c’è” by chance: it’s a concept, it helps to understand what it is about and to make sense of the creative process and the idea behind it. I love the less known contemporary Italian authors Genna, Vasta, Schillaci, but also the classics such as Pavese, Parise, Tondelli, and more generally authors who lived controversial lives. I read American literature a lot, Foster Wallace, Franzen, Carver, and also Eastern European authors such as Agotha Kristof, who is probably my favourite.

In Serena’s biography, there’s this sentence: “I love music but I don’t disdain the silence.” We asked her about her relation with music – when is she with music and when does she prefer silence, and what helps her the most in creating her works.

Music accompanies most of my work, both because I listen to it a lot while drawing and because there are albums that help me become absorbed in the atmospheres I need in that particular moment, in order to think of a story or a character. Silence, paradoxically, helps me get the rhythm of a story the general course of a narration.

Are you working on any new project right now? What is it about?

Crisma #2 will be released soon. It is a comics anthology produced by Lab Aquattro (Rome) that includes Vicolo cieco, my latest comics short story. During the last few months, I have worked on an album. I will publish it in June, during an event organised by my studio in Rome, Co-Co, and dedicated to Just Indie Comics, a website that collects the most interesting international self-produced comics. Moreover, soon CBK Comics (C’est Bon Kultur), in Sweden, will release an anthology that also includes one of my stories. I am very happy about it because I would love to broaden out my work and publishing abroad is highly stimulating, cause it allows me to meet different authors than the ones I already know in Italy. At the same time, I wish that “Un pezzetto alla volta…” may continue to expand through new setups in larger and larger spaces. I would like to collect this year’s work in a structured project with expanded installation and sound parts.

The end of the interview concerns Ratatà and her previous experience.

I took part in last year’s Ratatà edition for the first time and I consider it to be one of the most important illustration festivals in Italy, both because of its international dimension and because it gathers the best works in the Italian self-produced industry. I honestly hope that it will become one of the main festivals for producers, self-producers, and for the growing number of enthusiasts.