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Emiliano Ponzi

Emiliano Ponzi
Credits photo by Emanuele Zamponi

Q: Were you the typical child who liked to draw? How did you end up becoming an illustrator?

EP: I’ve always drawn. I remember long summer afternoons, after lunch, when it was too hot to go back to the beach. I would draw at a big table while my mum did the ironing behind me. Yet in the beginning illustration school was almost a fall-back from the “traditional” universities with limited spaces that didn’t admit me. 

Q: Who were your role models?

EP: When I started I had an extremely local vision of the world. The internet was in its infancy; everything I knew was from experience, gleaned from the shelves of book stores or newsstands. It was only when I moved to Milan that I found role models and I entered the world of professional illustration. Before that I was an outsider.

Q: What is the difference between designing the cover of a book and illustrating an article? What methods do you use? What limitations does having a set amount of space impose?

EP: Without a doubt, “method” is the key word. It means applying a model that works. There is little difference during the conceptualisation stage. The only thing that changes is the time line. A book or ad must be striking and get the message across immediately – their goal is to attract attention right away – so the message must be concise and easy to read. Space is often an opportunity to change the morphology of an image.

Q: How important is the relationship with the client, the exchange of ideas and being in sync?

EP: It depends. Often, it’s the synergistic jobs that make the end result better; at other times they make it worse. As it’s a role-playing game, everyone needs to respect the part they’ve been given. I ask clients who are struggling to communicate to tell me the message they want to send and not what to draw. That’s my territory, which I have to protect because it’ll be my name on the work. I think it’s a sign of great professionalism on both sides.

Q: What was it like contending with two giants of western culture: MoMA and Penguin? 

EP: These experiences taught me a lot in terms of relationships and problem solving. When I started both projects at the same time, I was happy and flattered, yet aware of the responsibility that this type of exposure would bring. However, I have to say that any stress wasn’t so much caused by the magnitude of the clients, but rather my desire to create the best “artistic product” possible. I wrote and illustrated both books and this gave me the opportunity to track the direction, which has certainly changed since then, thanks to the contribution of the work team. 

Q: You’ve just finished a job for a Milan metro stop. It’s the first time you’ve decorated a public space, what was it like?

EP: My work for the Tre Torri stop was undoubtedly a challenge and I felt it was my responsibility to design something that would be viewed for a long time. All the images are true to scale, so as to create a kind of emotional relationship with commuters. Every scene had to coexist harmoniously with the next, like the scene on the opposite wall. The fitters did an amazing job and seeing the illustrations in situ was extremely moving.

Q: Do you think this is a good time for illustration or is there a golden age that we should be harking back to?

EP: All applied arts have their “golden age” that returns cyclically. Before illustration, digital photography had its day, when suddenly everyone became a great photographer and a great critic. We are at the same point now, accessibility to design (digital first and foremost, but not exclusively) has permitted the “democratisation” of illustration, distributing it horizontally. In a broad sense, this is certainly a good thing, but at the same time it creates a lot of visual rubbish


The award-winning illustrator Emiliano Ponzi is based in Milan, Italy, and is known for his bold, textured designs. His work has appeared in advertising, magazines, books, newspapers and animations for clients including the New York Times, Le Monde, New Yorker, Newsweek, La Repubblica, Penguin Books, Louis Vuitton, Hyundai, Bulgari, Feltrinelli, Lavazza, Mondadori, Ferrari and the Triennale Design Museum in Milan. Ponzi’s first picture book, The Journey of the Penguin, was published in 2015 by Penguin Books for it’s 80th anniversary and tells, entirely through images, an imaginative story of the development of the company’s iconic brand. His second book, The Great New York Subway Map, tells the (true) story of how the city’s subway map was designed by the great graphic designer Massimo Vignelli in 1972. It will be published by MoMA in 2018.

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