Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with a long time favourite of mine; Angela Rizza. Angela has a very unique and strong graphical illustration style that I simply adore. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with her.
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I grew up in Mahopac, a town in upstate New York about an hour from the city. My grandfather, John Leone, was an oil painter who focused a lot on western and hunting scenes. I spent most of my summers at his house where we’d paint together and I learned a lot of what I know now.
I graduated hoping to become a children’s book illustrator.
After high school I went to college in Manhattan to the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I got my BFA in Illustration in 2011 and I graduated hoping to become a children’s book illustrator. I moved back upstate and live at home with my family, giving me a lot of time to focus on my portfolio and not have to worry about paying bills. My first year out of college was tough, I wasn’t happy with my work and basically started from scratch coming up with a new look that was me.
My first year out of college was tough, I wasn’t happy with my work and basically started from scratch coming up with a new look that was me.
I started drawing things that I loved, like birds or scene from fantasy stories, with the mind set I would be hired to do jobs with similar themes, so I could work on subjects I loved. Eventually that worked out, I started getting small jobs doing commissions, selling prints, and eventually I ended up getting into books like Middle-Earth Envisioned and I’ve started working on my first children’s book with a company.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I’ve always done art, for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid for my birthday or for the holidays I would always receive a new set of paints or some artist starters kits. During class, when I got home, I would spend my time drawings. When the time came in high school to decide what career path I wanted to go down, art felt like the natural answer.
I’ve always done art, for as long as I can remember.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
The most difficult moment was my first year out of college. I graduated thinking I would immediately get hired, would make tons of money, and live in the city. I had done so well in school, so of course I’d do well in the real world. Well college never really prepared us for the current industry so I was on my own trying to figure it out with some fellow classmates.
I graduated thinking I would immediately get hired, would make tons of money, and live in the city. I had done so well in school, so of course I’d do well in the real world.
I received a lot of rejection which hurt my self esteem and brought on many moments of doubt. Another difficulty was losing the independence I had from college when I moved back home. I focused on my portfolio and didn’t make much money through art, maybe less than $1000 the first year out.
The hardest part for me was finding work and not being taken advantage of, and learning to be patient and not give up. Eventually I solved this by making my own work, drawing things people love and spreading it through social media.
I solved this by making my own work, drawing things people love and spreading it through social media.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I love the feeling of illustrating. It’s almost therapeutic, especially when I start inking a heavily detailed piece. I love being able to create something out of nothing, and love seeing a finished piece being printed.
5. What do you like the least about it?
What I least like about it is when I am unable to think outside the box. Sometimes I feel like I get stuck in a rut, where my last few pieces have the same composition or color scheme. I need a good push out of my safe zone and it’s sometimes a scary feeling for me.
6. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
In college I had this whole process, where I’d do a detailed graphite drawing on Masonite, then spray it with crystal clear and start doing thin layers of oil paint with medium over, to glaze it into a final piece. It looked great but it wasn’t a practical method, considering it took weeks to dry and was hard to photograph or scan. It wasn’t deadline friendly. I continued drawing in graphite but then started to color digitally, it was so much quicker and it came out much quicker. Eventually I make it look even cleaner when I started using ink and watercolor instead of graphite, which is what I use now.
7. Your artwork has a very strong personal style. Was this something you had to work hard at or did it develop naturally on its own?
I’ve always been into doing tons of details and patterns and even as a kid I’d render things to death. I can be a little OCD and unfortunately it’s gotten worse over the years and I sometimes make pieces that are a little overkill. A lot of my work is influenced by classic children’s book illustrators like Arthur Rackham and John Bauer, and I’ve been trying to follow in their footsteps but with a more updated style.
I’ve always been into doing tons of details and patterns and even as a kid I’d render things to death.
8. Alright Angela, what is it with you and owls? And more seriously – other than owls, what are some of your favorite subjects to paint and why?
I’m not really sure where the love for owls came from. I’ve always been into birds since they’re so weird and have such great color and pattern in them. I really love how strange an owl’s face is, they’re just immediately interesting to me and I can draw them all day. I love drawing anything found in nature, since I’m surrounded by it all the time. There’s a great variety of shapes, colors and species. I also love drawing subjects from popular shows and books, and redoing the characters in my own voice, and making something that is both familiar and not familiar.
I love drawing anything found in nature, since I’m surrounded by it all the time. There’s a great variety of shapes, colors and species.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
The best advice I’ve been given over and over is to just keep doing what I love and eventually it’ll happen. It was something I would tell myself almost every day the first year out of college, to keep myself going. The only way I wouldn’t succeed is if I quit.
The best advice I’ve been given over and over is to just keep doing what I love and eventually it’ll happen.
10. What are your hopes for the future of your career?
I’ve always wanted to try teaching, and I’ll be doing that this summer with elementary and middle school level children. I love doing children’s books and want to keep doing more of them along with interiors for books about Middle-Earth, Westeros, and other popular fantasy franchises. I also started a children’s book in college about endangered species and I would like to revisit that and finish it.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Angela Rizza, if you did please share it with your friends!