When you look at readers illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni, you find yourself in an exciting, colourful world full of adventure. He is an illustrator, photographer and world traveller, and his illustrations have the same vivid atmosphere that he carries home from his journeys.
Cristiano has illustrated several Helbling Young Readers, Red Readers and Blue Readers. His latest work is the African folk tale, The Leopard and the Monkey.
We chatted about illustrations, travel adventures and books, and he also gave us some travel advice.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Do you remember your first illustration?
To be honest I don’t, but I remember my first drawing that was published on the cover of the magazine Terre di Mezzo, and it was a great satisfaction! However, I like to remember the drawing of a Native American that my father did when I was a kid. I fell in love with the magic of drawing on that day.
HRB: You travel a lot, and I can imagine that it inspires your work. How does it inspire your illustrations?
Recently I have found inspiration in my unconscious, in my nightmares and dreams. In the mysterious! Travelling gives me the colours and the simplicity. I enjoy doodling in the streets, it always leads to new encounters, and drawing often helps me recreate myself. Children are especially curious, and I often let them colour my notebook.
HRB: Which places would you like to visit again?
Ah, the whole world! I would happily return to all the places I’ve visited and I’d look for new ones. I was enchanted by Mustang, a small Himalayan kingdom. I went on that trip on my own last year, walking alone on the top of the world. Extraordinary! It was a unique experience. I felt the life flowing beneath my feet. With every step I took, the silence of these posts created space inside me. Now I’d like to travel to Latin America, perhaps Bolivia. But for now I have no plans.
HRB: What do you think defines different cultures? What are the most distinctive things you notice about new places?
The things that strike me the most are the ones that strike all of us: splendid Bagan in Burma, mysterious Machu Picchu in Peru, majestic Angkor in Cambodia. You can feel the people and their stories, and I carry their smiles in my heart.
HRB: What’s your philosophy when you illustrate books for children or teens?
I don’t think I have a philosophy. I draw, and that’s all. Unfortunately, I’m pretty instinctive. I often ask myself when I look at my works: did I really draw them? Sometimes I’m proud of them and sometimes I feel ashamed.
HRB: About your creative process. How do you read a story when you first receive it? Do you already see colours, contours and lines?
First I read everything, but not always. It’s easier to understand the book chapter by chapter as I’m illustrating it. Arriving at the end comes as a surprise! I start with rough, veeeerrrry rough, sketches, then I wait for the publisher’s approval, and then I define the lines and move on to colouring. Very simple!
HRB: What is your pet peeve as in illustrator?
When I draw badly and discover how long the road ahead is.
HRB: Do you have any favourite travel books or books about journeys?
Years ago I used to read travel diaries, but I’m not interested in them anymore. I find them boring. And I don’t want to be influenced by them. Obviously, I read about the places as much as possible before I head out to explore. But only the most practical information interests me. Or the advice of my friends.
HRB: What advice would you give to young travellers?
Do not listen to any advice. Just go. All you need is a passport. The trip will shape itself, without too many plans. Letting yourself go into the unknown is the most exciting thing. At the beginning I was full of fear (illness, accidents …) Of course you need a certain amount of caution, but as soon as you put your feet on the ground when you step off the plane you know that everything will be fine. And if there are unexpected things, they will be part of the story... In recent years I have been robbed, I missed a lot of connections, risked sleeping in the open, had cancelled flights, travelled on planes that seemed to be held together with sticky tape, and improvised journeys in beat-up buses on roads from horror films. But as the years pass, I remember all of this with a smile. In short, each journey is full of mishaps and dangers, but so is life. You can’t live without them.