What is it like to illustrate classic literature? How does an artist approach famous novels like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility? We talked to Sara Menetti, illustrator of these two beloved classic texts to share insights into her work process and inspiration as well as thoughts about the role of illustrations in the reading and learning process.
We invite you to visit Sara's website to explore her visual world: Sara Menetti's website.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How did you become an illustrator?
Sara: I've always really loved drawing, even though I didn’t have a formal art training at school. Fortunately, I decided to do the comic book course at Scuola Internazionale di Comics in Florence which brought me into the world of drawing once more. Once I got my diploma, I began working as an illustrator in educational publishing; although it was my first job, I felt at ease from the first moment. This inspired me to show my portfolio to other publishers who put their trust in me and gave me the chance to develop this career, refining my technique and enhancing my drawing styles. Today, working as an illustrator for educational books, fiction, tourist guides, and advertising agencies gives me a lot of satisfaction, but I still work on various other comic-related projects, both for myself and others.
HRB: What are your favourite techniques and drawing styles?
Sara: In my personal work, I love using different styles and learning and applying new drawing techniques to see how the style changes according to the medium I’m working in; watercolor, pencil, ink, gel pens and markers are my favorites right now. However, when I work, I always tend to use digital, adapting the technique to the story or the book that I have to illustrate.
HRB: You have illustrated two famous classics, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility for Helbling Readers. What is it like to illustrate such well-known stories?
Jane Austen's books evoke a fascinating atmosphere for me and are set in a precise historical period. So I studied the subjects in great detail and looked fora style which best suits the characters and the setting. The most important expectation to meet was my own as a reader. It was a privilege to be able to give faces and bodies to characters that until then I had only imagined, and make them perform and interact with each other.
HRB: What steps do you follow when you’re illustrating a narrative?
Research is most definitely the basis of everything. Before I start working on the illustrations, I read (or re-read) the text so that I get an idea of the style to use (ironic or classic and so on). I also look at any TV series, documentaries or movies about the subject to collect additional details, then do more research in books, websites and paintings to study clothes, hairstyles, habits, and settings. All this leads me to build the first idea about the characters, which are then transferred onto paper and reworked several times to define the physical traits and the final colour palette. Only at this point do I start on the actual illustrations.
HRB: What inspires you?
Research, both artistic and personal. In my opinion, it is very important for an illustrator to not only work on commission, but to spend time on their own projects and cultivate their own interests so that they can better define their personal taste, get experience and develop a unique style. In my case, drawing the urban landscape,following the rules of Urban Sketching has played a key role in my work: many of the styles I use when drawing on the corners of the streets can be found in my illustrations. Even comics have influenced my work as an illustrator, especially the dynamism of an image and the interaction between characters.
HRB: How do you see the role of illustration in storytelling?
We often see illustrations accompanying narrative fiction, but their role is not simply decorative. Illustrations must also tell something more, enrich the written text and provide the reader with an additional key to interpret the story and develop their own imagination. The illustrator plays a fundamental role in this process and he or she has to be able to grasp the subtext of the narrative and convey it in their drawings.
HRB: Are there any stories you would love to illustrate?
Sara: I have always been fond of the great classics, maybe because I have always been an avid reader, and I would like to reread and reinterpret the stories that made an impression on me as a child. However, I also enjoy myself to the test with new texts ... I do not want to limit myself.
HRB: Thank you for the interview, Sara!