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Interview: Giselle Bongiorno | Art, design and freelancing

Giselle Bongiorno

My first interviewee of the year is someone who’s grown up around creativity and had it nurtured in her from day one. Melbourne-based visual story teller and artist Giselle Bongiorno has had a multi-faceted creative career that has seen her work as a TV set designer to a designer of swimming pools. Now freelancing, she specialises in telling stories through images for marketing, social media and blogs as well as creating animal art portraits.

Come and meet Giselle and find out how television and wrapping paper have proved influential in her life …

Animal portrait garland by Giselle Bongiorno

Animal portrait garland by Giselle Bongiorno

It sounds like you’ve had a varied career path. Tell us about yourself – what’s your background and how have you ended up where you are today?

My mum has a very vivid imagination and made sure to awaken mine from a very early stage. I attended theatre school before being old enough to go to kinder and grew up with TV-watching limit of 3.5 hours per week. My shelves had no dolls but books to the brim. There were no stuffed toys around but you could find paint and craft materials in almost every room of the house.

I was the first granddaughter and for the first six years of my life, an only child. I formed part of a very organised adult world and was encouraged to explore and articulate my thoughts and feelings in order to make myself understood. Often when I was learning to talk I wouldn’t know which words to use so I drew/scribbled/doodled with the hopes of shaping them.

Drawing, reading, crafting and dancing have always been part of my everyday life (except, I’m missing a bit of dancing at the moment). To me those were (and still are) the ways to discover the world. I used to adore the “choose your own adventure” books and seemed to follow their principle when it came to choosing my degree. I started with graphic design, continued with set design and art direction and finished with a couple of years of architecture. I made my own combo and because there was no any clear path to follow; I just had to keep making it up along the way.

Animal portrait garland by Giselle Bongiorno

Animal portrait garland by Giselle Bongiorno

After finishing my studies, I started doing art direction in a small scale for low budget short films until I got the experience to land a job as an art director for the advertising industry. That led me into TV where I worked as a set designer (yes, designing the sets for the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch as kid!) and then into film where I did sourcing and styling. After several years of designing fleeting spaces for fictional characters, I decided to transition into something more enduring and ended up involved in the design of swimming pools for real people. As I was used to working really long hours this job allowed me to work as an interior and event designer for hospitality on the side.

It’s been quite a picturesque route that has taken me through many different sceneries. A constant one is graphic design which I have done as a freelance from the beginning of the journey. I’ve been involved in all sorts of projects, from logo creation, corporate identity and branding development to illustration and product design just to name a few.

It was only just last year that I started my own label under my name. It happened spontaneously while preparing a pitch. It seemed appropriate and I decided to go for it!

Giselle Bongiorno pet portrait

Giselle Bongiorno pet portrait

Explain your business now and the different things you’re making/creating from story crafting to pet portraits to your animal designs.

‘Giselle Bongiorno’ is a growing collection of colourful products inspired by living creatures. As a creative, I’m always looking for new objects to prettify with my illustrations which currently range from cards, prints and wall decals to decorative plates and even games.

The pet portraits are the ones that started this whole venture. Pets comprise a very important part of our life and my work is about making fun and meaningful connections with our world. They’ve become a very special project that I hold close to my heart and leave for special occasions because as the business evolves, days get busier… I make sure to leave time for at least a couple of portraits a month though. Honestly, nothing is better than witnessing the smiles these portraits bring to people’s faces!

The ‘story crafting’ comes in to support this endeavour. I came up with the phrase in order to shift my work as a freelancer – to get more creative projects instead of corporate ones. It consists on creating imagery with an emotional connection for marketing, social media and blogging.

Budgie print by Giselle Bongiorno

Budgie print by Giselle Bongiorno

Can you share a bit about your design and creative processes?

My aim with the pet portraits and animal illustrations is to outline them in a unique and simple way to bring the attention to their colourful personalities. I work with photographs and get lost in them for a while before even starting to sketch. I look at their eyes, study the form, the shapes, shades, colours and look into their eyes again. I seek those little details that make the animal what it is. Once I’ve gained a sense of their nature, I’ll start the deconstruction-reconstruction process by playing with lines and polygons until the model arises again. Then, I introduce the colours and spend a looooong time working on the right palette and deciding on which option to go for.

How easy/difficult was it to go out on your own? What, if any, challenges did you face along the way?

I always knew I would end up going that way. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen. Whenever I thought of doing it I wouldn’t even know where to start. So I waited, while working restlessly and producing LOTS of personal projects on the side. When the time came -without even planning it – I found myself making it happen! Of course, nothing would have been that way without my husband’s kind, unconditional, patient and endless support. I wouldn’t say it was easy, I’d describe it more like a natural process, with growing pains and all.

The biggest challenge has been setting goals and looking into the future while working on everyday tasks. I feel as if I’ve taken the road less travelled (oh, Robert Frost, we need to chat) which sometimes is so lonely there’s no one to ask for directions.

Memory game by Giselle Bongiorno

Memory game by Giselle Bongiorno

What’s one piece of advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?

Whenever a “I wish I were/could/had” moment hits you, get the remote and change the channel. Look for inspiration and for people that make your heart grow, and make that into your favourite channel. With a big heart you’ll be able to see clearly where your dreams are.

Start with what you have. Then it’ll grow, organically. Don’t look for perfection, done is better than perfect. Be gentle to yourself and smile.

What are you working on at the moment?

I finished a huge commission piece at the end of last year and am setting my direction for the year.

Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists, designers and creatives do you admire?

My biggest influence and source of inspiration is the sky. It always has an amazing spectacle going on!

This year I joined Instagram (I don’t know why it took me so long) and have met and found a beautiful community of artists, designers and makers. Amalia Pereira is one of them. Her work is striking visual poetry. I have even cried by looking at it!

I admire Laura Blythman’s nerve and creative energy. She’s unstoppable and I’m thankful for that because her work throws glitter everywhere and makes my heart (and many others) sing.

I also have great admiration for Lucy Feagins’ ability to think outside the box while remaining true to herself. She’s a resourceful and creative woman who knows how to make things happen. Truly inspiring.

You clearly love animals and birds! What’s your favourite?

I do! I always have and I always will! No favourites though… I love them all! I do have some that I’m particularly fond of like giraffes (for a strange reason they remind me of my mum), elephants (I love their memory) and lions.

My guilty pleasure is …

Sleeping in (even if the guilt stays with me for the whole day!)

Visual story crafting

Visual story crafting

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

It was one of my first Christmases – maybe my fourth because I could already read my name. There were many gifts under the tree beautifully wrapped. When I was given permission to open them I grabbed the first one and tore the paper eagerly. Then my grandmother approached me and very calmly said “There’s no need to rip the paper, if you remove the sticky tape carefully, then you can unfold it and a surprise will follow” (remember that organised world I was taking about?). I wasn’t convinced but felt obliged to. When we finished opening the presents, she gathered all the wrapping paper into a very neat pile and put it away.

The next Christmas the presents were wrapped in the same paper, and then the next one, and so on. Every year I followed her instructions out of respect, but secretly I just wanted to tear the paper apart. Well, years later and I’ve now found myself doing the same thing. But not only with wrapping paper, with all sorts of paper. I’ve got a special box where I keep them and those are the papers I use for wrapping and also for my collage work. Who’d have thought …?

Thanks so much for your time Giselle!

You can also find her on Instagram @gisellebongiorno.

Giselle Bongiorno logo

Giselle Bongiorno logo

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