Alessandra Criseo a.k.a Mais2

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I was born in Calabria and raised on the island of Sicily. As every other kid I started drawing as soon as I learnt how to hold a pencil and way before started registering memories. Some kids stop drawing, I simply continued. First thing I got into was comics, because my older sister started making some and I used to copy her story and just change the characters. That's when I started thinking I would make a living out of it. I thought I would become a super rare young talent and be famous by 15. That, my friends, didn't happen. I didn't actually know anybody that “worked as an artist” so I didn't know if it was possible to make a living out of it, I just kept pretending I didn't have to deal with that thought yet and kept drawing until work started happening.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I don't come from an artistic environment so none of us had any idea how to make drawing into a job. My parents always supported my creativity though and never "fought against" me wanting to make a living as an artist, even though I'm sure they would have prefer me getting some kind of not­-art related degree as well, just as a backup. They supported my decision and probably worried in silence cause they couldn't address me or help me until I started getting jobs with a decent pay! I secretly really wanted to succeed as soon as possible so I could stop having to ask them for money and so they could stop worrying about my future, because I have two siblings and they weren't independent yet either!

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Back in the 90's in Italy we have been blessed with private TV channels that, for an unexplainable reason, were packed with all sort of uncensored anime and that 100% influenced me and my generation. The 90's also blessed me with great Disney movies (Aladdin that will always be my fave). I have never had a console but my dad was great at trading floppy disks with colleagues and friends and that made me discover two of the most important games of my life. Monkey Island and Prince of Persia ( the DOS versions ). Those two games really influenced my aesthetics. Then as a teenager, I was really into graffiti and that was also a big chapter of my life that really shaped my style, line and subjects and composition for sure.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
As a kid (very little) I remember drawing standing girls in various environments, all without noses and with the mouth shaped as a "O". I always had a thing for black hair and purple and red dresses, I was always complaining that all princesses were blond with pink or light blue outfit (that's another reason why I fell in love with Jasmine from Aladdin as soon as I saw her). I was also filling my school book with pretty dark stuff ( like tortures and chains involving my favourite characters, but nobody got to see that though cause I would cover them in doodles to make them unrecognisable ahah ). Now I still enjoy drawing girls and dark stuff, but I do also draw more food and stupid looking animals than before.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it? 
1st phase: excitement, because I got an interesting job. The more exciting it is, the more I panic during my 2nd phase because I really want to make something that I am going to be proud of. In the past I used to try too much to second guess what the client wanted because I am very adaptable, but I ended up with good results that say too little about me. Now I try to take for granted that when people contact me they must like what I do. My process starts by spending way too much time on Pinterest looking for photo reference, then becoming too overwhelmed by information and too drained to work. Then, after realizing that I don't need to have reference for everything, I start sketching. My process actually changed a lot during the last year or so: before I used to make up the idea in my mind and then sketch, now I realized that sometimes the brilliant idea just doesn't come to mind EVER and that you have to sit down and sketch anyway, warm up and, even if it takes days, a good idea will eventually come.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I've been colouring with Letraset Markers for about 15 years and I find it very calming. It was the best media for me to obtain the colours I wanted wherever I was. Also I was not good at using Photoshop. Now I usually ink traditionally ( or on my small Cintiq ) and I colour 80% of the times digitally in Photoshop. I don't find drawing/colouring at the pc very relaxing at all, but it's the best way for me to achieve the colours I want. It's been hard for me to get good at colour choices because when I used markers ,mostly because they are really expensive, I had a limited palette and it was quite basic: blue was blue red was red and yellow was yellow. I studied colours on photos for a long time until I learned that there is so much more to it and that a white can appear brown depending on the lighting, and I became super picky about the exact shades, even in my everyday life like when choosing a wall paint or a hair dye and so on. I'm doomed.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I really enjoy inking, I find it very calming and it comes quite naturally to me. Also inking means that the hard part of coming up with an idea and drawing it in a satisfactory way is done, and the endless possibilities of colour­ choosing drama are not yet to come.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
At the moment I have a full-time job as senior game artist in a mobile game company, so I get routine frustration BUT the work is nice and I'm happy to have a commitment that forces me to get dressed and leave the house daily or I would live in my pyjamas forever. I wake up at 7:30 ,get to work by 9 and, apart from the lunch ­break that 3 days a week I try to use to force myself to go exercise at the gym, I work until 5, go home where I live with my boyfriend Andreas who's also an Illustrator, eat way too much, complain about how much I just ate and then pass the rest of the day between drawing while watching stuff on Netflix and getting lost inside an Ipad. Then I usually try to save 30 minutes for contemplating how much of my life I am wasting on the internet.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I think a very important lesson is that even if you are really good at what you do you can't wait around for people to discover how amazing you are, hand you the perfect job, become as rich as you think you deserve and be happy and healthy ever after. You need to get out there and speak to people!

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I am proud of many things I made I guess but a special mention at the moment must go to “Memento Bento”. "Memento Bento" is my 1st self published book that I printed last year and it's an illustrated travel diary about my 1st experience in Japan. I am very proud of my work and I am proud that I finally manage to achieve making a book, something I procrastinated on my whole life. Now it doesn't sound as crazy to think of making another one.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Last year, as I just mentioned, I worked on Memento Bento and that's on sale on my shop at the moment. I am 95% progress on a black and white sketchbook full of dark stuff that I'm gonna self publish and put on sale in the following months. I am working on some ceramics this year as well ( I wanted to get into ceramics for a few years now and now I know that I love working with clay ). Apart from this I am also just starting to experiment with something new (you can get some hint on my Instagram account) and I'm also really ready for a new project, keep following me and you'll see!

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
Ok: I gotta admit that the 1st time I read this question I almost had a crisis because I realize that I really don't know what my career goal is. What would be awesome is not having a need of a full-time job like I do now and having a studio with other artist­ friends that I both love and admire and all working from there and be happy and creative ever after with loads of money to spend on travelling.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-­block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Stopping won't make it easier, it will just make it harder, like when you stop going to the gym and then try to get into it again. Even if you are uninspired keep sketching often , even really basic stuff. Or even better think of a subject you want to get better at, let's say for example: I suck at drawing horses but I really want to learn. So you can draw horses for a month and know that even if you didn't get a single good idea in a month you really improved in something, and that new skill will open you to a whole new range of ideas, think about it: now you can draw a satanic unicorn ( I did ).

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I wish somebody taught me that before I had to discover it for myself! I struggled (and sometimes still struggle) with the feeling that my style is not "consistent enough" and that I should be more focused on a style that I would want to be hired for ( that's relay hard because I LOVE and need to experiment with media all the time). I see some of my friend's portfolio and they look so much more consistent to my eye, then I realized that if I talk to any of them I discover that they think of me exactly what I think of them. Anyway going back to the question: It can be true BUT it really depends what kind of artist you want to be. If you like working freelance, if you want to be seen as a "brand", if you want people to see your drawing on a billboard and immediately understand it's you then that's the right way. It can also be really rewarding artistically because you can get the chance to get a wide range of collaborations and it can also be very profitable if you became a really requested artist. On the other hand there are plenty of artistic jobs where versatility is a really important attribute, for example in games companies or animation where you will have to work in projects that could look really different between each other. Also it's easier to find a full-time job when you are talented and adaptable. In both cases, in my opinion, it's wise to be specialized on something instead of being kinda good at everything.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I definitely have a soft spot for hand drawn animation as well. I know that Some newer 3d stuff looks really great but somehow I feel like any movie that has a great looking 3d would anyway look nicer to my eye if it was 2d. I think obviously hand drawn animation will never stop existing. It's like the discovery of photography didn't make paintings disappear or photoshop didn't make traditional artists kill themselves. It's more common to see digital nowadays, that's true, but hand drawn will always have an added charm to it.

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
I can't really say how this affects the industry but I think it's awesome to have the chance to get feedback from people and to be able to communicate exactly what you want in such an immediate and direct way. It's great to have 100% control on the products you make, have the chance to push them and believe in them without being forced to find somebody to do it for you because it can be really hard to be considered by editors and such, even if your work was fantastic, because the market is so saturated with stuff. That's not just for illustration but any art form. If you think about it from the fan prospective it's also exciting to connect a person to the products you love and be able to find their career evolution and support them, it's really inspiring. From the artist point of view it's a good training to have to follow the process of making things by yourself and it's good exercise for your self esteem: having to promote your products forces you to be less passive and more confident about yourself and what you do.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I am an internet addict so it's not hard to find me! The social network I use the most at the moment is Instagram ( instagram.com/maisdue ). I have an online shop ( mais2.bigcartel.com ) where I rotate the items every now and then ( I am going to update it soon with new stuff!). I have a Behance, Tumblr and a Facebook page, you can find all the other links on my main website mais2.com!

Thank you Alessandra :)