Interview with Francesco Ciccolella

Francesco Ciccolella is an Austrian illustrator and graphic artist based in Vienna. His illustrations tell stories and convey ideas in the most direct yet unexpected way. His work spans from editorial to advertising, publishing, posters, book covers, animations and, most recently, sculptures. He has worked with publications such as The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times and his corporate clients include Google and IBM, amongst many others.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m an illustrator and graphic artist based in Vienna, Austria. My work tends to be very idea driven and narrative. It appears in magazines, newspapers, on books covers, in advertising and basically everywhere there is a need for imagery that can tell a story and communicate with the viewer. In my personal projects I try to experiment, push myself out of my comfort zone and explore topics I find relevant.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Salzburg, a picturesque small town in the western part of Austria. My mum is Austrian and my dad is Italian. So as a child I would usually spend a few weeks of summer with my family in Italy.

Why and when did you move to Vienna?

I moved to Vienna to study graphic design at the University of Applied Arts in 2010. 

Installation view / Alternate Realities Exhibition 
Blockchain / IBM

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Art and Design?

I felt drawn to painting ever since I can remember, I always drew a lot when I was a child. However, as a teenager I ended up attending a commercial high school. Those years really strengthened my desire to do something creative when I moved on to university. I remember reading Stefan Sagmeister’s monograph „Made You Look“ at that time graphic design sounded like something I’d love to do. I had a band back then and more than making the actual music I enjoyed creating the covers of our demo tapes and posters for the gigs. So I applied for the graphic design class at the University of applies Arts, I was accepted and moved to Vienna. During my studies I started to combine the image making with the communication aspect and that led me to where I am now.

How would you describe your creative process?

Everything I do starts with a pencil drawing. Trying to find the right ideas by sketching small thumbnails makes up a big part of my process. I then do proper sketches considering the composition and only then I move to the computer to finalize the illustrations and add color. From there my images can become anything.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual? 

I do think so, yes. There’s a certain kind of black humour in Vienna. It's called „Wiener Schmäh“ and I like to think that it informs a lot of my illustration work. I think humour is a powerful tool to make unpleasing or dry topics accessible in a compelling way.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Vienna? 

Compared to other European or US cities Vienna’s illustration scene is rather small. So is the Austrian illustration market – if it exists at all. But I’m lucky to work with mostly international clients so that’s not really a problem. In terms of living in Vienna I cannot think of any struggles. I need to get out of the city from time to time but that would be the same no matter where I live.

Verbal Abuse / The New York Times
Ghosting / Modern Love Exhibition

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Vienna?

I’d say yes. There’s a very broad and diverse cultural landscape here in Vienna. Theaters, cinemas, festivals and museums that I regularly visit and enjoy returning to.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the designer/creative to improve the quality of peoples lives in their city?

I believe that as a designer one has certain moral and ethical responsibilities. That includes to at least not make people’s lives worst in their city with one’s work. However, I also think that if you really want to make the world a better place there are plenty of more impactful options than becoming a designer.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particular excited about?

I have a picture book in the making. It’s a collaboration with a German poet in his late 80s. That’s all I can say for now. It’s my first project of this kind and a rather unusual collaboration so I’m pretty excited about it.

What is the one thing you can’t live without in Vienna?


If you could add or change something about Vienna, what would that be?

I’d make people complain less. Austrians complain a lot.

Second Jobs / Focus

Describe the perfect day for you in Vienna.

Having breakfast at a Viennese Kaffeehaus equipped with my sketchbook. Museum visits and probably another Kaffeehaus visit. Then dinner with friends and a drink at, you guessed it, another Kaffeehaus.

If you could choose any artist/creative from Vienna to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

I don’t really have a particular person in mind. But one thing that I have always wanted to do, would be a poster series for a whole season of one of Vienna’s many theaters or the opera.

What do you do to switch off ?

I run. That’s when I can really switch off. Other than that I love to travel. The latter doesn’t really make me switch off but it makes me see things differently which can help when you’re stuck with something. 

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Vienna evoke a personal smell to you?

Cigarette smoke? 

What is your favourite time of the day?

Morning, definitely. I’m an early riser.

If you weren’t living in Vienna and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

It’s hard to choose one but I think it would be either Barcelona, for the weather, food and mediterranean culture or New York City for the addictive energy and drive of its people and creative scene.

Thinking With The Hands / Personal Series

Vienna BY Francesco Ciccolella

A selection of places in Vienna - recommended by illustrator Francesco Ciccolella. See all of Francesco's favourite places here

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