From Austen to Atwood: The art of the Balbusso sisters

Posted May 9, 2014 by Lory in design / 4 Comments

Eugene Onegin
The Handmaid’s Tale

The artwork of Anna and Elena Balbusso first caught my eye in the Folio Society catalog, with their stunning illustrations for two very different books, Alexander Pushkin’s classic novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin and Margaret Atwood’s modern dystopian nightmare The Handmaid’s Tale. Then I noticed that they were the cover artists for two other books on my TBR list, The Goblin Emperor and Hild. And then I saw that they were illustrating original fantasy stories  for Tor.com, and producing a new edition of Pride and Prejudice for Folio…quite a range right there.

Pride and Prejudice

What all these illustrations have in common is their formal sense of composition, attention to positive and negative space (often making use of silhouettes), and masterly use of color. Often they mix strong, simplified shapes with brushy passages that bring movement and liveliness to the image.

 

The Too-Clever Fox

The Balbusso sisters bring a bold, stylized approach to the problem of illustrating fiction, which is the question of how to bring out both the visual and the psychological aspects of the story, the outer and the inner. To this end, they play with the juxtaposition of diverse images, frequently combining human figures with elements from the natural world. Their ability to blur the lines between two realms, while keeping each one crystal clear, is one of their most compelling talents.

Hild

Who are these amazing twin illustrators of everything from Austen to Atwood? You can find some answers in this Folio Society interview. (I like the part where they explain how they started working together — it seems that it was just too confusing for their clients to interview identical twins separately.) As they are based in Milan, much of their work has appeared in European publications. This includes several more illustrated editions of classic English novels (such as Northanger Abbey) for a language-learning line, which ironically are not available in English-speaking countries, though I dearly wish they were.

Northanger Abbey

In a time when so many loud and fast-moving images are competing for our attention, it’s refreshing to find artists who can create a perfectly composed page that is arresting in its quietness. I’ll be looking forward eagerly to their next production, whatever it may be.

You can find many more beautiful illustrations by the Balbusso sisters as well as news and information on their website.

 

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4 responses to “From Austen to Atwood: The art of the Balbusso sisters

  1. How cool that they can work together with their sister. The covers are gorgeous. Atwood's book is in my list of wants but i haven't gotten hold of a copy yet. I've read pretty much anything written by Austen already as I did a sweep of the school libraries in Jr hi and Hischool for recreational reading for anything that looked appealing and Austen, Bronte, Alcott were all in those lists somehow.

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