Balbusso Twins’ Illustrative Style Revives ‘The Great Gatsby’ with Avant-Garde Flair

Step into the Gatsby-esque splendor crafted by Milan’s Balbusso Twins, Anna and Elena, whose illustrious images in Beehive Books’ luxury edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald shimmer with glamour and avant-garde flair. Each Platinum-winning image is a story, told with the flourish of an illustrator’s pen and the boldness of a modernist’s vision.

By: Anna and Elena Balbusso

When we were contacted by Josh O’Neill of Beehive Books to illustrate The Great Gatsby, we immediately felt at ease. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece gave us the opportunity to look at artists and artistic movements that have long inspired us: the painters of the historical avant-gardes (futurism, cubism) as the Italian painters Giacomo Balla and Mario Sironi and the American painter Lyonel Feininger. Illustrating a novel is like making a film; we must imagine its characters, environments, costumes, sets, lights, colors, feelings, emotions, and passions. 

We wanted our illustrations to conjure the energy of the Roaring Twenties but with a contemporary interpretation. In all our work, two souls coexist, one pictorial artistic and one graphic design, because our training is multidisciplinary. 

We chose to mix abstract, geometric shapes with figurative elements to create an elegant and sophisticated feel inspired by Art Deco and Bauhaus, striking the balance between the illustrative and decorative through plays of patterns and lines. The style we rendered the characters draws influence from Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings, early twentieth-century fashion illustration, and classical Hollywood’s black-and-white films. The portraits of Gatsby and Daisy were inspired by the actors Robert Redford and Mia Farrow from the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, directed by Jack Clayton. 

Regarding painting techniques, we mix traditional painting and tools (acrylic, pen, pencil, watercolor, collage, paper) with digital media. In this project, we kept a perceptible pictorial material: coarse grains, brush strokes, rough textures, and collage. We do not use digital brushes; all our brushstrokes and the pictorial material are always made by hand with traditional tools, and we only use the computer in the final coloring process. 

We are grateful to everybody who helped make this project possible. We thank Josh O’Neill of Beehive Books for involving us in this amazing adventure and Maëlle Doliveux for her important contributions to the book design. Special thanks to all our followers and fans around the world for their incredible support of the Kickstarter campaign.

Anna and Elena Balbusso, also known as the Balbusso Twins, are two award-winning Italian sisters artists team living in Milan. Their work has been published by major international publishers and companies throughout the world in various media. They’ve illustrated more than 50 books,  including the luxury limited edition of The Great Gatsby for Beehive Books, the deluxe Folio Society editions of The Handmaid’s Tale, Pride and Prejudice, and Atlas Shrugged. Their work has been featured in numerous publications, magazines, and newspapers including The Economist, The New Yorker, The  New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Corriere Della Sera, and Le Figaro. Their artwork has been exhibited internationally, and they have been featured in many annuals, magazines, and newspaper articles including the Communication Arts Design Annual 51 and issue 21 of 3×3. Recently their work has been included in The Power and Influence of Illustration by Alan Male and Editorial Illustration: Context, Content and Creation by Andrew Selby. In their career, they’ve received more than 90 international honors and awards, including the Stevan Dohanos Award, two Joseph Morgan Henninger Awards, and the Chelsey Award.

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Author: Graphis