Anna and Elena Balbusso, also known as the Balbusso Twins, are an award-winning artist duo living in Milan. 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, including The Economist, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Corriere Della Sera. They have received more than 90 international honors and awards, including three gold medals, a silver medal, and the Stevan Dohanos Award from the prestigious Society of Illustrators of New York, as well as two Joseph Morgan Henninger Awards, a Gold Award from 3×3 Magazine, and a Graphis Silver Award.
Here’s a snippet of their QA:
What is your work philosophy? We look at the quality of the project, not the quantity. We continually experiment with projects, doing research and aiming for excellence with an open-mind mentality. We prefer projects that allow us the freedom to experiment because two souls coexist in us: an artist and a designer. It’s necessary to be unpredictable, so personal research is important. We love images with strong ideas, synthesis, and strength of expression. Our goal is to create images that arouse curiosity and emotions while avoiding stereotypes. This is our daily challenge; it’s not easy, but we try!
Who are some of your greatest past influences? The list of our references would be very long; it depends on the project we are dealing with. We think studying fine art was vital in helping us with our career choices. The two of us love all art periods. In all our work, there is a clear reference to painting, sculpture, architecture, and graphic design. Our study of graphic design has always influenced all our work, allowing us to work in many different sectors, not just illustration. When we start a project, we look for references in historical sources, which is a method we learned at university. We don’t work in a single style; each project is different and unique. We also don’t look at a specific art period, but art in general, such as ancient Roman mural paintings (frescoes at Pompeii), Italian Renaissance, Romanticism (prelude of Modern Art), Modern Art (Symbolism, Surrealism, Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism), and Contemporary Art. We can choose from several styles; it all depends on the project. We love the artists of the world-famous Polish School of Posters, the avant-garde Russian children’s book illustrations, and the Golden Age of Illustration (1875–1920). Mario Sironi (1885–1961) was an Italian modernist artist who worked as a painter, sculptor, illustrator, and designer. Fortunato Depero (1892–1960) was an Italian futurist painter, writer, sculptor, and graphic designer. Franco Grignani (1908–1999) was one of the most important figures in 20th-century visual communications. One of the greatest contemporary illustrators is Ferenc Pintér (1931–2008). His collaboration with the publisher Mondadori was particularly important. His favored technique was tempera, and he did book covers and inside illustrations for 32 years.
How would you describe your illustration style? What makes it stand out? It’s difficult to give a precise definition. Professor Andrew Selby, author of the book Editorial Illustration: Context, Content and Creation (Bloomsbury UK, 2023), said that, “The Balbusso Twins’ work often strips away stereotypes and repurposes figures, events and situations away from stereotypical depictions.” We think our style comes from our artistic research and is unconventional with a strong identity, though it does maintain versatility. Many followers tell us that even if we change our technique and style, our work is still recognizable. It is not a unidirectional style because it is constantly evolving. It does not follow current trends because trends pass, but it is always trendy because we love experimentation and contamination. We mix graphic design with painting, the abstract with the figurative, and the conceptual with the decorative. For us, the interpretation is more important than the technique or the special effects. Our goal is to create powerful, strong images with elegant and accurate detail. We simply call it the Balbusso Twins style.
Who have been some of your favorite people or clients you have worked with? All our clients are important to us because they chose us and believe in us. When we accept a new commission, we always give our best with enthusiasm and passion.
What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to create successful work? The best clients are those who give us total freedom to choose the style and interpretation most suitable for the project. Trust in us! Our style is not mass-produced but tailored-made.