Felicita Sala – Image by Sophie Davidson

In this Foodie Profile, I chat to the award-winning Rome-based illustrator, Felicita Sala. She talks about her connection to Italy and Australia, her journey into becoming an illustrator, what inspires her, Rome tips and more.

1. Felicita, you were born in Italy, raised in Australia and returned to live in Italy in 2007. Could you tell us a little bit about your connection to both Italy and Australia? 

I spent most of my school and university years in Australia. I moved there with my family when I was 7 and left a couple of years after finishing university. My parents and siblings are still in Perth and I visit regularly. I feel very much a part of my identity to be Australian. I miss it, the physical, natural space, my parent’s home. It feels like home every time I return. I have two homes!

2. You studied philosophy at university and are a self-taught illustrator. What drew you to illustration and how did you get started?  

I discovered illustration as an art form only when I was travelling through Italy after I had finished Uni. I met some illustrators and a whole world opened up to me, the world of European picture book making. I felt a strong calling to be a part of that world, so I found out everything about it. Who my favourite publishers were, the illustrators, writers, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair was a huge help in understanding the contemporary publishing world and the differences in markets. 

Your Birthday was the Best! written by Maggie Hutchings – Image from book by Felicita Sala

3. How many books have you illustrated over the years, and can you share your favourites? 

I’ve illustrated over 20 books, and I love all of them for different reasons, but my favourites are my recipe books, because I didn’t believe I could do a book on my own, and I did, but also because they combine my love for cooking and eating together with people, and a sort of voyeurism for other people’s living spaces. Of books I’ve illustrated but not written I love The Hideout written by my friend and award-winning author Susanna Mattiangeli, and the the book Your Birthday was the Best! written by Maggie Hutchings, about an enthusiastic cockroach who crashes a birthday party. Children love that book I think the most, out of the ones I’ve made. It’s very funny. 

If You Run Out of Words – book and image by Felicita Sala

4. One of your books, Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street: A collection of recipes to share, which you both wrote and illustrated, features a building where in each apartment there is a family or person cooking incredible food from their homeland which is shared in recipe form. Could you tell us a bit more about this story and how the idea came about? 

It was the French Publisher with whom I originally made the book, Cambourakis, who originally planted the idea into my head to do a recipe book. He was interested in my food illustration and suggested I make something resembling a picture book that involved food. I didn’t want to make a simple collection of recipes, or a book about ‘food for kids’. There are plenty of books of this kind out there. I wanted to make a picture book, with a unifying thread, which told the story of certain people, which to me is the most interesting thing to talk about and to observe. It was obvious that each recipe had to represent a person behind it, with a story. When you live in an apartment in a big city, there are different cooking smells wafting out of each apartment at dinnertime as you walk up the stairs, and that is such a great thing.

Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street: a collection of recipes to share – book and images by Felicita Sala

5. What are the things or people that inspire your work and in what ways? 

I think what inspires me most are things not directly connected to image making. I love a multitude of artists and illustrators, but ultimately it is other things which inspire me. Real life things. Children and the way they interact and exist in the world. Observing natural spaces, but also claustrophobic city spaces and how people live, what they say, how they look. Movies and music. Conversations with people inspire me. In terms of aesthetics, I love desaturated colours from 60s and 70s illustration, mid-century advertising and cinema, folk art from the Czech Republic and Poland and Eastern Europe generally, Byzantine iconography, the drawings of small children. 

6. You are now based in Rome. For any of our readers planning to visit, could you share a few of your favourite places to eat, visit and buy books? 

I don’t go out to eat much any more, so I am really out of the loop with all the new hip places. when I do go out I like to explore things that are not Italian, because I get bored. I could eat Thai every day, but there is not enough good Thai in Rome unfortunately. My favourite historical trattorias are Augusto in Trastevere and Osteria da Corrado. I love the bookshops and second-hand shops on Via del Governo Vecchio, and the area around Piazza Navona. Trastevere and Testaccio are the neighbourhoods I best know and love, but there are a lot of hip places and great eateries in Pigneto. 

7. Do you have any books you’ve illustrated coming out, or any upcoming projects you can share with us? 

My book If You Run Out of Words just came out in April. I am working on another one for Abrams books which will be out next year. And a book about rocks written by Mary Lyn Ray is coming out this fall with Chronicle Books. It’s called When you find the right rock, and it is possibly my favourite book in terms of illustration technique. I am also working on a paper cut stop motion music video with my husband Gianluca Maruotti, but can’t say any more at this stage!

Find more from Felicita Sala here:

Website: www.felicitasala.com

Instagram: @felicita.sala

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