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The prolific Anthony Russo on working in editorial illustration for the last 40 years

Readers of pretty much any current affairs focused publication operating in North America will be familiar – and we’re sure fond of – the work of Anthony Russo. Working in editorial illustration for the past 40 years or so, Anthony operates out of his home in Little Compton, Rhode Island, where his interest in creativity began in the late 60s and early 70s when he was studying fine art.

During this time Anthony’s teachers encouraged and emphasised their students to work “very conceptually and abstractly,” influencing the work he was initially creating. However his decision not to go to graduate school, or move to a major city, meant “it was very difficult to find support for the work I was doing,” he recalls.

Looking for a way “to make a living creatively” Anthony headed to his local Boston weekly with a collection of drawings to pitch as illustrations. The paper, understandably, liked them and “so I dropped my ambitions for fine art and became an illustrator,” he tells It’s Nice That. In hindsight, “it was a very practical decision that turned out to be actually very good for me,” he continues. “Illustration turned out to be something that suited me very well.”

Ever since, Anthony has spent time refining and honing an illustration sensibility which appears, in an editorial context, to be very individual to him. Explaining how he tends to work in “a very simple way,” the illustrator’s work is what he describes as “iconic and symbolic, stripping everything down to elemental graphic images that convey complex ideas.”

As a result, Anthony’s editorial illustrations are bold in their execution of translating information creatively. When given a piece to interpret, the first thing he’ll do is “strip my subject matter to its elemental ideas,” he tells us. “Hate, love, pain, greed etc.” Reducing a text to its simplest form means his illustrations follow a similar process, often excellently using a black and white colour palette and utilising negative and positive space as the ideal “visual vocabulary”.

Working in the editorial sector for decades now, Anthony’s illustrations have sat beside a wealth of news stories. It appears a joy for him to work in this way, especially as he’s someone who reads a lot to “stay informed about what is happening in the world,” he points out. “I enjoy editorial work because it gives me an opportunity to put my two cents worth into the conversation about what is happening in our world.” Luckily too, art directors tend to send the illustrator assignments which align with his own political sensibilities, “so my assignments resonate with my personal point of view.” This way of working also appears to be necessary too with the illustrator explaining how editorial work for publications such as The New York Times only have deadlines of a few hours, “so you have to be aware of what is happening currently and ready to hit the ground running.”

An established illustrator in the editorial scene for so many years now, Anthony adds that he continues to always draw and paint “to keep my visual vocabulary fresh and fluent, so that I can be ready to apply it to my assignments as they come up,” he tells us. Alongside shows in fine art galleries and an upcoming local show this autumn, Anthony rounds off our conversation with a great nugget of advice for any illustrator looking to join in the editorial sphere of creativity: be ready. “I’m always ready when the phone rings to tap into my visual vocabulary and join in on the conversation.”

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