Eric Brotchie — In My Element

Posted on February 23, 2015

Loretta Lizzio finds her Eden.

If you type the letters ‘Loretta Lizzio’ into Google images, which I urge you to do, the first thing you’ll confront is a wealth of creativity, some illustrations, and a lot of sensuous photography. Some words might spring to your mind like ‘indie’, ‘cool’, or ‘chic’, or you might perversely arrange the term ‘hipster’ in your mind. Although plenty of people might argue against this last one, no-one will be able to argue that this person you’ve just googled is not incredibly talented. Hailing from Queensland, Loretta has shifted between cattle country in the North and the mild lilting breezes of the Gold Coast, and she’s now thriving in Melbourne’s harsh southern climes. Working for street brand Element Eden, she’s the archetypal professional artist; making the most of her talent to bring in the bacon, and pushing herself to the limit with everything in her busy calendar.

Loretta is no stranger to Overcoat. She appeared in Issue Two: Work, two years ago. As hard as it is to believe, in that issue Loretta was still in school on the Gold Coast, with graphic design classes providing the background to her series of alluring images pencilled on skateboards. In those illustrations I can’t see any particular signs of the tropical north, but there may be a few dusty hues that look mildly like the outback; maybe even the blood sweat and tears of growing up on the land. Perhaps through some further analysis and some in-depth research I’ll be able to tease out some more on these, and about what’s been happening in Loretta’s life since. No, in fact, I’ll just ask her via email. She looks nice on Google. She’ll be helpful, I just know it.

‘I grew up on a farm in North Queensland,’ Loretta writes, after I’ve sent her a few pertinent questions. ‘At first of course, it had a huge influence on my work; I drew a lot of girls on horseback with long flowing hair, insects and other animals. It was all very naïve and pretty.’ My mind drifts to those whimsical scenes from the film Saving Mr Banks, with P.L. Travers gallivanting across country Queensland, then returns to Loretta’s Tumblr. Loretta’s work is no longer naïve, but you could definitely argue it’s still very pretty. Briefly reviewing a cross-section of what’s in front of me, I am caught by an evident theme that runs through the works; a preference for timber and earthy ochres, and muddy yellows to offset greyscale sketching. It’s faint, but I can tell some of the farm has embedded itself across the illustrations: ‘I still enjoy drawing these things, however I want to strive for more when it comes to my technique,’ Loretta has written. ‘I have discovered my love for oils and am enjoying a richer, darker colour palette.’

Since her brief first appearance in Overcoat, Loretta has completed a Diploma in Graphic Design, been the Gold Coast Institute of Technology’s Student of the Year (2012), completed a solo art show, moved to Melbourne, started working for global street brand Element, and continues to push creative boundaries everywhere she goes. ‘I am still going through a trial and error stage and this will last a long while,’ she says. ‘I have endless amounts to learn.’ Now she’s in Melbourne, her work is morphing and expanding into new horizons. ‘I am still focusing on the same theme and subject matter; hands, portraiture, mythology, but the high level of incredible art has helped me to raise the bar a little, and that’s a huge part of the reason I moved here. Everything here is so inspiring it is sometimes overwhelming.’

As I browse Loretta’s Instagram, I begin to see the broader horizons she’s talking about. Mythologies have been widened to include complex belief systems like voodooism, animism and paganism. I notice a particular talent for form which manifests best in nudes and portraiture. One particular image that strikes me is that of a queen-of-the-damned figure, skeletal and seductive, crowned with a skull, and emerging from a sash of roses. It is a complex work not just because of its powerful imagery, but because of its cross-pollination of a variety of spiritual and historical elements. Loretta explains that whimsy was never an intended focus of her work, but just a natural outlet of a mixture of interests and ideas: ‘I guess it’s my love of adventure and the vivid dreams I have.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, religion, poetry and music. I think the best way for me to get whatever it is I am feeling out there, is through something not of this world.’I think jealously that the sort of nonsense I dream about could not possibly be made into a viable occupation. I mean, it’s just not inspiring, dreaming about having a holiday booked, and then not being able to find your keys on the way to the airport.

But nevertheless, people like Loretta do, in many ways have the talent and skill to make what they dream a marketable and sought-after commodity. This is no truer than in her work with Element Eden, who, she says, have been incredibly supportive, after randomly poaching her for a modelling job, after seeing her in a friend’s music video.

‘They wanted me to be captured for their next winter range. After meeting the Element ladies we got to know each other a little more, and they discovered I did art. After that I was invited to join the team.’ It’s probably quite a rare and strange way to get offered a job, I think, but to be fair, in the current job market, it’s far more honest, and far less ridiculous than everyone’s favourite way of getting an interview: key selection criteria. Luckily the fairy tale didn’t end after a honeymoon period; Loretta, who continues to design for Element, says it’s as much about the people as the work. ‘I love Element Eden and what they stand for.

I think that’s why this has all worked out so well. We are like a little family,’ she types gushingly. ‘I know this is also a job and it won’t last forever, but while it does I am completely stoked to be working for such an amazing brand with an incredible team of ladies.’

The day-to-day of illustrators working with big brands might be hard to access for some people (read: people like me). What do they do all day? Do they literally draw things and submit them to their bosses, like most of us would hand up a report or something? I realise I have no idea, so I have quizzed Loretta on the finer details, pun not intended. I find out it is generally an organic process, and that her higher-ups basically let her get on with it: ‘Although they may give me a theme in regards to a design, they always encourage me, and actually prefer it when I complete it within my own style. They give me so much freedom and put so much trust in me. They have really helped to boost my confidence.’ I ponder this for a while, and realise that confidence is something that is perhaps holding a lot of artists back. ‘It’s a massive compliment,’ says Loretta, ‘being recognised in any small way for doing something I love so much.’

Although Loretta has done most of the work to answer this question for me already, I ask if it takes a special type of person to be a professional illustrator. The answer is a roundabout yes: ‘It takes a little artistic maturity,’ she says. ‘It has been a long process for me to come to this point; where I can take direction and ideas regarding something I am about to create. Illustrators are unique in that they have an ability to take an idea from someone else, or multiple people separately, and bring it all together to create something even better then what they or their client had imagined.’ I wonder if that’s a view held by other illustrators she knows, if she’s spotted any characteristics in her that are mirrored in them: ‘You have to be open and understanding of others; what they need and why. I think it’s special to be creating something that excites someone, as long as they meet you half way and allow you to stay true to your style.’

I picture the well-mediated tantrums that happen between designers and clients all the time, and pitch a question about how that is for business. The answer is predictable and up-front: ‘It really drives me mad when someone asks you to do a job that is so obviously not up your alley and wants to take complete control of the design. It is offensive. I refuse to work with people like that.’

Oh to be in a spot as an artist where you can refuse work?! I think. But it is the sign of both a valuable artist and a true professional that they stand up for their beliefs and develop their reputation on their own terms. Nevertheless, Loretta has obviously been on the receiving end of overbearing clients in the past, and has a suggestion for the way to get around it. It may be easier for people as easy-going as her, but harder for others: ‘You need to be a little down to earth and lose the ego. Otherwise you will never meet your client half way.’

And yet, unlike other people who might be, or in fact have been described as ‘gorgeously dedicated and stunningly talented’, Loretta is annoyingly humble, acknowledging the best is yet to come. ‘I don’t feel I have achieved anything mentionable on paper other than my own personal goals. I guess one thing that I am proud of is when I attempt a new technique and it works pretty well, so I get more confident pulling it off.’ Going one step further than humbleness, and straight onto awesomeness, she even adds that her creative journey is not just her own, and that others have had a big role to play in helping her push the boundaries. ‘Little stories that are written about me in magazines or on blogs I have always looked to for inspiration.’ Good, I think, it makes sitting here in the cold all worthwhile.

‘So where will Loretta Lizzio be in 5 years’ time?’ I finish with, realising that in spite of how glib this question seems, it’s actually a really good one, because of the unreliable nature of the professional artist’s career path. Loretta seems to agree that it is a good question, which is a good answer. ‘I have no idea. I am completely happy now, and being focused on the present. I have goals in mind to reach and no doubt that I will get there. Hopefully I will be doing the same in 5 – 10 years’ time with a smile on my face, a little more experience and knowledge under my belt and with a whole new set of goals in mind! The journey is endless.’

Loretta Lizzio studied at GCIT Coomera TAFE.

Buy a limited edition print of Overcoat Seasonal Collection: Winter here.

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