Samizdat with Aliona Bereghici

Sometimes you meet people with whom you have instant connection. This was the case when I called Aliona and invited her at our studio to chat about the job of a freelance illustrator. A few days later when we met, it felt like we knew each other for a long time, this offering a great platform for an open conversation.

Aliona Bereghici is a designer and a book illustrator. In the last two decades, she has developed her own artistic style as a freelancer illustrating books and not only. She created her own product line based on her work that you can find on her website.

Eva Mocanu in conversation with Aliona Bereghici:

You managed to develop your unique style of illustrating books as a freelancer. What is it like to work as a freelance illustrator in the Republic of Moldova?

If you abstract from the thought that you live in Moldova and are not closely linked to the political and economic agenda, then you can easily create an imaginary space around you that offers the possibility to find your roots and your meaning in the profession of an illustrator.

After 10 years of working in an advertising agency, I understood that I prefer to work alone because too often it happens that I express my opinion and ruin my relationships because I did not agree with a certain person, I wanted to do something different or probably my professionalism stopped me to cohabit with a team.

Let’s say someone decided to embrace freelance. What would be some positive aspects and some risks that this job could bring with it? Do you have any advice for these people?

I would encourage the people that want to become freelancers to start believing in themselves and to develop a sense of trust in their life. At first, of course it is very difficult because the road is not sprinkled with flowers. However, there are some things that define your life and build your future — and there are only a few of them.

The first one is talent — it has to be in you. The talent to find things, to see things where others do not see them. And that’s what your style is about. I think your individual style needs a few years to be formed and usually, at the beginning of freelance, you start copying someone else, but eventually, piece by piece, you find yourself.

Then there should be seriousness. When it comes to a project, you have to dive in with all seriousness — create a project plan, understand and respect the deadline, make lots of sketches, and have the ability to communicate with people via email, because that’s usually how you talk to people in freelance. Also I believe that the final product you offer to the client must be not just qualitative, but extremely qualitative, because in our field of work we want for the client to return to us, but the person doesn’t return if you didn’t offer him/her a quality service.

Rituals are also important in the freelance job because it can be challenging to separate your life from your job and you need specific actions to get in the work process while working from home.

The third thing would be discipline. Discipline gives you self-confidence and it can be quite difficult to gain this skill of getting up in the morning and knowing that you have to work today. Talent is an additional element, because a lot of freelance people did the job well because they were very disciplined. If someone were to ask me now: “Does it make sense to start freelance?” I would say: “It makes sense if you are disciplined, then you have a real chance to be able to live out of this job.”

Freelance gives you as much freedom as you never dreamed of since you were a child when they let you play as much as you want … now they let you work as much as you want.

How did you arrive at the idea that you need a website and an online shop? Tell us more about the process of creating a website.

Before going on air, we were discussing that the pandemic had somehow changed us all. Well, I once had a website that was for the sake of beauty and it didn’t bring any money, but as we know now, a freelancer’s website has to bring money. If you don’t work for yourself, no one comes to pay you because you’re doing nothing. In 2019 I had a vision of how I wanted the website to look, but it all stayed at the stage of notebook sketches. And when the book “Ursul păcălit de vulpe” (“The Bear Tricked by the Fox” by Ion Creangă) came out of print, I thought: “How do I sell this book?”. I wanted for the website to be easy to access, to use and to sell. I still didn’t know how to do that, but if others could do it, so could I.

My grandma used to say: ”Remember that others have done it before you and that you can do it too, because you aren’t the stupidest of all.”

It took four months of planning and working with an extraordinary man, Oleg, who helped me understand how to create the website. All that was left was for me to fill the website with products, because you can’t launch a website that only has postcards and a book in it. I told him (and myself) that by October I would find something to fill it with — and so I did, and it worked. I thank the year 2020 for this, despite all the economic losses, the loss of lives. This year taught us to push ourselves, and to not leave ideas and plans for “later”.

There’s a curious product in your online shop — puzzle. How did you come to the idea to produce puzzles?

It was a client who wanted us to produce a puzzle, so it was our common idea. I have some contacts of people who deal with puzzles, I got in touch with them and we decided to collaborate. After testing the material from which the puzzle is produced and making the puzzle dozens of times making sure the quality is very good, I launched the project. Honestly, I wish we could make a 1000-piece puzzle, but we only have 40-piece at the moment, which is still good, and we hope to produce more complex ones in the future once the technology we use offers this possibility. Right now, these puzzles are more appropriate for children, and some parents told me that during lockdown many children managed to calm down for at least 15 minutes thanks to the puzzle, and their parents drank their coffee quietly.

Let’s talk about giclée printshave you produced them before? If so, how do you find this technique and what are your thoughts on it?

Yes, I make giclee prints, but I use a printer which isn’t mine and it’s a pretty expensive one. But I think that in a year I will be able to say with certainty that I am printing at my home with my own printer and this service will be offered continuously, meaning there will be a pre-order option on the website.

Giclee (pronounced Gee’clay) is a French term meaning to spray or squirt, which is how an inkjet printer works. However, it is not the same as a standard desktop inkjet printer, and is much larger and more detailed. Giclee prints can be a little over a meter wide and are printed on high quality archival papers. Giclee is the best way to produce archival reproductions of your fine art and photography.

Source: Giclee today

Giclee print is an art print that uses 8, 9 or 12 colors, a rich range of grays and it also prints in white which gives charm to the work. When you hold a giclee print with your hands, it is as if you are holding the original work, only it is either on a smaller scale, or the same scale, but it costs less. Respectively, it lasts over time, it can stay on the wall for 100 years if it is well protected with glass and the print gives you a visual pleasure.

Let’s talk about books! You illustrated around 16 books and, when preparing for our talk, you told me that recently, a book gave you a beautiful friendship. I am referring to the book “Ella and the Lost Teddy” by Elena Baciu-Mihailov. How exactly did the collaboration take place and why is it so special to you?

It is a personal project of a Bessarabian woman who emigrated to Canada and found her purpose in poetry. I received the text from her (she later confessed she didn’t expect me to accept the offer) and everything regarding my choices is directly related to the budget because you can’t work in vain, that’s what the British people taught me. And the second component on which I base my work decisions is the quality of the text. For me, the quality always resonates with reading two pages from it and already seeing the image — if this happens, then I go straight to the discussion with the author. This poem (“Ella and the Lost Teddy”) is so succinct and wholesome that I practically saw the illustrations after two lines read, and then I felt that I wanted to work with this girl. It’s one of the most positive books I’ve illustrated so far.

I think you feel the energy of the book in a special way.

Yes, totally. There are books that I’ve illustrated and I can’t explain how it happened. For instance, when I illustrated the book “Sărbătorile trăiesc acasă” with Viorica Covalschi (Holidays live at home) we had a clear vision from the start of how the book should look like. Viorica gave me the green light to do it the way I feel it and that gave me a very wide angle of action, which I love. It is one of the best collaborations when the author gives you freedom, and so it happened with both Viorica and Elena.

I mentioned the book “MăiestIA” by Stela Moldovanu and the book cover illustrated by Aliona — The Girl with the Red Tulip. Aliona talked a bit about the significance of the portrait and explained that she doesn’t paint ordered portraits, and that all the women illustrated by her have a certain power in them. This is where the discussion about feminism and the role of women in society was born for a brief moment.

I am not a feminist, I would rather say that my religion is freedom, but women must be strong, because we live in a space where women always have to assert themselves somehow, be it on the street, at work, in freelancer professions, even in university. I believe that the middle way is the most appropriate: to have mutual respect among women and men, and this will create harmony in society. However, women must remember that they are very strong, and this power must not be used as a hammer to hit men, but to give a helping hand to them when needed, because men are often aggressive out of frustration. And if we, being stronger, would lend a helping hand, as a mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, I think the gender gap would disappear. Evolution works this way.

I know this is a complex topic, but I am curious to know your thoughts regarding educating our society towards book loving and valuing. How can we make this happen?

I don’t want to blame anyone in particular because in this matter more “actors” are involved. I would say that, first of all, illustrators must know their price, especially when a publishing house tells you that a book spread costs 35 euros. My dear colleagues, I advise you to multiply this money by the euro exchange rate and to imagine what you put in the shopping cart when you go to the store and want to buy some food with that money. Ask yourself how long that illustration took you to make, because you think it took you two hours or two days, but in fact there are sleepless nights during university, there are feelings that you will never be able to explain to any psychologist and besides that, is your unique style and it has to cost, because no one will ever do that illustration the way you do it. But all of this derives from the economic state of the country, from the attitude of the publishing houses and of the ministry. Because illustrators alone cannot move the society. This is an orchestral thing where everyone should get involved. Until then, everything is exactly as it was 10 years, even 20 years ago. The poor booksellers try to sell the books, I noticed in the last two years they succeeded, and I would probably say that, when you have the opportunity, worship the booksellers because apparently, in the whole orchestra, they love the books the most.

Thanks to Aliona for accepting this invitation which brought some topics that are so needed nowadays, such as: fair pay; women empowerment; freelance job as a great way to build your style and your brand; dare to try something new!

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