in conversation with Christina Gliha
“I find how some people self-designate with strict titles about how and what they are to be very limiting. Learning new things keeps you humble and open to connecting and passion stacking.”
- Christina Gliha
"When I was planning the launch for Ilody's Kansa Wand, I wanted to explore another way to visualise it. I didn’t want to go down the photography route. I wanted something more personal, something different. I’ve always loved the tactile nature of illustration, and truth be told, the art is having a wonderful moment right now.
Illustration makes me think of textiles which I’ve always had a love for - whether it be traditional embroideries in sari’s or the rich embroideries that I’ve been lucky enough to see while working with fashion designer, Alexander McQueen.
I began researching another way to convey the beauty of our Kansa Wand and came across Christina’s work on social media - take a look at her incredible designs @christinaglihaillustration. I reached out to her to see if she wanted to collaborate, to which she said yes.
Then, the magic happened.
Join Christina and I, as we sit down for a deep conversation, discussing her life as an artist, what inspires her and how she likes to work. I hope you enjoy.
How do you start your creative process?
Christina: It always depends on the type of project. For a client project, everything starts with interviewing them, understanding their vision, putting together a creative brief and of course doing lots and lots of research! I read everything I can about the brand, their industry and competition, and I look at a lot of reference imagery, film and books. I also look “out-of-category” to help see where there are new opportunities to innovate and differentiate. If the client makes a specific product or service, for example, a new lipstick, I use it myself for a while to understand it more fully.
When it’s personal work, I may just see something and be instantly inspired and want to interpret it, but usually I have a huge reference archive I look through. This is where I combine elements that I think work well together. I am also very inspired by my childhood, pop culture, fashion, food and my travels and I take an obscene amount of photos to draw upon!Illustration is having a moment in recent times within fashion and beauty, why do you think that is?
Christina: Because our iPhones are now a virtual photo studio in your pocket! I would say the average person has a certain proficiency with taking pretty decent images, but our smartphones have now made the act of taking a relatively good photo seem more attainable and thereby, ubiquitous and possibly less special.
With illustration, it’s a more rarified skill comparatively and as a medium, it can be more emotive and flexible. You don’t need a whole photo studio and team and set design built for a concept – an artist can draw anything – a destination, a crowd of people, another universe or surreal reality and there are no model contracts or studios to book or sets to build. It’s actually quite lovely.
It’s also possible for a brand to stand out with an illustration style because it’s easier to create something unique. Lastly, I think illustration that feels handmade speaks to people on a different level. Some illustration work is so perfect that it almost feels solely computer generated which can leave people feeling cold. Imperfection helps people connect more to artwork because that is inherently human. I actually often go back to roughen up work because sometimes people mistake some of my more realistic work for photographs - which never elicits the same emotional response.You’ve worked with many brands over the years as an art director, graphic designer, what drew you back to illustration?
My husband, Martin Bregman, has been working as an illustrator as well for over a decade and I had a front row seat to his great success. He has built a life for himself that is pretty incredible and to be honest, I was jealous of it, as working in advertising can be very challenging on so many levels. I wanted more joy for myself and I wanted to choose who I worked with. People have told me that they can literally see how much I love something in the way I render it and I think that authentic interest makes all the difference in how I feel and how good the work is. I have spent just as much time turning down work as taking it on because I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t light a spark within.
When you're not working on brand collaborations, what inspires you to illustrate?
I made a commitment to myself that I would draw every day for a year during the beginning of the pandemic, and now it’s actually a compulsion. I actually feel like I must do it! I have come to realise that nothing makes me happier than creating on my own terms. I have had some destructive addictions to consumerism in the past that I have redirected into creating art and wow! What a game changer. I feel more awake, more myself and on the right path – it’s so inspiring.
Are you influenced be any artists, photographers or writers? When I look at your work, especially the more painterly aspects, I’m reminded of Hockney. Does fine art play a part in your work?
Everything influences and inspires me, especially fine art and photography. I also come from a long line of painters, illustrators and sculptors, so it’s in the blood so-to-speak. I am very influenced by my family legacy. My father and step-mother were very encouraging of my artistic interests during my childhood, and they supported my desire to go to art school and pursue a creative life. This support and encouragement was invaluable.
Artists like Hockney and Maria Kalman are huge influences. When I look at their work I feel so optimistic. I want to make other people feel that way too, but you must always start with pleasing yourself instead of chasing trends. Once you start with asking “will so-and-so like this?”, you’re doomed! If you feel giddy looking at your own work after a couple days or weeks have passed since you made it, you know you’ve nailed it. Sometimes I look at my own pieces and think, “did I really make this? How?!”. Sometimes, I am sincerely surprised by the final results. This magic happens when it comes from inside, not anywhere else. Obviously, sometimes the conclusion is that the work is utter rubbish, and that’s perfectly ok too.
Your style is very painterly. It’s loose with visible brushstrokes, how do you think this connects with people as opposed to seeing more photography when brands communicate their products?
Sometimes when images are too perfect, they wash over you. You reject them and sort them into the “not real” pile. When I was commissioning work as a Creative Director, I found I was always drawn to everything hand-drawn to balance out how corporate and aloof some brands can be. The act of pairing art with commercial messaging can be a very interesting juxtaposition. Some may feel it’s crass or cheapens the art, but I think all creative endeavours deserve respect if they are built from a good place. I love good advertising and consider it an art form like anything else when it’s done with skill and integrity. Some people balk at that idea but I ran an art gallery briefly in my youth and that world is just as commercial as anything else. How we divide and label things is more about how it suits our needs rather than what it really is. All pursuits can have merit if you approach them with the right ideals.
I only launched my illustration Instagram account recently and have been pretty blown away by the response given that so many people feel that platform has had its moment in the sun. Social media has been amazing because big brands, designers and celebrities have reached out to me directly and vice versa and so there isn’t this barrier of handlers protecting you from having direct conversations with founders. I’ve been stunned by this aspect and to be honest, I love it. You can really cut through quickly and make great connections.
I’m also experimenting with TikTok now too, and I see the potential for community building in a big way given its unique tone of transparency. The platform encourages sharing and vulnerability in a very positive and real way, versus the perfect veneer of Instagram.
You illustrate so many things, from beauty to places. Do you have a favourite thing to draw?
I’m very curious about everything and am interested in a lot of different things. I love variety. I’m all about pushing myself to try new things, and I think this curiosity about everything really helps make my work and life interesting. I feel like I have ideas flowing from the top of my head like a fountain! I have never stayed in my lane professionally or otherwise, and this has typically challenged people, as they’re unsure as to how to categorize me. Regardless, I love it and will never stop exploring and growing.
I find how some people self-designate with strict titles about how and what they are to be very limiting. Learning new things keeps you humble and open to connecting and passion stacking. I recently designed a store of the future for Lululemon and had never done a project of that scale before. Most people would say, how can I possibly figure this out if I haven’t done it already? I never think that I can’t do something - there is always a way - just sit down, do the research, surround yourself with the right people, be open and the ideas and solutions will come. Everything in life is creative problem solving. I always tell people that humans were not put on planet earth to just try a couple things - try everything! Why not? Our world is a playground. This curiosity translates to what I am inspired to draw - it’s really a record of what I am thinking about at any given movement and what I love.
When delivering a project do you have an ideal set up?
I’m very process oriented because of my decades of agency experience where one has so little time to actually be creative. That acute pressure taught me to be incredibly flexible and focused and shut out all distractions no matter how chaotic the environment around me was. For that reason, I am not very precious about where I work - I can really work anywhere, and in any situation. I once designed an entire pitch in a car returning home from a cottage. To be clear, I was not the one driving! But, if I had to pick an ideal way to work, it’s late at night while watching movies – the split focus distracts me so that I can’t be anxious or get derailed by questioning if something is good enough yet.
Do you have any rituals that keep you grounded and balanced?
To be frank, the single best ritual (and investment) I have ever made for myself is to go to therapy regularly, do shadow work and remove all the drama from my life. I couldn’t recommend this more.
In terms of other routines, I go for an hour's walk every day with my dog, no matter the weather. This time in nature is essential for happiness. I also call my best friend everyday, who is a creative genius and talk to them for at least an hour or more about our goals and dreams – this really energises me. I also try to go to museums and new restaurants as often as possible and take two or three creative inspiration trips a year.
In terms of beauty and wellness products, I find the degree of choice overwhelming and so I really look to smaller founder-led brands that I trust to guide me. I read ingredient labels and truly care about the people behind brands - their stories and motivations. In terms of makeup, I love to play and try all the colours and trends because it’s fun and a creative form of self-expression.
Lastly, I always stay out of the direct sun and wear 50+ sun block every day no matter what (I have since I was 25!). I drink mostly just water and eat intuitively - I don’t have strict rules around what I can and cannot have. I prioritize knowing where the food comes from, seasonality and flavour. I’m very lucky, because my husband does all of the shopping and cooking and is always making the most marvellous dishes for our family – eating well is everything to us. That said, I will just as easily indulge in a bag of Hawkins Cheesies too!
Visit Christina’s incredible work at christinagliha.com