While you may not know Alessandra Olanow's name, there will be no doubt that you've seen her work...
Her modern, poignant and on-the-pulse illustrations have graced the pages of GOOP, The Oprah Magazine, Vogue and The Wall Street Journal, to name but a few. Unsurprisingly, Alessandra’s personal demeanour – and her home – are equally enticing and creative. Based in New York where she is raising her daughter Coco, Alessandra is the epitome of Brooklyn charm. We spoke to Alessandra about the role of art in her life, how she’s consciously raising a creative child, and how she’s only just coming into the highlight of her career.
Your illustrations cover such diverse, beautiful topics. From motherhood, to fashion and lifestyle, to poignant musings on life. Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration comes in many forms; really anything that allows me to think creatively. Some of that results from reading books, listening to music, going to art shows. But mostly I’m just looking around, watching people on the street, noticing how a stranger tells a story or eats a sandwich, wondering how they picked out what they have on and why. Everyday moments and the movements of human behavior give me so much. Whenever I get stuck on an idea, I go for a walk and take a peek at the world around me.
What is your relationship to social media, and how have you used it to enhance your career?
‘It’s complicated.’ I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I hate social media because people are endlessly on their phones. People wait in line at the supermarket on their phones, sit at the table with their family scrolling, people are even on their phones while they’re having conversations with friends. I want to scream, ‘People, look up! Let’s live in this dimension!’
But… I also love social media. it makes it so easy to connect with friends and colleagues, stay up to date with current events and discover talent I would never come across. It’s amazing that way.
With regards to my career, it has been unbelievable. Social media is the easiest and most inexpensive way to market myself. It’s an incredible tool to show your work to the world.
How has motherhood influenced or changed your art?
Motherhood has shifted everything in my life. Having my daughter, Coco, was the greatest relief. Suddenly after decades of only needing to take care of myself, someone else came first. She is my little anchor that keeps me grounded. I’ve found that I’ve slowed down so much, accepting that you can’t always rush everything. This attitude has rippled into my artwork in the best way. Having more patience with myself and allowing myself the time I need to explore.
How have you used art throughout some of the challenges in your life?
Oh boy, art has been my saving grace. Between an abrupt split from my husband and my mother being diagnosed with cancer, I nearly broke. Struggling to make sense of it all, art was my way to get all of the crap building up inside, out of me. During my rockier moments when I couldn’t hold it together, I would stay up all hours, I would paint, or scribble. It was very cathartic. It was healing.
What has been your career highlight to date?
I think I am in my career highlight! I just signed a deal with Harper Collins to publish my own book. It’s an illustrated tribute to letting go of what you thought was going to happen and embracing what actually is happening. It should hit the shelves in 2020.
And, I am launching an organic kids pajama company with my friend Fiona Montgomery called Dodo Banana this fall that I’m very excited about. They are super soft, eco-friendly pajamas with the cutest illustrations of course!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My daughter usually wakes me up around 630/7am and we start the breakfast routine, then it’s a quick bike ride to school. I like to move my body, so after drop off, I either take a yoga class or go for a run. As a freelancer, my work days vary, if there’s lots to do, back home to work. But, if I’m not under a tight deadline things can be more flexible which could include going to the park to read, lunch with a friend, an art show or a film. It changes. Coco comes home at 5pm and we make dinner together, play around afterwards and she’s in bed by 7pm. This is when I’m most creative, so I work often at night. I’ll put on some good tunes and get to it. I try to sleep by 1130, so I’ll shut down whatever I’m doing at 11 and unwind before zzzzzzz.
How do you switch off and make time for yourself/self-care?
When I was younger I was terrible at switching off, but over time I have come to recognize the importance of down-time. The best spot for me is the yoga studio, there I can really unwind both physically and mentally. It’s a place where I’m relaxed and comfortable.
Also being around friends is a big part of my self-care, when I’m with my people I can get out of my head. I work mostly alone so although some may find being social the opposite of making time for oneself, for me it’s very welcome and needed.
What’s life like raising a daughter in Brooklyn?
It’s the best. There’s a great community vibe in Brooklyn. It’s easy to know your neighbors, and we help each other. It’s a friendly place filled with people from everywhere and I love that for Coco. Human connection is good. It’s wonderful to know that she’s growing up in an incredible city filled with so much art, music and culture and I do my best to let her experience it.
How have you approached decorating your home, and where are your go-to stores/sources for great artwork?
In my home I like to keep things simple and functional. We have people over all of the time so I like a space that’s open and inviting, but also comfortable. With furnishings I lean towards a very neutral/muted palette and let color come from the artwork on the walls and the people hanging out in my home. As for go-to sources and stores – I’ve gotten a lot of furniture pieces from Wynne City Works, some interesting lighting from BEAM, and artworks come mostly from friends and yours truly.
How do you encourage creativity within Coco?
Oh, I think it’s all about exposure. We do our fair share of painting and crafts together, but she is also watching me work and create, paying attention to my process. On top of which, her father and I take her to all sorts of art shows and music events where she can see how other people reveal their creativity. Then, it’s just giving her the space to do her own thing and supporting that expression.
You work with some amazing clients - from Bon Appetit to The Wall Street Journal to Vogue. How do you balance this demanding career with finding space to be creative?
My grandfather used to always say this to me and I truly believe it, “The more you do, the more you can do.” With regards to finding time for creativity the busier I am, the better I manage my time. It’s as if I’m a well-oiled machine and when it’s time to get creative I’m ready!
How do you make the juggle work?
I am very intentional with my time. This means deciding what I’m going to spend my time on and when, and then following through with that plan the best I can. As long as I have plan, I can make it work.