When Ilaria Gallo couldn’t readily find sustainable greeting cards she decided to make her own, later founding eco-conscious design studio La Ria Creations. We spoke with Ilaria about the role of digital design in sustainability, overcoming challenges and the importance of being kind.
Today I’m joined by Ilaria Gallo, founder and Creative Head at La Ria Creations. Ilaria is an accomplished illustrator and graphic designer who makes inspiring artwork and a line of sustainable stationery and cards. Ilaria, welcome to AMR
Ilaria: Thank you so much for having me.
How did you get started as a designer?
I have always enjoyed being creative. Early on I began creating greeting cards, just for my friends and family. That came about because I noticed what was available in stores was less appealing to me, the designs didn’t feel that personal, or they didn’t quite suit what I had in mind. So, I began coming up with my own unique designs.
Also, as I became more eco-conscious, I realised how difficult it was to find any sustainable cards or stationery at mainstream stores, at least back home in Switzerland. Or, if they did exist, they weren’t clearly labelled or accessible. And I thought to myself, ‘I want to be part of a positive change’, to change things and make sustainable products more available and easier to access for everyday people. Designing a stationery line and featuring my creations at pop-up stalls and markets has also been a long-held dream of mine.
As I became more eco-conscious, I realised how difficult it was to find any sustainable cards or stationery at mainstream stores.
As a child I was a creative soul at heart. I always loved spending time crafting for hours or drawing. Through that, I found that I could really take a deep dive into my own world and imagination. Back when I was a teenager, I really got into photography, that was my main creative source for years. Unfortunately, my camera broke and couldn’t afford a new one at that time, that’s when I stopped practicing any form of art, so I lost that creative spark. It took quite a while to get back to it. But at a certain point, the urge arose from deep inside to be creative again, which quickly restored my inner spark. And I began to feel that I really wanted to follow my passion. Not long after, I attended a market in Melbourne, a creative market, and I recall there being a specific stand where I looked at all the items on display. All of a sudden, I really thought, yeah, ‘I want to do that, I want to be able to be at this stage at some point’. Most of all, I wanted to be able to inspire people and spread some love with my art and through my stationery. So, it started, I guess, with a small, quiet voice. But soon it grew louder and louder! I decided to listen to the voice inside and give it a go. And I really love having made that decision. I am very grateful to be able to do what I do, build what I have and keep coming across new opportunities. That’s how it all began.
Sounds like your quest to find sustainable, personable products led you to make your own. Common elements among your artwork are themes of love, celebrating the joy of life and positive, uplifting messages. How does that figure into your creative process?
Some designs are born purely from fun or exploration. But usually, my main focus is centered on what could I do to hopefully spread more love or joy, because I feel like you can never have enough of that. And just knowing that life can be tough at times and things happen and things will affect us. Also, our feelings and emotions can sometimes get the better of us, especially during such times. So, I think it’s beautiful if you can receive a message or an illustration that can provide some encouragement or express love or joy. Because sometimes I think that for some people it might even be difficult to show someone else how much you care, to let them know you love them, possibly due to stigma, awkwardness, embarrassment or certain situations. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to say or to find the right words. That’s where it might be easier to show it in a different way. That could be with a handwritten letter, which is beautiful, or sometimes maybe even just with a touching design which could communicate the message itself.
My main focus is centered on what could I do to hopefully spread more love or joy, because I feel like you can never have enough of that.
And also, I want to try to create a positive change, not only in the regard that my products are sustainable, but also a positive change in the lives of others, for people’s mental health and wellbeing. Like how we treat each other, that we are kind and try to make the world a better place. I want to play my part.
That’s a fantastic mindset. Now, I’ve noticed that your logo is a sun and a moon. What’s that about?
Well, I really love the moon and the sun! It’s a representation and a reminder of the nature of life. For example, the moon goes through different phases, just like we do through life as well. And just like the sun, like, each day, it rises and goes down. And just a reminder that everything is in a constant sort of flow and everything is constantly changing. It’s also a reminder about nature, like how beautiful it is, how much it can give to us but also how we should respect what we have. A message that guides my thoughts on sustainability is that while we are a part of this wonderful planet that cares for us, we also have to take care of it too.
On a related note, you work with both physical and digital media to create your messaging and artwork. Would you say you are more of a digital artist, or do you find yourself using traditional creative tools more often?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, at the beginning, I was really only using traditional media, creating art on physical products, drawing, using watercolours, things like that. Also, at the time I didn’t have a device with which to create digital art and I didn’t think about it to be honest. Then, later on, I was slowly introduced to creating digital designs which led me to purchasing my first Surface tablet.
At the very beginning, I was pretty hesitant! Maybe you could say I wasn’t such a big fan of creating in that way. But now actually, I have come to love it. Because I feel like the possibilities are just endless, in the sense of, if you create a design, you can reuse the same design in different ways, or you can just take parts out of it and create something new as well. If you make a mistake, it’s easier to undo it or even just edit things.
Whereas if you, for example, are making a watercolour painting or you hand letter something on paper using traditional media, sometimes you will make a mistake and you have to start the entire piece from the beginning if you cannot fix it! If you are using paper, you have to be more cautious and mindful. It’s kind of like, back in the days when you had to take a picture using actual film, you would really think, ‘which picture do I want to take?’. Nowadays, you can just take millions of pictures! And then you can also delete them just as quickly, which I guess is both a pro and a con. There’s also less to set up and you can get right into creating mode when using digital tools.
However, I still do like to use traditional media and mix the two on occasion. It’s always a treat when painting on paper and I still love to sketch first on paper, because I have better control over the pen. My one criticism with creating digitally is that it doesn’t truly feel exactly like as using a pen or brush, at least for me.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve used a Surface, but what other tools make it into your workflow? Have you experimented with any of the paper-like E Ink tablets?
Not at this stage. But I really would love and am keeping an eye on the reMarkable tablet. That’s something I definitely would like to try at some stage. It would be amazing to avoid using paper and cut down on paper use for sketching and notetaking. If the experience is really the same, then it could be useful to sketch with it and then refine later with other design apps.
Although you rely heavily on digital tools and technology, would you still describe yourself as say, a watercolour artist? Or how would you describe your style?
Yeah, I guess now I would say I’m more of a digital artist. But as I mentioned, sometimes I also like to include different methods in the one design. For example, just recently, I created a thank you card for a client, where I used traditional watercolour as part of the process. First, I sketched out and painted a series of herbs, then scanned that in to digitize it and refine the design digitally. That can create a really nice effect.
The best of both worlds.
You mentioned producing a card for a client. What other products do you currently offer?
So, aside from my passion for illustration, La Ria Creations is both an online store and a graphic design studio. I’ve collaborated with my clients across a variety of projects, products and services. If they can dream it, we can work together to design a creative solution for what they have in mind. We can then suggest eco-conscious and sustainable printers and packaging materials where the designs can be turned into physical products with minimal environmental impact. Through my store, right now I am best known for offering a range of cards, mainly post cards, that are made using recycled paper and cardstock. The original intent was to use less paper, so I went with this format over greeting cards.
Also, post cards lend themselves to be repurposed in other ways. For example, I like to get postcards not only for the heart-warming messages I receive from friends and family, but if there’s a nice print or an encouraging or inspiration quote on it, I tend to put it on display and keep it for longer. I’ll maybe stick it on the wall or a mood board, something like that. It becomes like a piece of art itself. I’ve also noticed people are very keen on greeting cards, so I’m expanding that line as well. Also, I have designed a few tote bags, which have been made using recycled materials. Very soon there will be some new products coming, which I’m really excited about. All I’ll say for now is, watch this space!
Nice, will be sure to keep a look out. Throughout our chat you’ve mentioned sustainable design and trying to be more mindful of what you use. What do consumers need to look out for when trying to be more environmentally friendly with their purchases?
Right now, the main difference is, if you want to use, or buy, sustainable products, it just takes a bit more effort, because you really have to put in some extra time to do the research. Really look, hunt around, but the important thing to know is that they do exist, they just might not be so well marketed or readily available.
Things to consider are, where or how the items are produced. Other aspects for consideration are, how much water and electricity is being used, or are the products made using renewable energy, for example. Is the company using recycled materials? Early on there can be trial and error, you may have to try different companies until you find the product or service that satisfies you.
You can make a huge difference to the environment by supporting eco-conscious companies. It sends a message and big businesses are starting to take notice.
It can appear that there are less options available, especially when considering the mainstream, but they do exist! And sometimes it can make you rethink and be a bit more flexible with what you want. For example, back to tote bags, maybe you can’t get the exact design, or shape or size. Another challenge can be cost, as often these companies are producing in lower quantities, at a higher cost and they are much smaller than the big retail giants. Since running my own business, I’ve become much more aware of this. It’s not always easy, if you want to try to be kind to the planet as well, especially if you are a small business and just starting out.
But I think you can make a huge difference to the environment by supporting eco-conscious companies. It sends a message and big businesses are starting to take notice. It’s great because larger businesses have even more potential to make a bigger impact as well. Yeah, I guess just picking something from the shelf not really looking, where it’s coming from, how its produced and everything like that… while it’s more convenient, it can have long term effects on our environment.
And have you seen that change in terms of the number of sustainable options that are readily available?
Yeah, I think it’s so beautiful to see that there is a movement happening. I feel like there are more and more companies making the switch or startups which are building sustainable brands. There is a long way to go, but it’s a start and it’s great to see.
It’s clear to see that you put a lot of energy into everything that you make. In a similar vein, what do you love most about the work that you do?
What I love the most is the opportunity to dive into a different world with each project. Especially when creating something for a client, it’s like, I get to explore new ideas and see things from a different perspective, from the client’s point of view. And I just love learning about their stories, how their businesses began, what their motivations are, what inspires them. I enjoy being able to support their dreams with my creative skills and helping make their ideas become a reality.
I mean, all this also comes with challenges which I try to learn and grow from. That’s something else I really love about it, having that opportunity to learn new techniques and skills and to keep pushing forward. Along my journey with La Ria Creations I’ve gotten the opportunity to connect with some truly wonderful people and be involved in a community which cares and has similar interests. It’s all about exploring, growing and constantly evolving.
Outside of that, through the process of building La Ria Creations I feel like I’m also learning a lot too, being challenged on a personal level. You put yourself in this position where you are kind of out there. You’re sharing your art, which can be sort of intimidating to a degree. You won’t always know how people respond to it. So you have to learn to show up for yourself, to back yourself, because not everyone will like everything all the time! Another big one is imposter syndrome, which can creep in. I think many of us can relate to that. Am I good enough, is the work good enough? You learn a lot just working through that.
It’s been quite the journey. What’s comes next for La Ria Creations?
Well, I have some exciting projects going on, which I cannot share just yet! Very soon I will be attending a market, which I’m super excited about. I have so many ideas for La Ria Creations and things I would like to put into practice. Something I have been dreaming about for years, and which I would really love to pursue, is to create my own planner. That will be a big milestone for me for sure. If everything goes well, that will be out for 2024. And now that I’ve said that, I guess it’s a commitment! I’m also hoping to start a blog in the near future where I will cover a few different topics, behind the scenes, detailing the creative process or anything else that will be of interest to fellow creatives.
Lots happening. I’d like to get your creative insight on how we can better address the challenges we face in everyday life both as people and as a planet. In your own words, what would you say is a modern remedy for these issues?
Kindness will make for a better world.
That’s a good question. I’d say the biggest thing is to be kind and respectful to each other, to ourselves and to the planet itself. And those three things all have a flow on effect, a feedback loop. For instance, if we are kinder to others, we tend to think about being kind to ourselves and so on. If you feel better about yourself, you tend to want to share that, which can help us all live in harmony. Kindness will make for a better world.
Where’s the best place people can find out more about La Ria Creations?
Either on my website or through email. I’m also active on social media, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok where I post about creative work and other interesting content. Also be sure to check out my store where we will be introducing several new designs or if you are around come down and say hello at the market this month.
Well, Ilaria thank you so much for your time. It was really interesting, learning more about what you do and your commitment to sustainability. And I wish you all the best with what’s coming in the weeks and months ahead.
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. ■