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Featured Shop: Sonia Cavallini

by Valerie Rains

Apr 10, 2016

Russian folk art, symbolist painting, and loads and loads of flowers make up the major influences on this French illustrator's whimsical work.


Lyon, France-based artist Sonia Cavallini has found the formula for making her original watercolor illustrations go the distance: applying them to everything from notebooks, gift tags, and greeting cards to iPhone cases, calendars, and Siamese cat bookmarks that peek out curiously from between the pages. "I've always been drawn to telling stories visually, but decorating real objects — like the patterns I'm painting for notebooks, cards, and clothes — is completely new for me," she says. The more she creates, the more opportunities seem to appear, like some of the latest additions to Sonia's shop, downloadable wedding invitation suites and customizable place cards. "I've wanted to do wedding invitations for a while now, since it combines two things I love to do: drawing many, many, flowers, and making a personalized product for my clients." To learn more about how Sonia found her creative path, read on.  inv_fullxfull.3345416081_m6fyp4ls.jpg?version=0
When did you first become interested in illustration?
When I was little, I used to draw a lot with my grandfather, who taught me about different techniques. However, during my studies — I have a degree in art history — I had no time for it. After graduating, it was difficult to find a job in a gallery, so I traveled to Asia and Australia to think about my future and to discover new cultures and people. In Australia, I drew a lot and I realized that was what I really wanted to do. When I came back to France, I decided to open my own stationery shop.
Do you work on your shop full time?
I do work on my shop full time, and I think that is largely due to Etsy. Many shops have contacted me via Etsy to ask about distributing my products, and I have received some exciting proposals for collaboration, as well. I have also met a lot of nice and funny people — through Team Etsy Lyon, for example. It is so important to talk with other artists about our doubts and our desires. inv_fullxfull.3345416127_lt45elfg.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3345416171_pma0gyc1.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3297719666_kvut6kvi.jpg?version=0
What is your studio or workspace like? What do you love most about it (or wish you could change)?
I work in my apartment; I like it because I have a lot of freedom and can choose when I work — even if sometimes it can be stressful not to have separation between work and home. During busy times, my home turns into a battlefield: There are drawings everywhere. But I like that — it is really exciting to be working on a lot of things at the same time. And I like to be surrounded by objects that remind me of the past; that's why I keep a lot of diaries and old photographs around.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
I have many sources of inspiration: My mother's family comes from Russia, so I am really interested in Russian folk art, and inspired by Russian carpets and objects — they're always very flowery and colorful. I love to paint flowers and animals, and I am always impressed with the array of ideas offered by fauna and flora. If you take the time to look, nature is really relaxing; I try to put this feeling in my drawings. I have no rules for finding the subjects for my works, I just have images that come into my brain like a flash. Often, the first idea changes or grows over time. Research is also very important in my creative process: I have a kind of database where I keep patterns, drawings that I like, and some old illustrations for children. Tapestries from the Middle Ages and old paintings inspire me, too, and I like discovering original patterns. inv_fullxfull.3297719734_3qtmzpyo.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3297719792_bfrocyw6.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3345416411_4r7uub7u.jpg?version=0
The aesthetic of your shop is very different from, for example, your art photography, which tends to be a bit more somber or moody. Which of these aesthetics is closest to your own personal style?
I don't think I can separate my photographs from my drawings or the aesthetic of my shop. When I look at my film photographs, I see a lot of similarities with my drawings: the presence of flowers, or the colors and watercolor effects I see in the sky. I love to capture the details of my life and my travels, even if for some people the details are strange (injuries, tombs, the sky, light...). Ultimately, all my work is focused on one thing: keeping memories, whether it's with pictures, postcards, or notebooks.
Do any of your designs have a special personal meaning for you?
My fox! This painting is very important to me because it was the first one I made when I returned to France, when I had not yet started my business. It represents the beginning of something.
Who are some artists, designers, or Etsy sellers whose work you admire?
There are so many fantastic and talented artists. I am very interested in symbolist painting, and Arnold Böcklin, Fernand Khnopff and Gustav Klimt are some of my favorites artists. I also like Edmund Dulac, a French illustrator who worked on fairy tales, and Dorothy Lathrop. Some contemporary illustrators I love are Quill and Fox, AitchBecca Stadtlander, and Yelena Bryksenkova. inv_fullxfull.3345416485_1g7pcvxm.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3297719970_cl28rnv0.jpg?version=0 inv_fullxfull.3345416621_mw3jnwy5.jpg?version=0
What have been some of the most exciting moments or proudest achievements of your creative career thus far?
These almost-two years have been really busy for me, and I didn't expect that! I was so happy to have an interview in Flow magazine in the company of many other talented artists, and I was really proud to create two patterns in collaboration with Ariane, the founder of Silly & Billy. The most rewarding thing of all, though, is to be making a living from my drawings.
What are your goals for your business in the coming year?
I want to grow my stationery shop and have more retailers all over the world, but at the same time, I would like to work more on my drawings. My dream is to make a pattern for a fashion brand or illustrate articles for magazines. Follow Sonia Cavallini on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest. Lead photograph by Alice Lemarin.

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Valerie Rains

Valerie Rains is a senior editor at Etsy.