“As a teenager I was always curious about all forms of communications and visual expression. From live bands’ shows to the friends I was surrounded by at that time, circumstances led me to discover the independent publishing scene, where I discovered the beauty and variety of zines, self-publishing and the creativity behind it”, says Paola Bombelli. After working in a studio for some time, the Milan based graphic designer has felt the need to push her personal style forwards and decided to go freelance instead, working on a bundle of new collaborations and self-initiated projects. Among those projects is her recently published book, “12—12”, which addresses our understanding of time.
As art publications and posters were her first introduction to print, Paola has a clear emphasis on editorial projects and type-related projects. Her rational and precise nature seems to be at the core of her practice and person, manifesting predominantly in her typographic awareness and her minimalistic approach. As many designers, she draws a lot of inspiration from her surroundings. “I know it may sound a bit generic, but I get it from everywhere around me. I do a lot of walks around my city and take pictures of weird things I find while strolling around”, she explains, “I’m addicted to buying books and magazines. I try to go to as many shows, exhibitions, talks as I can – and I scroll the internet a lot. I’m very aware of the huge amount of stimuli we receive each day but I do try to channel those influences into a selective, creative process.”
Before starting with “12—12”, Paola states that she has been obsessed with the theory of time and all the different aspects to it since a long time. In the attempt of bringing together different perspectives on the matter, Paola invited 24 artists to contribute with a drawing and text including Edoardo Caimi, Alice Fiorelli, Oliviero Fiorenzi, Viola Leddi, Edoardo Manzoni and Matilde Sambo.
After letting the artists choose a certain time in the day for their artworks, she rearranged them in chronological order. “Working together with different artists on this project was fundamental, because I just knew that something good would come out of the exchange between them”, Paola tells C24, “I felt the urge to bring people together who have a certain awareness of our surroundings and to define our understanding of time as precisely as possible.” While she picked up with some of the participating artists during her past projects like her art direction for the art residence Residenza La Fornace or her work for the art gallery Sonnenstube in Lugano, Switzerland, others were fellow students at the New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. “We pretty much all know each other and I wanted to explore this connection”, Paola explains.
In order to form a common ground between the different artists, the artworks were meant to be kept simple and minimalistic. “I asked them to use a single tool or a single line. To think of it more as a sketch and just go with their guts”, Paola tells us, “I wanted the drawing to be as intuitive and spontaneous as possible. When it came to writing the text, I gave them no restrictions at all and just let them write about whatever they feel. I didn’t matter whether it was in Italian or in English, whether they wrote it by themselves or quoted someone. Somehow, the different outcomes still seemed connected with each other and I had a good feeling about it.”
While she was waiting for the submissions, Paola continued to evolve the concept of the book, by coming up with an idea for the title and creating the minimalistic and clean design. “I had a very precise idea of what this little book should be like. Once I had collected all the contributions, it pushed me to work smoothly”, she explains. As is often the case, the biggest challenge during this big collaboration was the timeline. “I gave them all a straight deadline to send me the material. As a freelancer, it is always challenging to work with others, especially when you ask 24 different people to create content for your project and you cannot see the ultimate result until you have collected all”, Paola reflects, “But this was also the idea of the book itself – something that takes shape along the way – so it was also fun to be surprised by the drawings or the texts.”
Before going back from freelancing to working in a studio again, Paola took time to indulge in her personal projects and collaborations with her friends. “I like to observe different working processes and approaches. It is important to trust the people you are working with. Without trust, no collaboration can have a positive outcome. I believe that collaboration is necessary to get a better understanding of yourself – not as a designer, but also as a person. It helps you to enhance your strengths, acknowledge your limits and to work on your flaws”, Paola concludes, “You always have to be ready to question your own methods and to do your best.”