“the kids are alright!”

Graphic Days want us to Grow Younger

Fernando Cobelo and Riccardo Guasco | Image by TOPIA

Graphic Days is an annual international visual design festival held in Turin, Italy – this year the theme is ‘Grow Younger’

Everything we see, everything we experience is necessary for us to create art, especially playfulness.

Fernando Cobelo

Graphic Days is an annual international visual design festival held in Turin, Italy. This year the theme is ‘Grow Younger’, highlighting how visual and social design is developed for children and teens, with a focus on play and imagination.

This interview is part of a TOPIA series in partnership with Face This. The Dutch charity brings together street artists with Indonesian school kids to turn children’s drawings into merch to support their education. Read all the interviews.

Now in its seventh edition, Graphic Days Festival is run by Print Club Torino, Quattrolinee agency and PLUG, a nonprofit association working on issues of sustainability. It takes place in six locations around Turin from 17 September to 2 October – with over 40 events organised by local design studios. The theme raises important design questions around environmental issues, gender, linguistic inclusion and cognitive disorders – from the world of publishing and games to the development of dedicated programmes by cultural institutions. 

Part of the exhibition showcases a collaboration between Face This Foundation and Graphic Days. Two Italy-based illustrators from the network, Fernando Cobelo and Riccardo Guasco, have joined forces with the Dutch charity to design a couple of ‘T-shirts for good’ – by turning Indonesian school kids drawings into merch. The project is truly an exploration in how children can use their creativity as a force for positive impact.

Turin-based Cobelo was born and grew up in Venezuela. The illustrator loves to work with visual metaphors and does a lot of sustainability work within publishing, communicating powerful messages in newspapers, magazines and book covers. He brings a childlike vibe and unexpectedly dream-like qualities to everyday encounters – seeing colours and symbols, “like a game of Uno”.

Guasco was born in Alessandria in Piedmont, Italy. The artist mixes poetry and irony, creating illustrations to “make the viewer smile”. You can see his work in adverts, magazines, books, bikes – and even ships. He’s collaborated with everyone from The New Yorker, Nastro Azzurro and Ferrari to Moby (ferries not vegan musician).

We asked the artists about creativity, playfulness and collaborating with kids.

Q&A: Fernando Cobelo and Riccardo Guasco

Let’s start at the beginning. Did you always like to draw? 

Fernando Cobelo: I was born and raised in Venezuela and moved to Italy to continue my studies when I was 22. I have always liked to draw, but just as a hobby, for fun. Making illustrations professionally was something I never thought possible. But hey, life is full of surprises! It all happened naturally. I started drawing again as an adult after taking a long 15-year hiatus. I needed a creative outlet during a difficult period of my life, and understood how powerful drawing can be when it comes to expressing feelings. So I kept doing it and doing it and doing it until my first commission came in. The rest has been just hard work and passion.

Riccardo Guasco: I have a passion for drawing and art since I was born, I never had Plan B. Art has always been the best way to express myself and to understand what surrounds me. I have always attended art schools and fortunately have always had very attentive teachers who have always advised me to pursue this career – despite the fact that in Italy it is not easy to be an artist.

Is there one drawing that you can recall from your childhood?

FC: I remember finding toys of my favourite cartoons was really hard and expensive, so I used to draw my favourite characters, cut them out and play with them.

RG: I remember really well a drawing I made in kindergarten. The teacher called my mom to ask for an explanation! It was a scene of children outside school playing and there were many unusual details for a child – like benches designed with a rudimentary, but impressive perspectives. It was made of violets and yellows, I loved those colours.

What are the best and trickiest things about being an ‘artist’ today?

FC: The best thing is the fact that people commission your artwork for your personal vision. And now with this Face This collaboration – that a child and an adult can easily work together to create something beautiful. But it’s hard to balance my work and my personal life. I love illustrating, which means I could do it all day, every day, without taking a rest or finding a moment to be with my loved ones, which can be hard. I am learning to find this balance, little by little. It’s the risk of loving what you do, so much.

RG: I love the ability of the language of art, that it does not have age, sex, language, nationality or religion. Anyone can be an artist and the message of his art can be understood all over the world. Since I am an illustrator, I have always had the myth of the New Yorker, so when I received my first commission from them for an article to illustrate I was really honoured. I have framed that email! What’s harder is to maintain always to be honest, enthusiastic and respectful with my art and with those who will watch it.

What are you most inspired by?

FC: I am mostly inspired by everyday feelings and finding beauty in what seems mundane at first sight.

Look at yourself, Fernando Cobelo

RG: I am inspired by everything around me. Normally the spark can come from any detail I see or hear. My main inspirations come from the history of art, from other artists that I discover every day and I want to retrace the lines.

If you had to look at one artwork only until the end of days, what would it be – and why?

FC: I think it would be La Danse by Henri Matisse.

RG: What a beautiful and difficult question! There are so many works that I fell in love with, but all my early art was influenced by Picasso and one of his most revolutionary works like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I love Cubism and I think it all came from that canvas.

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” How do you remain an artist?

FC: I think it’s OK to remain an artist and it’s OK not to. We all find a way in life and it’s a good thing that we all grow up to have different interests. The important thing is to use, no matter what you do in life, creativity as a means to express, have fun and increase your skills – and it’s important to remember we can learn to do that no matter how old we are.

RG: It’s a great truth, I envy so much the freedom and purity of children’s sketches, that they are not conditioned by judgement and are in continuous discovery of the world with amazement and enthusiasm – taking nothing for granted. I think that’s the secret to staying a child.

You designed an artwork by using some of the Indonesian kids’ drawings by Face This. Which drawings did you use to create your artwork?

FC: I chose the drawing of a kid that drew a head on top of a plant, making it look as if the character was being born from the flower, which I loved. They reminded me of my first drawings when I was a kid. Their drawings included a lot of human characters, which is something I’ve always loved to illustrate. So my illustration depicts that exactly – being born from something beautiful as a flower. The plant grows from the pot, just like my illustration.

RG: I selected a few figures of children, plants and animals because my intention was to make a garden in which these figures moved. I was inspired by a picture with beautiful angular fish, and a bird with centipede paws. I was very impressed that the drawings were so colourful, with beautiful sketches of flowers, animals, children, strange figures with even stranger hair. It reminded me of a sort of encyclopaedia!

Is there something you would like to say to the kids who made the drawings you’ve worked with?

FC: I would tell them to remember that beauty is subjective and we don’t have to draw in an academic-technical way in order to express something through an image. In illustration, being ourselves is our greatest weapon since it’ll allow us to create something with a unique visual language, different from everybody else’s.

RG: Thank you guys! It was an honour to work with you. I hope one day to draw together again on a big blackboard!

Being ourselves is our greatest weapon.

Fernando Cobelo

The proceeds will provide the kids you’ve collaborated with a playground. How important is playfulness for you as an artist? 

FC: It’s incredibly important. And I’m not talking about playfulness when I draw, I’m talking about playfulness in life. Everything we see, everything we experience is necessary for us to create art, especially playfulness.

RG: The game is a fundamental aspect in every field of research. With the game you learn, you confront yourself with yourself and with others, you discover the world and stimulate the mind with lightness. In my art the game is an exercise that allows my hand, my eye and my mind to let go a little and have some fun. When the ideas come from children and there is a form of collaboration it gives me energy and excites me a lot! I don’t often do this kind of thing.

How important is it to you to make a difference with your work?

FC: I don’t consider myself an art-ivist but I do believe in the importance of communicating powerful messages through art and I try my best to do it in a way that could really resonate with the person who’s looking at it. I just loved contributing to this great cause and was really moved by the kids’ drawings.

RG: A drawing will not save the world, but it will make the mind of a child who can save the world in the future smile or reflect. I love that my drawing would have somehow helped.

What is one thing you do regularly, a simple ritual or hack that brings you joy or elicits a sense of self care? 

FC: I watch cartoons every morning while having breakfast!

RG: I wake up very early in the morning, around six o’clock and I take a walk of about an hour in the silence of the city that still sleeps – while I’m listening to podcasts, new music, mentally organising my day and drinking coffee. It’s a kind of meditation in motion for me.

So what’s next? What are you up to next – and what are your dreams?

FC: I am a simple person. All I want to do is to be happy while drawing, always improving at it, always evolving, while reaching my goals and going to sleep knowing that I did my best. That’s been my plan until now and will be for the next few years for sure. However, in my dreams… I’d like to do a 20-metre mural. I’d like to make small wooden dolls. I’d like to illustrate a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. I’d like to have more time to teach more. I’d like to create a character using ceramics. I’d like to know what my characters would be like with open eyes. I’d like to illustrate small spots in the New Yorker. I’d like to make a portrait of my grandmother. I’d like to illustrate an album cover for Tame Impala.

RG: My next scheduled work is a series of posters for a theatrical season, a gin label, and a poster for a luxury hotel. In the long term, I will change cities, I will have to look for a new office and I hope to have time to make some paintings on canvas! I started this profession almost by chance, I had no particular projects, only a great respect for the art of the past and a great desire to draw. I let my artistic research be honest and fun, to do this I have to let her free and I’m sure she will have big plans for me.

Lastly, we are creating a playlist for TOPIA. What is the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on Earth?

FC: This is the hardest question ever! I think it would be ‘Say What You Will’ by James Blake.

RG: Right now my Spotify is playing ‘Innuendo’ by Queen. I would say it’s perfect!

A drawing will not save the world, but it will make the mind of a child who can save the world in the future smile or reflect.

Riccardo Guasco

Graphic Days’ World of Good

Fernando Cobelo’s tips of outrageously good illustrators to follow

Riccardo Guasco’s tips of outrageously good people to follow
@the_happy_broadcast – my friend Mauro Gatti’s project
@sergiymaidukov – for the lines and the art of my friend sergiy maidukov from Kiev
@_chiacchio_ – for the irony and lightheartedness of the lines
– and I am completely in love with the walls of @mr_aryz and @108_108_108/

What’s so good about this?

Creativity has a transformative power for children of all cultures. The Face This Foundation works to empower Indonesian schoolchildren to “design their own future”. by giving a platform to kids living in marginalised areas. They design streetwear in collaboration with street artists from around the world. Proceeds support their education. Liv Lee’s artwork is available on tees, sweaters and tote bags. All pieces are available to buy online. Check out more of the artist’s work: Fernando Cobelo and Riccardo Guasco.

Graphic Days takes place from 17 September to 2 October 2022.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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