Thomas Pitilli, a NYC-based illustrator, in love with Comics, talks about his amazing career, challenges, inspirations and his favorite spots in New York City!
The other day we met Thomas Pitilli, a native New Yorker living in Brooklyn. He works with some of the greatest publications today like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Billboard, Playboy, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post and other big names.
After briefly browsing through his work, we fell in love with it. We are huge fans of illustration and his style certainly called our attention.
If you want to see more details about his work, check out his website and read the interview we did with him below!
1) Tell us a bit about you. Where you were born, what you studied, what you’ve worked with, did your parents incentivize your work, etc.
My name is Thomas Pitilli and I am an illustrator from Brooklyn, NY. I am an actual Brooklyn native, one of the few left nowadays, haha.
I’ve been drawing and making art since as far back as I can remember. When I was 3 or 4, I wanted to be a fireman and when I was 5, I wanted to be Peter Pan. But, from then on, I’ve always aspired to be a professional artist!
Like most kids, I grew up obsessed with cartoons and comic books and it didn’t take me long until I started writing my own stories and making my own “books” made out of stapled sheets of typing paper with my drawings on them.
Both my parents are artistic, so thankfully, my creative imagination was always encouraged at home. An adolescence filled with constant drawing and practice led me the School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan, where I wound up studying illustration and cartooning.
I immediately began pursuing my dream of becoming a professional illustrator upon graduating. I spent several years hustling, trying to get as much freelance work as I could get, while supplementing my income with various odd jobs and part time gigs around the city.
A decade since graduating, I can proudly say I now make my entire living as an illustrator. NYC is not an easy city to ‘make it’ in, but you know what they say, ‘if you can make it here…’
2) Where did the passion for illustration come from? And why Comics?
My passion for illustration came out of my love for comics actually. When I was a little kid, I discovered comic books by rummaging through my older brother’s collections. I quickly became fascinated with the artwork inside and from then on, I was obsessed.
Through comics, I was exposed to a variety of different types of artists and styles, which then led me to explore other art forms outside of comics. I’ve always been drawn to artists that tell stories, whether it be in a comic book or in an oil painting.
The idea of getting a specific idea across through a drawing and making people feel something specific just by looking at it is truly satisfying to me and definitely fuels my passion for the craft.
3) What are the personalities that inspire you, in the illustration world, but also within other industries?
Confidence is a big one for me. When someone exudes confidence in what they do, no matter what the profession, I’m definitely inspired by that.
I like watching fighting sports, like boxing and MMA. The confidence and conviction that those fighters posses is so inspiring and interesting to watch.
I study that and try to understand how I might be able to apply that kind of attitude to what I do. The quote that always sticks with me is, “competence breeds confidence”, which pretty much means, if you work on your craft hard enough, the confidence you have in that area will likely follow.
4) What type of mission and message do you strive to convey through your work?
I don’t really think I have a particular mission or message that I strive to convey in my art. I’m fascinated by people, body language and faces. Those have always been the things that I love to draw, so most of my work focuses on people, either interacting with each other or with themselves.
I have always loved drawing the female form and my work usually has a strong female protagonist within it. I think of my approach to illustrating similar to that of a street photographer.
I’m more concerned with capturing moments than creating any kind of particular statement. Also, the vast majority of my work is client based, so I spend most of my time trying to convey other people’s message or idea. There’s a very satisfying challenge within that as well.
5) You’ve had works featured in many renowned publications like the Wall Street Journal, Scientific America, Climbing Magazine, Scholastic’s Choices Magazine and The New York Times! Tell a bit about these works and the process behind them.
I really enjoy making editorial illustrations. I get exposed to some pretty interesting articles and topics that I might not otherwise come across on my own.
The process is usually a pretty quick, yet intense one. I normally have less than a week to take the illustration(s) from concept to final. It’s a collaborative process between the art director and I, and at its best, it can be a very fun and rewarding process.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great publications and some great art directors. Some of my favorites are the ones where I felt like I was pushed creatively and was able to stretch new muscles.
6) We see a great variation of styles and even colored vs black & white pieces. We love them all! What do you enjoy most doing and what style does your audience resonate more with?
I tend to gravitate towards black and white line drawing. I feel like that’s where my strengths are. That’s also what I have the most fun making as well.
Color has always been a challenge for me, it definitely is the longest part of my process, mainly because there is a lot of reworking and trial and error involved in it for me.
Like I said earlier, storytelling has always been the most appealing aspect of illustration for me. It doesn’t always have to be a literal narrative either, sometimes you can tell a story with a pose or a facial expression, or the capturing of a simple moment.
I feel like that’s the kind of thing my audience responds to. Although there’s no real way to predict what people will like or not like. Ultimately all you can do is make the work that you most enjoy making and hope somebody else likes it.
7) What are the best places to buy comics in New York? Are there any hidden, off-the-beaten-path old book stores or thrift bookstores you love to go check out?
My favorite comic shop in NYC is Forbidden Planet, down by Union Square. They have a pretty extensive collection of both new and old comics, with a super helpful and knowledgeable staff.
The Strand Bookstore is also a great place to find comics. They are more geared towards trade paperbacks and all of their stuff is at a discounted price, which is always a plus!
Speaking of discounted prices, there’s a place in Midtown called Bookoff, and downstairs, they have a used comic section where you can find some really rare, out of print comics, both single issues and trades.
If you’re a nerd like me, this city has definitely got you covered, haha.
8) Does anything inspire your work when you think about New York City?
So many things inspire me about New York City. I get most of my ideas while riding the subway or walking the streets. I love people watching and random interactions with strangers. Even just the weird things you overhear while riding the train can be inspiring and creatively stimulating.
If it’s a nice day out and I have to come up with an idea for a particular project, I will often times take my sketch book to one of my favorite parks and start brainstorming. Something about the constant hustle of New York generates a kind of rhythm that is very conducive to making art.
I also love sneaking in specific NYC locations into some of my work. I’m lucky enough to work with the iconic characters of the Archie Comics world and when I create covers for them, one of my favorite things to do is place those characters into some of my favorite NYC locations like the fountain at Washington Square Park, or specific subway platforms.
Because I grew up here, my relationship with the city is very personal and deeply embedded in me, therefore it’s embedded in my work as well.
10) What is your biggest ambition when it comes to work? A publication you’d like to be featured in? Someone you admire and would like to meet? A project that you’d love to work on? Anything what would rock your world if you had that opportunity!
I have a lot of ambitions when it comes to my work. I’d definitely like to continue working in the comics field and see where that takes me.
I’d love to work with a variety of different writers and publications in the comics world. I don’t rule out writing and illustrating my own graphic novel one day either. I’m always inspired when I see illustrators or cartoonists working with well-known brands, lending their unique voice to a campaign or advertisement.
Being able to share my work with an audience that goes way beyond comics or illustrating, that’s something I’d love to do. Being an artist whose work is primarily created for print or the web, I’m definitely a stranger to the art gallery world.
I’d like to change that one day by perhaps showing a series of pieces that were specifically created to be viewed in person. Other than those things, I stay open to whatever opportunities present themselves.
One of the exciting things about being a freelance artists is never really knowing what types of projects may be in my future!
11) What are your top 5 local, hidden spots in New York that you love to go? A restaurant, bar, museum, store, coffee place, park, street, etc?
Central Park is definitely one of my favorite places in this city. I’m a big fan of New York summers, I really feel like that’s when the city shines the most. With that being said, Central Park is probably one of my favorite spots on a nice Spring/Summer day. I spent multiple times playing Frisbee over there at the Sheep Meadow this summer and really enjoy the relaxing vibe.
Speaking of summer, I try and make it to the beach whenever I can. People don’t really think of beaches when they think of NYC, but there are some nice locations if you want to trade the concrete for some sand every now and then. I really enjoy hanging out at Rockaway Beach and Coney Island. Much more of a low key, laid back vibe at Rockaway, but Coney Island has that history and energy that can be fun sometimes too.
As far as food goes, there’s a nice little farm-to-table restaurant in my neighborhood called Brooklyn Beet Company. The magic ingredient over there is beets. They have a veggie burger that is made out of a beet and they also have this awesome beet ketchup! Definitely worth checking out, unless you hate beets, haha.
I’m sort of a health nut, so when I’m running around and in need of a healthy lunch, I like to pop into HU Kitchen (See Antonia Grecco’s post on Hu Kitchen) on 14th Street in Manhattan. They use a variety of local ingredients as well. It’s sort of the healthier alternative to something like Chipotle.
As far as neighborhoods go, I’d probably say that the West Village is my favorite. It still has some old cobble stone streets and some of the most quite blocks in all of NYC. Things seem to fall off the typical grid system over there too, so I often get lost whenever I’m around there!
And, probably one of my all-time favorite places in NYC is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s always been a sort of sanctuary for me, a place where I can spend hours and come out totally inspired. My favorite spot in that museum is the Sackler Wing. There’s this huge window covering the entire room with an awesome view of Central Park, it’s really cool.
That’s more than five, I know! I have a bunch more too. Some runner ups would probably be the Highline and Chelsea Market!
12) And last! Where can people find your work and purchase your illustrations!?
I’m all over Social Media, but I’m most active on Instagram where you can find me .
You can also check out my website at www.thomaspitilli.com.
And, if you’re interested in purchasing some of my artwork as a print, check out my Etsy Store.
Thank you Thomas, for this fantastic journey into your world and keep up your breathtaking work and captivating energy!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Pitilli