Today’s Feature – April 25-26: Fernanda Cohen

April 26, 2008 at 2:16 pm (Today's Feature)

Some of the savviest, most creative and thought-provoking images seen in the modern marketing era have come to you courtesy of our latest feature, Fernanda Cohen. Growing up in Buenos Aires and arriving in NYC in 2000, Cohen’s illustrations have been seen on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, and featured by The New Yorker, Target, Sony, MTV, Cosmopolitan and Harvard Business Review among others. The fact her work leaps from one environment to another so easily speaks volumes about her universal appeal – from the pages of the Harvard Business Review to the popular marketing antics of Target. Her illustrations have also received over 50 awards worldwide, including gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators of New York and Los Angeles.

Honing her craft at the School of Visual Arts, Cohen had a rough time determining her path upon graduation. She admits, often times art directors were unsure as to “where to put her.” Fernanda elaborates, “My work looked too arty to be categorized as illustration. I stuck with it though; I’m glad I did.” And after multiple successful solo shows, and other projects such as her own line of porcelain, it looks like Cohen will be sticking with it for a while.

Even as she continues to illustrate, Cohen is working on an idea for an animated TV show, as well as an animated feature film. Honestly, she seems to do just about everything, so keep the name Fernanda Cohen handy. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Fernanda Cohen (PEV): Tell us about how you first got involved with illustration. Was it always a natural fit for you?

Fernanda Cohen (FC): I’ve always liked to draw but I didn’t identify with the local bohemian art scene in Buenos Aires when I was growing up. I came to NY when I was 19, to visit my brother, and found out about illustration as a career option. I fell in love with it immediately, without really understanding what it was. Fortunately, my passion only grew stronger at SVA.

PEV: Growing up in Buenos Aries, what kind of artistic styles were surrounding you that may have influenced your work?

FC: I’ve spent my adult/professional life in New York, so I can only remember kids’ stuff from when I lived there. That said, I loved the cartoonist Quino (the creator of the popular comic strip Mafalda, which I used to copy all the time). His work continues to be a twisted, yet somewhat innocent, social commentary that everyone can relate to.

PEV: You moved to New York City in 2000, to study illustration at the School of Visual Arts. How has your stay in NYC been so far? What is your favorite part of the city?

FC: I’ll always be grateful to New York for having treated- and spoiled- me so well. New York and I are a perfect fit, as long as I can get out now and then, otherwise it can be overwhelming. I love Gramercy Park.

PEV: Tell about your earlier days in art, when you were just starting out?

FC: When I first graduated I was given a hard time because art directors in the illustration field didn’t know “where to put me;” my work looked too arty to be categorized as illustration. I stuck with it though; I’m glad I did.

PEV: What would we find if we walked into your studio right now?

FC: A bookcase with a nice collection of art and children’s books, tons of funky-looking toys, lots of stationary, plastic folders with my original drawings, dozens of pens, paper pads, art on the walls, my computer-related equipment, and a toaster that does not fit (because I don’t toast anything).

PEV: When you prepare to jump into a project/piece, what kind of “mind set” do you surround yourself in?

FC: I turn off anything that makes a sound, and I either go for a long walk alone, or take a shower (alone too).

PEV: What is your take on today’s modern art scene? The good and the bad?

FC: I’ve never understood what they do with all the stuff used in large-scale installations, which are very popular in the fine arts field, after they take it down; it seems like such a waste.

I think fine arts is overestimated.

PEV: If you could sit down with any artist – living or deceased, who would it be and why?

FC: Saul Steinberg, no doubt, because he was a brilliant communicator.

PEV: Who in on your iPod right now or in your CD player?

FC: The Flight of the Conchord’s song “If you’re Into It”- on repeat.

PEV: Is there an up-and-coming artist (any medium) that you think we should all be looking out for?

FC: I can only think of Tomi Ungerer, who is actually an old illustrator (one of my favorite ones) not many people know about, who was big in New York in the 70s and 80s.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your career?

FC: Some of my old friends have stopped talking to me, which is fine with me. Otherwise, everyone in my family considers him/herself my biggest fan, and my friends are big followers and supporters too.

PEV: Tell us about the first time you saw one of your works hanging on the walls of a show or published?

FC: My first mainstream, published illustration was in the Book Review section of the Sunday Times. It came out the weekend after my graduation, so my entire family was in town. I remember running to the nearest deli to get The New York Times after midnight the night before; I felt so famous (thanks to Steve Heller, one of my all-times heroes).

PEV: What’s something we’d be surprised to hear about Fernanda Cohen?

FC: I photograph myself in my underwear for photo-reference.

PEV: When you aren’t working, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

FC: Out of New York, traveling with David, my husband.

PEV: What do you find to be the most challenging “problems” for you as an artist?

FC: To be as prolific as I wish to be and still have a life.

PEV: What advice can you offer to an artist who is debating whether or not to pursue a career in art?

FC: You have to really believe in what you do and be shamelessly full of yourself to succeed.

PEV: What one word, best describes your work?

FC: Bubbly.

PEV: Where do you think your work will be in twenty years?

FC: At the MoMA store?

PEV: So, what is next for Fernanda Cohen?

FC: My husband likes to joke that my next project will be my own line of auto-parts (because I want to do it all!).

I’m working on an idea for an animated TV show, followed by an animated feature film. It will take me a few years to execute it though.

For more information on Fernanda Cohen, check out


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