We had the good fortune of connecting with Gabrielle de Fontanes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gabrielle, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
There was never another fulfilling path to take for me. I come from a family of artists who let me be as creative as I wanted to be growing up and I’m extremely grateful to have been introduced to the art world at such a young age. For many years I practiced and polished my skill, always painting, drawing, sculpting, making movies, that I was never really conscious of an alternative way of being. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew it would be creative in some way or another. It’s part of me. I can’t go a day without thinking about what to create next, adding to my on-going list of 10+ projects at a time.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m an illustrator and designer whose work is spread across a variety of mediums and businesses. For years, my dream was to follow the steps of crafted director, Wes Anderson, so naturally I pursued a career in the film industry. I started to work on productions, mostly still advertisements and TV Commercials in Los Angeles, but my new found path was cut short a few months later due to a car accident.
Left with a broken arm, my movie making dreams had to be paused and I applied for a retail job while I healed. This is where I met my future business partner, who one day randomly asked if I could draw a promotional flyer for a store. At the time, I wasn’t very confident about drawing due to my broken arm, it was still very painful and time consuming. But I went for it and the rest became history ! My business partner was a photographer who owned a print company and needed an illustrator for a series of themed prints, so we ended up going into business together.
I learned so much by jumping head first into the business, listening to the feedback from customers, and navigating an experience so new and fresh. The whole thing seemed a bit surreal. We were approached by major nationwide retailers who wanted us to join them and sell more and more prints. We went on to several trade shows in NY, but though we were gaining momentum and selling, we were not meeting our margins and had barely enough to cover our expenses. We started to realize that even if the potential of making money was there, dealing with big corporations wasn’t our smartest move. After months of dealing with unpaid invoices, spending hours on the phone with one accounting department to another with absolutely no response, we began to second guess our decisions. We cut our bond with our large corporate clients and began to focus our work on smaller companies, to help cover some of our financial losses.
We started approaching local businesses, just a few who we admired, to provide them with a unique branding concept. It ended up becoming our best business move. We were able to choose smaller companies we had affinity with, businesses that were not only potentially growing in the community but also shared our values and lifestyle. Earthy, more eco-friendly products, dedicated to sustainable practices. It was very fulfilling to help create something of worth for someone who would be thankful, be their business support and ultimately watch them grow.
At some point, my business partner decided to move out of Los Angeles to start a new profession, which suddenly propelled me into the world of freelance, solo style. At first it was challenging without someone to rely on. A safety net of sorts, but it was also exciting and pretty eye opening to be on my own path. I was 100% accountable for my own decisions as I was meeting new clients and finding solutions to promote their businesses. In retrospect, I would be lying if I didn’t say that my experience of losing our business effected me more than I thought when trusting myself to start a new one. But these difficult experiences shaped who I am as a designer now and how I choose to handle the daily tasks tossed at me. I wouldn’t have asked for it any other way. Branding for smaller companies became my new direction and passion.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I was born and raised in Venice Beach so we’d have to start on the westside !
Mornings would consist of early morning surfs at First Point in Malibu, hiking through Topanga Canyon and PCH drives. Breakfast burritos at the notorious Country Kitchen, and definitely an Acai bowl or two at Flake on Rose Ave. Afternoon venturing around the Canals and lunch at Clutch on Lincoln Blvd, it’s my favorite restaurant ! Visiting two of my favorite shops, Rudy Jude and General Store Venice, topped with a mid-day coffee and pastry from Superba. Finishing the day off with a sunset beach walk near the Venice Pier.
The following day we’d venture to the Eastside, I’m not sure what’s still around after the pandemic but in a perfect world we’d stroll through the arts district, there are always cool murals and street art to see. Spend hours browsing through Hennessey + Ingalls. Lunch at Bread Lounge and dinner at Blossom on S Main St. Finishing the day off at Moonlight Rollerway !
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Mega appreciation for my parents. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. Two of the most supportive and creative people I know, who no matter what, with no questions asked are always there to uplift me and help me through my crazy endeavors. I cherish their wise guidance as fellow creatives. My father especially has been my best friend and right hand man through it all. He’d spend weekends helping me with my unnecessarily elaborate school projects. He was my first “employee,” helping my former business partner and I package thousands of prints for our first huge order. And all the while, my mother cheering and guiding me to pursue bigger and better projects and challenges along the way.
Julie Jordan, William Gonzalez, Leah Raboinowitz, Serafina Logiacco