Local artist challenges perceptions through illustrations

September 1, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Kinjal Dagli Shah

Giovannina Colalillo always wanted to be an artist, even as a young child. Born and raised in Toronto to creative parents who migrated from Italy, she moved to Schomberg 20 years ago with her husband and first child.
“I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and we wanted to raise our family in this quaint tight-knit community,” said Colalillo, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design who majored in illustration and art.
Colalillo may be a local artist but her art and illustrations have travelled far.
“One of my first editorial illustrations was in the 1990s for Cosmopolitan magazine in New York, which they proceeded to commission to me on a monthly basis for many years,” she recalled. She has a formidable list of clients that have published her art, including American Woman Magazine, Canadian Living Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Oxford University Press, Staples Business Depot, Sun Trust Bank, Taco Bell, and the TD Bank.
“As a woman, a Canadian and a person of Italian heritage, I have had many diverse role models, starting with my parents who were both very creative people. They encouraged my art and instilled in me that I had the power do anything I wanted with art and I would be successful,” said Colalillo, who has been illustrating for the past 30 years.
Things didn’t always come easy to Colalillo, especially as a female growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in Toronto.
“There was society’s pressure for a girl and woman to be quiet, passive, to not show that you are too educated. I could either have a career or a family, and in Grade 8, I was told by my teacher to change my name to Joanne because Giovannina Colalillo was too long and hard to pronounce. I have always fought these perceptions,” she pointed out, admitting that she is neither quiet, nor passive. “I am always learning and teaching, either through my art classes or through the messages and stories in my artwork that I choose to tell. My mother taught me to be strong, independent, well educated, and to not be intimidated by anyone.”
Perhaps that’s why Colalillo was inspired to use her art to influence people’s movements.
“I had an opportunity to make a difference in how we were all represented in the media. I have advocated to accurately represent all people in prominent positions in my illustrations. It was assumed that subjects like lawyers, doctors, business professionals would be white males. This bothered me immensely,” she said, challenging these perceptions by presenting to her clients, sketches with women and people of different cultural backgrounds in those same positions.
The mother of two realized that was creating images of the world, for the world to see itself through her images.
“I now had a responsibility to create what I wanted to see more of in the media. I wanted to represent women and all people in all kinds of powerful roles. In an illustration for TD Visa, I switched the places of the parents in the front seat. I placed the man in the passenger’s seat holding the groceries bought with the credit card and the woman driving.”
While Colalillo has had the conviction to refuse projects that go against her morals, she takes great pride in creating International Women’s Day posters for the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).
“I always strive to represent all women and portray them being proactive in getting their rights,” she said, adding, “more recently, many clients have come to me requesting to show a diversity of people, gender, cultural background/race, ages, sizes, capabilities.”
Colalillo is a member of art associations like Arts Society King and the Illustration Society of Los Angeles.
“My travels around Europe, throughout the United States, Canada and in Asia to Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia, have greatly inspired my vivid use of colour and portrayal of people, cultures and nature in my artwork and illustrations. I have created and developed a unique technique using environmentally safe water-soluble wax pastels on flexible Mylar paper.”
Colalillo believes it is important to me to give back to her local community and the art community by teaching art.
“I started teaching the figure life drawing sessions at the Schomberg School of Art and now I am running them through King Township. I have also taught locally through the artist-in-residence program at the King Township Library.”
To see more of Giovannina Colalillo’s work, visit



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