MEET OUR LATEST MUSE, ROSSI. ROSSI IS A TORONTO-BASED, ILLUSTRATOR, COMIC ARTIST, AND CHARACTER DESIGNER.
Rossi sits in her apartment in Toronto, her cat Loki absent from the photos but very much present in Rossi’s every day life. She sits down with us to talk about her successful career, creative expression, and recounts the loss of her late boyfriend – Dominic.
Your creative work is mainly in comics, character design and illustration – what drew you to that career? How did you get started?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember, scribbling down various characters who exist in worlds I have created over the years. As many artists do, we lose ourselves in our personal adventures, processing experiences in visual interpretations and stories.
When I was young I didn’t start speaking until I was five, a rather late bloomer - but drawing allowed me to communicate quite clearly to family (even after being able to talk I preferred to sketch out comics) and it was pretty obvious that art was going to be a huge part of my life.
Went to college in 2010 in Dundee, Scotland. I got the opportunity to visit TO for some work experience and that was one of the biggest shifts in my life. I was incredibly shy and quiet, also very critical of my work as I felt I wasn’t in the same level as my peers in school. But arriving in the city, working briefly in some big studios and meeting incredibly talented individuals, inspired determined to work and live in the city!
2014 I graduated with a bachelors degree in Illustration, got my working visa approved and moved to the city in early 2015. It was tough at first - I was 23 and a complete foreigner in the industry and country, doing freelance and barely scraping by. Eventually an opportunity to do character design for a Nickelodeon show happened... there were many challenges but, work wise, it taught me a lot and I was able to build my career in animation from it.
During that time I also had my self published comic I did for school that got some notice and a publisher in TO discovered my work and helped to expand my title across the globe which was pretty cool. So already moving to the city opened so many doors to the careers I was wanting to do...and so far it only continues to grow and I am so blessed to have great connections in the arts community.
Where do you find the motivation and inspiration to create?
Motivation comes from creating the content itself.... I’m a bit of a workaholic but I really enjoy it. I am lucky I get to do what I really love, from doing my own personal work to contributing development to clients pitches. If I’m not drawing I go a little crazy haha.
Inspiration comes from so many forms for me - movies, music, paintings and everyday experiences. A lot of my stories come from life’s challenges and overcoming them, one way or another. People I have met over the years and their stories, I adore story telling and the many formats it comes in.
Have you ever encountered a creative slump and what are those like for you? How do you overcome slumps?
Oh, I get art block for sure! But, in my experience, it just means my work and skills are advancing to the next level. It’s a pain to go through it and it can last days or months for that matter. Often times I have long chats with artist friends. It is a rough ride but it’s part of the growth of becoming the artist you want to be.
I let it run its’ course and take a few days off and go off to my favourite cafes, museums, cinemas or bookstores. It’s good to walk away from the drafting table or computer screen and let yourself recharge and absorb the world around you.... I know VERY cheesy but it works!
Last year, you lost your love and partner, Dominic – we are so sorry for your loss and can only imagine how your life will forever be changed. Loss is different for everyone, no story the same. What is your story of this.
Surreal... I always use that term to describe the whole thing. It’s having to accept the unacceptable and it’s so cruel. It’s so, so unfair to him - he touched a lot of hearts and had a lot to give. Beautiful pessimist he was, and very welcoming to anyone who approached him.
The suddenness is hard and we still don’t really know what happened to him. The morning of May 25th, I did my usual routine, woke up beside Dom and we chatted what our plans were for the day. He would shower before me and then jump right into bed, we’d cuddle and kiss. He knew my mum was visiting from Scotland and I would stay with her at the hotel that night. I had the privilege to choose his outfit for the day and was flourishing him with compliments. We kissed goodbye and went to our work places. I was texting him all day, and we were hoping to try and see each other that night but he was seeing old friends and I was with my mum of course. We figured if we do catch up great but if not then tomorrow...
The next morning I’d text him. Nothing. Then phoning. Nothing. I’d repeat this all day - figured he was either hungover or his phone was off. But my guts were in knots. This was not his normal behaviour. Later that day my mum and I went back to the apartment and no signs of him, the cats bowl was completely empty. This was a clear sign that something was not right. Dom took really good care of his cat, Sass and he would always let me know where he was. I told my mum I would stay at the apartment to wait for him to return. I reached out to his friends and parents and still no sign... Sunday approached and no contact and sign of him at all.
So I phoned the police to file a missing person.
After a week of searching, determination, no sleep and dread – he was found. His body drifted to the surface of the water in Lake Ontario. He was already dead in the early morning of Saturday 26th. No foul play and all his belongings were on him.
It was a complete accident.
Grief and moving through the loss of a loved one is extremely difficult, especially when focusing on healing. As your journey with grief and loss continues what have you found to be the most difficult?
I am still figuring out myself after this nightmare, it can get overwhelmingly hard at points. The aftermath during summer was extremely hard. Your will is gone and you deny any hope is left.
“What’s the point of living without him”, that went through my head a lot but when it did I’d have to remember that Dom would be furious if I was to give up. So, my will to continue is driven by him and of course my mum. She was there with me throughout it all and kept me going, she has always been there for me. I am very lucky to have her and incredibly supportive friends.
The most difficult is adjusting to the new normal. Continuing every day without someone you shared it with. I still feel a lot of guilt for doing so at some points. You can’t stop but keep moving forward at the pace that works for you, embracing every bump and emotion that hits you. Feel everything and process it, it’s really hard and painful but it’s for the better. I think so anyway.
Aside from mourning there are moments of joy and memories that can wash over - what is the best memory you have of Dominic? If you could illustrate him living his best life, what would that look like?
That has been done in a series of drawings I have done of him. It includes myself also in some selected moments we shared together and scenarios that were so important to me in our relationship. I wanted to show him off to everyone!
The series of illustrations you created and shared on Instagram depicting your relationship with Dominic really touched us - and so many others. What inspired you to create and be open to sharing it with the public?
The process of those drawings were so therapeutic for me. It was the longest spell of time of not drawing for me and I had no motivation to do so... all I could think about was Dom. I decided to do a series of 33 drawings (that was the age he when he passed) and wanted to show how much he meant to me. Drawing some of these memories was really difficult, sometimes I would need to stop and go back to it the next day.
But the process, result and response to these drawings has been so touching and incredible... I’ve had many people message me with their experiences and process of healing which was somewhat comforting and very kind of of these individuals to reach out to me and share.
In a process that is not only difficult but painful, what does your support system look like? What or who are you especially thankful for?
I wouldn’t be around if I didn’t have the support I have. Dom’s mother and I have grown very close and I have huge respects to her. She is very strong and is incredibly kind to me and we have a very good connection... I can’t even imagine the pain she must be going through but she is there for me as much as I am there for her.
Also my own mum and sisters, my friends, the art community in the city and on social media... I feel very blessed to have such caring and wonderful people in my life. It has been a real test of character for some though, when a tragedy happens it can show some individuals true colours, how they respond to the situation and to you.... it can bring you closer or break your bond. It’s all part of the process though.
Those who are there for me and continue to do so, from my fans to amazingly awesome and patient friends to my mum who frequently visits me - I can’t thank them enough.
Often the toughest moments are experienced when we’re alone and we forget to acknowledge the attributes we possess that help get through the darkness. What traits do you have that surprised you during this difficult time? What part of yourself has improved in this past year?
I sink into the darkness from time to time, it feels like two steps back and I hate it. It’s really hard, I feel completely isolated and withdrawn at some points... but very close friends pull me out of that funk and bring my strive back to keep moving forward. And of course being creative. Currently I’m focused on the original comic series that’s quite important to me and been in development for some time now, I feel this is the best time to make. Drawing is one of best distractions for me - it allows me to escape mentally and emotionally, just for a little while.
I’ve evolved to another level of myself (hope that doesn’t sound cheesy). I have a bigger perspective more than ever now. What is quite nice is that I am less stressed and anxious as I used to be really bad for it. Of course from time to time I can suffer this but that is only human I think. Overall I am a lot less concerned with things as they are trivial and there is no need for it. After the experience of last summer I have gained “cruel wisdom” - I never wish it on anyone early in their life as it is very painful and hard but from it you do get a better understanding of what is important.
I take care of myself better, loving who I am more and more which was quite a challenge for me in the past; I am far more comfortable in my own skin more then ever before and try to take care of my body. Dom loved me and so I must have worth... now with him gone I still see my worth. I’ll keep striving to live good, surround myself with excellent people and create more works. Life is very precious and I want to make Dom proud by continuing his legacy in me as I move forward.
Looking back at your life what are your greatest accomplishments thus far?
Hmmm there’s a few I am pretty proud of - my career has been a big one for me for sure. I am doing exactly what I wanted to do, achieving more since my move to TO after graduating. It continues to open more doors as I improve as an artist and look forward to what the next opportunity is - I’ve already published works, have a pretty decent reputation amongst my peers and my following is always growing in social media which is very exciting.
Also, recently I got my permanent residency to continue living in Canada, that was a long, long process and it finally paid off, it has been a very big goal of mine since moving to Toronto.
When do you feel most empowered?
Drawing. It is a big part of my Identity and it makes me proud. I love being productive and creating my own content - currently working on my own comic series and I cannot wait to show it off to the world!
Also being at comic convention shows, workshops and talks - getting the chance to meet my fans and be amongst my peers, talking to young people who look up to me who ask for advice. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
One other thing that is empowering is doing my laundry haha! After a long and tedious process, when your clothes are warm and so fresh that is laid out and folded... makes me feel like an accomplished adult.
Which physical attributes do you love the most?
...my friends always poke fun of me with songs and gifs about them (in a good way)