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Riccardo Federici: A Day in the Life of one of Europe’s Greatest Comic Book Artists! (Part 3)

Italian illustrator Riccardo Federici gives us an in-depth look at what it means to be a comic book artist in Europe, talking “A Day in the Life”, “Art and Technique”, and more!

Art by Riccardo Federici

Riccardo Federici is an Italian illustrator and comic book artist born in Rome. Federici was the first comic strip artist to be featured at the Roma Biennale (one of the biggest art shows in the world) alongside some of the world’s greatest contemporary painters and photographers. Federici has drawn for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, DC Vertigo, DC Collectables, Blizzard Entertainment, XM Studios and Editions Delcourt (Saria). Federici is also a painter, a sculptor, and occasionally, a professor.


Art by Riccardo Federici: Work in progress for Saria #3, Editions Delcourt

Whose artwork did you first want to copy? And inspire you to do this as a career?

I don't really remember. At the age of six I made my first comic (for fun of course) and it was a few pages of a story invented by me that had Lucky Luke as the protagonist. AHAHAH!

Do you have any favourite characters/types of scenes to draw (ex. Action scenes, Horror scenes etc.)?

I really like being able to create something new, so everything that is fantasy (classic or futuristic) amuses me a lot, especially if it's action scenes. But I also love dark, gothic and horror atmospheres. I must admit that I like to change often and not always do the same thing. Even if I am tenacious I get bored easily, which is why I do a lot of different works: from comics, to concepts for collectible statues, and more.

Your quality capturing of human anatomy is amazing. Can you tell us how you became so proficient in the subject of muscle, bones and movement?

Anatomy is a very complex subject that has always fascinated me a lot, to get to know it thoroughly certainly takes time as well as an excellent spirit of observation and curiosity. I studied anatomy out of pure curiosity and hunger for knowledge by deepening topics such as: physiology, traumatology, some notions of physics (studying architecture helped me in this), sports (for many years I have been a personal trainer in many gyms), and in the artistic field. It’s not enough to think about muscles and their volumes. Muscles are certainly an important element of anatomy, but they are only the engine of an apparatus that, in my opinion, almost no one knows well in the artistic field. Muscles have that aspect and certain insertions depending on the movement and shape of the supporting structure of the body: the skeleton. I won't go too far because I don’t want to bore you, but basically I believe that to be able to represent something well, in addition to individual skills and experience, you need to know the topic very well. To be able to represent anatomy well, it’s necessary to know the physiology, the mechanics of the musculoskeletal system, physics, etc

Art by Riccardo Federici: Varient cover for Batman Superman #10, DC Comics

Looking at your cover art, for example the Variant cover for Super Man Batman #10 and Variant Cover for Dark Nights Death Metal#3- the use of light and shadows in hands and faces are not so dissimilar from the renaissance masters. Do you have classical art training?

I love the art and painting of the old masters of the past but I have no classical training. Being born and raised in Rome has probably conditioned me artistically somehow: Italy has a great artistic heritage that cannot leave you indifferent. However I am self-taught, and unfortunately didn't have any teachers who taught me to paint or draw, or who educated me towards a certain type of art.

Do you use reference photographs or live models and objects? Or do you do a lot of sketching to approach a totally new image? Or does it just come from your imagination?

Many people ask me this question and the answer is: I don't use references, I draw from memory (like many others), however some people don’t believe me. There are many witnesses among those who have attended my workshops and my students. At most, I document the settings if I can't create them from imagination, but I don't like using photo references at all. Many of my colleagues use photo references and I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but I personally just don't like it. Also, I find that searching for images to copy or to be inspired by is a waste of time. Obviously this is my point of view.

When you’re working on new characters, can you explain the process that you and the writer take in order to bring the writer’s vision to life?

The creation process is not always the same. Sometimes the writer doesn’t have a clear idea of what he would like and therefore only writes a short track, leaving the artists the freedom to interpret. Other times, the opposite happens. As far as I am concerned, I have never had any limitations from the writers and editors I have worked with. I have always been very free to interpret and this is a real and gratifying demonstration of trust. In many cases, it was I who proposed characters and/or settings. I think that in order to do a good job it is essential to recognize the other’s skills. Furthermore, a lot of collaboration, trust and respect between screenwriter, artist and editor is needed. If the team has these characteristics and nobody tries to prevail over the others, the final product will be good!

Art by Riccardo Federici: Work in progress for Saria#3, Editions Delcourt

How do you create and decide your colour palette for a certain panel, page or comic book?

The colors are used above all to give volume and shape but also to give atmosphere and are conditioned by light. Therefore, in the first place, the choice of colors depends on the light and the sensation you want to give. Then we should understand which are the colors that give depth (which bring back) and those which highlight (which bring forward). Thirdly, there is your personal taste. Each of us has his own "palette" of colors in mind. For example, I don't like green, especially the very bright one and, if I have to use it, I always mix it with colors that will soften the pigments.

Watching your drawing progress videos is captivating. Your penciling is really strong and structural - is there some pencil hints you would like to share for aspiring artists?

Many people ask me how I keep the design "clean". The answer is not simple: from my point of view, the design must be well structured and with construction lines reduced to a minimum to reduce the number of useless signs that should then be erased- erasing too much ruins the surface of the sheet. To avoid this problem, you must therefore try to make a drawing as correct as possible immediately. However, this also means having some knowledge of topics such as anatomy, facial and body acting, perspective, composition etc. Of course, experience is also very important.

I would also like to dispel a false belief (at least in my opinion): many people think that to get a clean drawing, it’s necessary to use very hard pencils. I play darts with hard pencils AHAHAH! Seriously, if you have a heavy hand and use a hard pencil, you will be forced to apply a lot of pressure on the sheet and this will ruin your mark (which will become too cold and graphic) and will only make you get grooves on the sheet. On the opposite side, a soft pencil will force you to lighten your hand, obtaining a quality mark and a cleaner (and erasable) drawing. Guaranteed! Obviously you have to practice a little.

Art by Riccardo Federici: The Last God#1, Variant Cover, DC Black Label

When producing your cover art, how much of the process is on paper and how much is digital? I’ve noticed on some of your ‘penciled’ pieces that you have a rough sketch underneath the more rendered pencil art. Was that on paper and scanned in or is it all digital?

So far I have only done one digital cover and it was a cover for a Metal band’s album. All other covers I have made totally in the traditional way, from the preliminary sketches, to the final pencil drawing, to the color (overpainting directly the pencil). Before coloring, I always do a scan of the pencil (to be probably used in a future artbook). When the illustration is completely painted, I scan and send the file to the publisher. The only digital retouching I do is cleaning the image from any brush bristles that remain attached AHAHAH!

Seeing your work in progress of comic paneling is very inspiring. Have you worked in storyboarding? If so, how does it differ from working on a comic paneling?

Yes, I also did some movie storyboards and I hope to do more in the future, but I can't anticipate anything. The storyboard for cinema is in some ways similar to comics, but there are differences and rules to be respected in both cases because the goal is different. For example, the job deadlines are very different: in the cinema, when everything is in motion, the rhythms are very fast. Furthermore, a comic page must follow a sense of reading (for Western culture from left to right) and the images must somehow accompany the sense of reading itself. In the comic, you have to pay attention to two types of composition, that of each single scene and that of the whole page, bearing in mind that the panels do not always have the same size and shape. In short, the list of differences is long. However, comics and cinematic storyboards have an important aspect in common: they both must capture a symbolic and indicative moment of the scene.

Art by Riccardo Federici: Work in progress for Saria #3, Editions Delcourt

Your work in progress videos are very entertaining and educational at the same time. How do you find the time and energy to document and share your work constantly? Do you have a team of assistants working with you?

I don't have a team of people looking after my videos. I never thought about having one. Sometimes I enjoy making some videos and posting them on my social pages. Apparently people appreciate them! Many have asked me to make real video tutorials, but it takes a long time to get them right. Maybe in the future…

Final Question. As a professional artist, are there still things that challenge you? Any skills you would like to improve?

I’ll answer like this: when I finish a work, 90% of the time I’m not satisfied at all, actually often I think it sucks. AHAHAH! Anyone who knows me well knows it's true! There is always something to improve... but with time and experience you learn to be objective and learn when to say: “ok that’s good enough”.


This marks the end of our Riccardo Federici interview- we hope you enjoyed learning about this master comic artist just as much as we did! Join us next week for a brand new artist interview!

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