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Subsign Spotlight #087.

Subsign: First, can you tell us a few things about yourself?

Gabriela: My name is Gabriela Toma and I am a self-taught illustrator and graphic designer based in Bucharest. I studied urban planning and urban management and I am a certified urban planner. After almost 7 years of working in this field I decided to transition into graphic design and I haven’t looked back since.

Subsign: What was your childhood like? Do you think your experiences from childhood have influenced your present creative endeavors?

Gabriela: I’m positive that my childhood memories influence me a great deal in the present (not only in my work, but in other aspects of my life as well). I was always very curious about how things work and I always loved to make things. Growing up, I used to spend all my holidays at my grandparents house in the countryside, surrounded by nature.

Both my parents and grandparents encouraged me to learn new things – I used to sew clothes for my dolls, make bead jewelry, knit, crochet, help with the cooking, go fishing with my dad, etc. And most importantly, I used to love to draw. I’d always make cards for my parents with every occasion (birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc). It was quite a useful skill actually; all the other kids were impressed with my ability to draw and would often ask me to illustrate superheroes or princesses or animals for them (even my classmates at school).

Gabriela: Nowadays, I still enjoy drawing very much. It’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, but I also like making things (I still make jewelry and ornaments).

Subsign: What did you want to be as a grown up?

Gabriela: Growing up, I was very inspired by those closest to me – my parents. My mother is a precision mechanics engineer and my father is a locksmith. They are both very technical and very passionate about what they do; they’ve always been that way.>

My father likes building things (like furniture); he also sometimes makes his own tools, perfectly adapted to his needs. My mother is the same way – she used to make her own clothes (mine as well, when I was little), and often works together with my dad on different projects.

Gabriela: So, listening to my parents talk about their work and watching my father and my uncle working on their cars I was very impressed and decided I would become an auto mechanic (I was in kindergarten at that time). In primary school I decided I would become a professional volleyball player. I was watching “Attack No. 1” at that time, an anime about a very talented volleyball player named Mila. Being a volleyball player seemed very cool.

When that didn’t work out I thought I would become an engineer like my mom. In high school I changed my mind and decided to study architecture; but I didn’t pass the entrance exam for Architecture school and ended in Urban Planning (which I didn’t know much about at that time). As it turned out, it was all for the best. I love urban planning; it is a very complex and interesting field.

Subsign: How does your workstation look like?

Gabriela: Right now I have 2 workspaces at home, both in the living room and I’m thinking about expanding a bit in the kitchen as well (because I love the light there). I work from the left corner of the couch – painting and drawing on my Ipad – and I also have a desk with my computer and my graphic tablet. We’re planning to move in a bigger apartment so in the future I may have a bit more space – right now it feels a little crammed.

Subsign: How would you describe it?

Gabriela: I’m still figuring things out. I don’t think I have a very well defined style. I’m still experimenting and learning a lot, keeping what I like and doing away with the things I dislike. There have been a few people that told me they recognized some of my works because they were clearly made in my style… but I’m still not sure about what that means. I’m not focusing on creating a style; I’m more interested in becoming better at what I do and understanding what I like and what I want to convey through my work.

Subsgin: Can you share with us how your creative process works?

Gabriela: I usually start by reading the brief very carefully, or, if it’s a personal project, writing down what I want to do. I do a little brainstorming and write down and sketch ideas. I then start researching for references, color palette ideas and start setting up a mood board. I start sketching and do color tests and when I decide on a clear direction I begin working on the final idea. If I get stuck along the way I usually do more research or just take a break.

When I’m done, I usually wait until the next day, and check the result again. I often show the project to friends or colleagues and ask for their opinion. It helps to have a fresh perspective (if you work on something for too long you will get used to it and stop noticing mistakes). After I get some feedback I will most probably make some changes and that’s it.

Subsign: What is your favorite work you have done so far?

Gabriela: My favorite projects so far have been my personal projects. There’s no pressure and I always have a lot of fun doing them. Like my Festive cats project which I illustrated for fun and then printed on t-shirts and holiday cards for friends.

Gabriela: Also, every year I’m looking forward to the Inktober challenge. I’m always trying to do something different every time so I can learn new ways of illustrating. It’s not easy to illustrate something new every day for a month (especially if you also have other projects going on), but it’s really good practice and so far, I’ve managed to survive.

Subsign: Who do you follow for inspiration?

Gabriela: I like browsing online and discovering all sorts of creative projects – on Beehance, Pinterest, but mostly on social media. I like illustration, animation, music videos, creative photography, embroidery, paper art, ceramics, jewelry design, etc.

I follow a lot of artists, mostly on Instagram. I like seeing the works of other illustrators like Victoria Semykina, Sonia Lazo, Gemma Correll, Linzie Hunter, Gosia Herba, Angela Smyth, Lisa Congdon, Barbara Dziadosz, Loreta Isac, Akira Kusaka, Bethan Woollvin, Sonia Alins, John Bond, Madalina Andronic, Andrea Kurti, Livia Koloji, Terry Runyan, Livia Falcaru, Rebecca Green, Lesley Barnes, Fiona Woodcock, Oana Ispir, Steve Mack, Mark Hoffman, Ghost Puff, Mark Johns (and the list can go on and on…).

Gabriela: I also follow designers like Natalia Lubieniecka, Carly Elizabeth Owens, Seulgi Kwon, Manooni, Azumi Sakata, Olga Prinku and ceramists like Carly Buteux, Vanessa Bean, Fotini Tikkou, Kinska, Polkaros, Pawena Thimaporn, Julia Ballenger, Birdcanfox ceramis, Tamara Bryan. I am huge ceramics fan. I dream of creating my own ceramics collection one day.

I also like Sara Barnes’s account a lot – Brown Paper Bag. I’ve discovered a lot of great artists through it. And, of course, I follow animation artists: Chris Sickles, Hubuluk, Andrea Love, Yukai Du, Annie Wong, Laurie Rowan and recently I’ve discovered Monday’s Challenge – a weekly animation challenge in which a lot of very interesting artists take part.

Subsign: What advice could you give to someone starting out in the creative field of work?

Gabriela: If you can dream it you can do it! It sound corny but I do believe that if you want to do something badly enough you will find a way to do it. It takes time and effort and at times it can be frustrating but if you are passionate about what you do and understand that there is always something new to learn, you will keep on growing. Also, don’t compare yourself to others; try to learn from them but don’t feel that you are not doing enough.

Everybody has their own rhythm, you don’t really know what it’s like for others (something that works for them may simply not work for you), so focus on yourself, set your own goals (short term and long term as well).

Subsign: If you would have a super power, what would it be?

Gabriela: Waaa… as a kid I used to imagine I had all sorts of super powers. Now, I don’t know, maybe teleportation. I think it would be nice to travel to other places without any hassle. I have a long list of places to visit and this might simplify things a bit. It also might help with daily errands.

Subsign: Can you recommend for our readers a book, a song and a movie?

Gabriela: One of my favorite authors at the moment is Haruki Murakami, and the book I enjoyed most is “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”. Song: The Knife – “Marble House”. And, since I’m a huge animation fan I will recommend “Spirited away” (or anything from Studio Ghibli).

Subsign: If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like and what would it be for?

Gabriela: It would probably be a party for family and close friends; something very low key, maybe a picnic in a nice garden with lots of flowers. I’m not a big fan of big, loud parties. I mostly like to meet the people I enjoy spending time with and just chat over coffee, or a glass of wine and eat some tasty cake.

Subsign: What famous people would you invite to the party and why?

Gabriela: I don’t think I’d invite any famous people. I get really star struck and if any famous person would be there I’d probably hide behind the curtains.

Thank you Gabriela for being a part of our Spotlight!

If you know an artist that should be in the spotlight, contact us at

For more of  Gabriela ‘s work, you can follow her work on the links: Gabriela on Instagram, Gabriela on Behance, Gabriela on Facebook.


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"Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard."

Guy Kawasaki