We had the chance to speak to Italian Fotolia Contributor Danilo Sanino to ask him about his signature style of illustration which is extremely popular, having found the target market for his work as well as his equation for success whilst still enjoying his trade!

Can you introduce yourself, where you’re based and explain a bit your journey into how you started selling your images on Fotolia?

Thanks for this opportunity!

I am a freelance illustrator, I live in Cuneo, a little town in Piedmont, North Italy. I worked for five years for Kinder Ferrero, the chocolate eggs with surprise-toys inside. I illustrated the piece of paper inside the eggs with the toy characters to accompany their little world.

Then, in the 2008, I  examined in depth the possibility to make me free from the daily demand of one single client, and I discovered the world of microstock sites. That’s because I wanted to draw images in which the subjects was decided by me, not restricted or managed by external sources.

2. How would you describe your illustrative style? What has influenced and shaped it?

My style is basically cartoonish. Actually, my mind is divided in two distinct parts: one is very colorful, bright, with happy and smiley pets living on it. The second part is dark, between realistic horror and fantasy styles, quite fearful!

I love analysing the anatomy and expression of my characters. Most of the illustrations are in cartoon style however, because they are more popular than horror/fantasy, and also quicker to establish.

3. What is it about your images do you think that has made them so popular?

I think that the key is to make them as personal as possible, and give the best as you can to bring them to life: just like if you were working for a big client, or a big company, such as Disney, Pixar, or Dreamwork.

Someone told me in the past that microstock sites contain cheap images, and being a contributor should not be a good qualification for their job. My philosophy is the exact opposite. If you give the best, the answer will have the same taste (in any field).

Focus the attention on the particulars, spend time in the realisation of the sketch, digitalise the image with graphic tablets, try different colour combinations, propose different subjects.

4. Has your illustrative style developed since you started in the stock industry? If so, in what ways?

My cartoonish style has been developed a lot in these years, with the stock industry. Gradually, it has become more synthetic, too much detail can disturb the harmony of the whole scene. The sites show a medium/small preview of your work, so, sometimes, the illustration must be readable in that proportion, and therefore it must be balanced: not too many details, but at the same time, not too simple.

I also discovered the possibility to create locations like landscapes for my subjects.

The best sellers are illustrations that contain a set of characters (for example farm animals) located in a landscape (such as a courtyard with a farm and cornfields in the background).

As said before, I think the most important key is the diligence used to create a single image. However I also know that the main need is to have a portfolio with a lot of images, to be competitive, and earn money! It is understandable.

But my suggestion is: every 7-10 images created, try to realise one in which you give your best, where all your talent is conveyed into that single image.

At the end of a period, you will have 70-100 images in medium quality, and 7-10 in super high quality.

Try to create images in which you love the subjects. This love will be visible at the end of the process. In time, you will find the mix between the “most downloaded” and “the best character that I love drawing”. When you will find that mix, you will be at a good point.

5. What are you favourite images from your Fotolia portfolio and why?

My favourite images are the subjects without cartoon outlines, where the character is the predominant part of the scene, and gives to the scene a dreamlike atmosphere. Images where the style is indefinable, it could be fantasy, or horror at the same time. It’s in midway between realism and cartoon.


Here are some examples:









6. Have your origins and the culture of your country influenced you in any way? If so, how?

A summary answer could be yes. I live in a town near the mountains, I spend a lot of time in  nature, playing sport, etc… So, my main subjects are animals, natural landscapes and bla bla bla…

Maybe, a part of this answer is true… but I don’t consider myself as a result of the place where I live. My aptitude is quite independent, I don’t identify myself in the culture of the Country where I physically reside, it  never happened. I know, it sounds haughty and proud, but I have had, since the childhood, a real inner world that need to come out, and it does by the drawing process. I think it is independent from the outer world.

I have always drawn, since when I was a child, my disposition was quite meditative and I have searched for solitary moments, to be able to draw… even when my peers were playing soccer in the afternoon after school, I was with my best friends: pencils and paper.

I think that the subjects of nature, and animals, and all the things of external world, are a means to express the things belonging to my personal, inner world.

7. Are they any common messages, emotions or ideas you try to convey through your images?

Honestly, in these years, my focus has been directed to earn money. I wanted to be an illustrator, make this job full time.

So, I have searched for a mix between the expression of myself with drawing and the popularity of the images. I have produced a lot of illustrations for microstock sites, and now, I know which are most popular and which are not. Sometimes, I would like to be more personal, more profound in the messages, but this type of images could not engage with a large part of the community.

My objective is to increase the consistency of the meaning of the images, but remain at the same time, a pop artist. This will be my next challenge!

8. Are there any photos in your Fotolia portfolio that surprised you because of their popularity? Or some you thought would sell better than others but didn’t?

Yes, I’ve been surprised when I’ve created some set of simple animals, like this example  and it becomes a best seller.

It reminds me that sometimes it is not necessary to be too much serious to make a good product (but this doesn’t deny what I said before!).

Another example is this illustration: when I  created it, I did not think it could be downloaded too much because the subject belongs to a specific fairy tale. Instead, I have been happily proved wrong.

Instead, I have created a series about Zodiacs. It did not had the expected success I thought it would. I think, because the illustration in this case is hermetic, not  childish enough, scarcely recognisable:

9. What are the global trends you see in 2014 and do you think it is important to follow them in order to succeed in the stock industry?

Usually, I don’t follow any trends, but naturally, this is not an absolute way to approach the stock industry.I follow my feelings, maybe some personal facts in my life can influence the choice of my illustrations. They arrive from thoughts, feelings, intuitions.

Maybe I can check the Game App Market, to evaluate how I can contribute with some illustrations in this field, or I can be influenced from little things that happens in my daily life.

Many thanks to Danilo for taking the time to speak with us! To view more of his work check it out on his Fotolia portfolio  his blog, Facebook page and you can also find him on twitter!