Overcoming Hearing Impairment and Becoming an Illustrator

You may remember seeing the name ‘Alexandra Abagiu’ on the cover of all Beato Goes To books. Alexandra is the illustrator responsible for drawing the images based on my travels and bringing the children’s books to life. Alexandra is also a young Romanian girl who has been deaf since birth and does not speak, yet she is one of the most talented people I have met in my life. I thought you should hear from her directly and be inspired to learn how she overcame her handicap to become a world class illustrator of many children’s books.

Where did you grown up?

Hello! I’m Alexandra Abagiu, a deaf person who grew up in a small town named Beius, from Bihor County. I moved to Cluj-Napoca when I was a toddler to attend kindergarten that offers the necessary education for deaf children only. With the great support of my family, I managed to make progress on communicating so I could attend regular school.

When my family noticed how much I loved drawing, they transferred me to Romulus Ladea High School of Visual Arts and Design in 2004. Over there, my artistic evolution has wonderfully blossomed, all thanks to my teachers.

I studied at the University of Art and Design, the Faculty of Graphic Arts from 2010 to 2015. I successfully got both license and master’s degree for making comics. Meanwhile, I also got a job at Deveo Media Studio where I could develop my skills and learn to work for many customers.

How have you overcome your handicap to do your work? 

To be honest, it’s truly difficult dealing with that every now and then. The only one thing I can do is text, write or send messages on internet. Sometimes, reading lips is a nightmare because I must process everything what’s said within seconds. It’s 10x harder not to misunderstand or misspell a word.

I am also an introvert, so socialization sometimes drains my energy faster even if I do really enjoy talking and having company. In a public setting, when many people are talking simultaneously, I need someone to translate for me because I simply can’t reach their pace level when their topics skip way too quickly. Sometimes I try to follow people by reading their expressions or body language to figure out, but that’s all.

I started talking around five years of age. My thinking and speaking developed very slowly. As I was growing up, most people thought that I would never be able to do things like normal hearing kids can do and refused to let me into an art center.

Sign language is difficult to use here in Romania as the words are pronounced differently. I am trying though I’m a beginner. I discovered from different websites/blogs, you can role play with anyone. It’s like playing a scene in theater but on internet. Although it’s a hobby, that kind of interaction played a very important role in my life when I always tried to find a way to improve my writing part and understand everyone better. Because of it, I made online friends from all over the world, we shared our cultures too, it’s been a fun-ride.

When did you first start sketching? What did you draw?

I started drawing at around three-four years of age. In the very beginning there was a mountain of messy scribbles. Then I drew a snail and related how it’s life went through a day in four simple panels of a comic. For about a decade, I drew animals – from mammals, prehistoric creatures, reptiles, insects to dinosaurs, and characters like Lion King, Mickey Mouse, Sonic, Bambi, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Black Beauty, Sailor Moon, Looney Tunes, etc.

When I attended art courses, I began to improve my skills, considering perspective, composition and its structure, comics, nature, humans, etc. Beyond school activities I mostly did fine arts. Some of my inspiration sources are Walt Disney and Osamu Tezuka, which is probably why I like drawing cartoons a lot. I like making expressions, character development, exaggerate positions, and exploring their personalities.

How do you feel when you are creative?

It’s absolutely fun when you brainstorm and toy around with your ideas that pop up out of your head. After I started drawing, I began copying and tracing a lot. Of course, it was a bad- VERY bad idea, but I was very young back then so I didn’t have much knowledge or knew about any rules. I now consider all those drawing to be helpful exercises. It stimulated my brain and pushed my imagination.

Which projects/ books have you worked on?

Since 2014, I have worked on many projects including, most of which are children’s picture books – Did you clean your room, Besties Crew, Tik, The Big Game, Crandall, Edwin, Show me the money, Red Apple. The biggest project I’m currently working on is Fram the polar bear.

What do you think of Beato character and books?

Considering that I am huge fan of big cats and other wild animals, I absolutely love Beato! For me, it was a big challenge, like opening a new world before my eyes, learning about new places and cultures. It’s an honor for me to be a part of this project and I hope this will continue in the future. I recall myself getting very excited for the first time as soon as I was selected to make concepts for Beato. These new experiences had prepared me well for other complicated projects which is very satisfying.

What challenges do you face at work?

Lack of communication, I suppose. This usually happens when we are stressed trying to get things done in a short time so we tend to forget the smallest details. This is life of an artist, so a day that would never pass without making a mistake. Yes, we are human, not cats, so nothing is PURRfect!

One of the biggest problem I have is during meetings. Since I’m unable to collect information from manager or classmates in public, using an online messenger is the only way for me to find out what’s happening.

What advice will you give to someone who has a physical handicap?

Based on my experience, I recommend anyone who loves any artistic activities to keep practicing and never stop themselves, regardless of their situation.

Being deaf is not a disease and has nothing to do with your ability like others’ may perceive. You just adapt, overcome obstacles and become stronger in the end. You may feel anxious, doubtful, discriminated or frustrated, but it will pass and you’ll be okay. If I were them, I would focus on things that make me a happy panda and not let them discourage me otherwise.

To me, drawing means a lot and helps me ease my mood swings every time I have bad days. I don’t know what kind of life I would’ve had without it but I rather not think about that. It’s like channeling my feelings through the palette of colors, lines or dots onto paper (or graphic tablet). It does relax your mind a lot. Come visit my online gallery!

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