THE ART OF CAMILLA D’ERRICO
Camilla d'Errico is one of those rare artists who understands how to make a living without compromising her personal sense of creativity. She doesnâ€™t have to - the style she infuses into her paintings, illustrations, and product designs is as irresistible as it gets. The lessons all artists and creative professionals can learn from Camilla are legion, and in my interview with her I only scratched the surface of her depth of knowledge regarding the creative habit and the ability to balance a playful life with a professional one.
2 How long have you been painting and illustrating? At what point did you begin doing it professionally? I’ve been illustrating professionally since I graduated college in 2003 and painting professionally since 2006. Even before that I was illustrating comic books, while attending college. Even though that wasn’t paid work, it was great experience that helped me develop my style and work ethic. What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in becoming a professional artist? The foremost challenge is getting yourself known, and overcoming any shyness of talking or being seen as “blatantly self-promoting”. Most artists are shy and don’t know how to talk about their own art but it is so important to get out there and network. And most of the time, all it takes is some chit chat, and the conversation becomes self-promotion but you don’t even know you’re doing it! Then there are different challenges in the different genres; as a comic book/ manga creator I was openly accepted by my peers. The industry hungered for more women, it reached out for the female sensibility. As a painter, I had the challenge of being seen as having my own voice. The world of art compares artist vs. artist, so the challenges were to never be compared to another artist but to pioneer my style beyond gender, classifications and pigeon-holing.
4 Have you formally studied art or are you self-taught? Do you feel that formal education is necessary for professional artists? I’m both formally educated and self-taught. I have a diploma in animation, and a degree in illustration and design. Formal training is definitely something I would suggest because it teaches you techniques and skills that you may not otherwise learn on your own, unless you’re particularly interested in that area. For example, thanks to my illustration and design degree I learned all about Photoshop and how to apply my artist sense in a “designer” way. It was invaluable. However, I am a self-taught painter and comic book artist, and this came from years and years of doodling, practicing on my own plus a year I took off to really study manga and develop my style. How many art pieces do you make on average, per week or month? That’s tough to answer because it depends on what I’m doing! I paint, illustrate and draw comics. When painting, 2-3 paintings per month, for comics, one full issue a month. How long does it take you to make a painting or drawing from start-to-finish? It takes me anywhere between 1 and 2 weeks to finish a painting, 3 to 5 days to finalize a full color digital illustration, and I can draw up to 10 pages of comic work per week. I’m fast, but over the years I’ve also become more detailed in all my work, so I’m now taking longer to produce work, however it is of far superior quality, especially the paintings, as I want to create a masterpiece every time.
How do you get ideas for new pieces? I get ideas from everywhere; from books, television, from observing people, from taking walks… I also love to talk to my sisters and my friends about ideas and usually from those conversations I spark something new that I immediately scribble down or sketch and try to create. How do you stay focused once you have started working on a piece? Focus is a precious thing. It is very easy to get distracted with Internet plus all the non-art things that need to be done. What I usually do is tell the world that I’m going into “my artist cave” and basically disappear for days without logging into email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s the only way for me to truly focus; I literally don’t go near the computer. I also am very productive at night, when it is quiet and dark. That helps me focus.
Do you have a specific routine you follow to stay productive? Not really, because I have a varied schedule and projects, so every day is different, although once I start working on a painting or a comic, I can go for hours without stopping because I get so inspired to work. I do check emails, Facebook, all the social media and websites in the morning and get that out of the way and out of my mind. And of course there are days when that creativity just doesn’t flow, and those days I just accept them for what they are and try to do something else!
What is your general philosophy regarding your artwork? My artistic philosophy has always been, and will always be to paint what you feel and feel what you paint. It’s about emotionality and expressing a vision. Who are your primary customers and fans? My fans range from young tweens all the way to grandparents! My core is the teen/young adult fans. Collectors of my art are generally people in their late 20’s and up.
Do you make pieces to specifically cater to these groups of people? No. I don’t make art to cater to anyone. I create art from my inspiration, though at heart I am a big kid, so maybe this helps reach that core audience. More broadly speaking, art is a complicated industry and it will always walk a fine line between expressive freedom and marketability. I am part of an art movement that is generating a lot of attention and a lot of esteem, and when that happens boxes are built around the art to give it definition and to give it value. How do you define the value of a painting? Is it whether it sells or through public reaction? I began to believe that a successful artist had to sell out every show, and that started to create pressure, stress and inevitably compromises. I started to question the art itself and why one piece sold over one that didn’t. What I realized was that it’s just a false reality that emerges from those expectations. If you only base the worth of a piece on one person’s purchase then you are undermining the true value. Let’s face it, if we all have tens of thousands of dollars to spend freely on art, wouldn’t that mean sell out shows everyday? So I stepped back and thought of that. People who love a piece won’t always be able to afford it, so then it doesn’t matter if it sells or not.
There are a lot of debates about whether art should be purely an expression of the artist or whether the artist should be willing to make compromises in order to become a professional and sell pieces. What are your thoughts on compromises for the sake of marketability? Do you think it helps or hinders the artist? Personally, I think that if an artist begins to compromise his/her own art, that is selling out. The question of why we paint comes to light, do you paint to please or do you paint and it pleases? I think it completely hinders an artist to ask why something is popular and try to dissect the reasons and recreate it. The Beatles were loved and adored and each of their songs stood out from the next, individual and stylized in their own voices. They created music because it was their passion and people responded to that, maybe there was some sort of marketability there, but I’m sure they just made the music knowing that it was what they wanted to express and not just what people wanted to hear. The only time any compromises are made is when working with a client, in that case you are working to please someone and bring their vision to life, a paid piece that doesn’t come from yourself, though as a rule you should never compromise your style. Being a professional doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your vision, it means that you take it seriously, you are your own boss, you paint with a style, with a voice, and create works that people enjoy through your own definitions. I believe art in any form should be done for the passion of it and not the profitability. You just can’t please everyone.
Do you think it is harder to be a professional artist now than in the past? Artists have always struggled; we see the world differently and fight to express that creatively. Its sad to know that many of the most beloved painters we know today died penniless and lived a life of little or no money, but I doubt they lived poorly. I’m sure that history will repeat itself. So what then makes art valuable? The “red dot” or the appreciation? The one element that gives us a step up from the past is the global connectivity. Our art can be accessed by the world, and that could be a gift or a burden, either way I think that struggling is the artists path and fighting for it will never be easy. What plans do you have for your future work? I’m currently finishing Tanpopo 3, which will officially release at San Diego Comic Con, in July 2010. As soon as that is finished, I’ll be starting on my Helmetgirls graphic novel. There are some other comic/illustration projects spread throughout the year and a little farther out. I’ve got a graphic novel with Grant Morrison plus a graphic novel for an independent film company in the works. I’m also working on new paintings for Opera Gallery in New York, and for Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles. It’s a nice mix of creative work – personal, client and paintings – which keeps me busy and happy!
Camilla’s artwork crosses genres as if their boundaries didn’t exist and is featured on clothing, prints, jewelry, figurines, and in comic books. Her clientele includes Disney, Sanrio, Hasbro, Tokyopop, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, and Random House. She is represented by Opera Gallery of New York. You can buy her cool stuff at camilladerrico.com.
CREDITS AND RIGHTS Ebook copyright © Dan Bergevin 2010. Interview responses and illustrations copyright © Camilla d’Errico 2010. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Camilla’s photo courtesy of Kris Krug. Published by Capitalized Living Post Office Box 2172, Layton, Utah, 84041