I had the opportunity to sit down with world-renowned painter, illustrator, and comic artist Camilla d’Errico at Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle. Surrounded by girls with rainbow tears and sea urchin crowns, we talked about how she came to be a graphic artist, what it’s like to count Nathan Fillion and Emma Roberts as fans of her work and her solo exhibit opening this weekend at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles.
You started out wanting to work for Disney but at some point you kind of switched gears. What brought that on?
It was the fact that I was a terrible animator. (laughs). I graduated high school thinking, fully committed, to being an animator and then I went into school and I was not very good at it. I realized that I wasn’t good at repetitive drawing, I was better at being creative and coming up with concepts. Once I finished my animation program, I left animation behind and I started focusing more on the traditional art, graphic design, and graphic novels.
You have, since then, ended up collaborating with Disney. Tell me about that?
Whenever I go to conventions there are a lot of scouts that are there. Most people don’t know that, I didn’t know that. So, a scout from Disney found my art and really loved it. After that, they approached me about doing a project with them.
Can you tell us about the project?
You know, I can’t talk about it. (laughs). That’s the thing, as much as I love working with Disney, and I’ve worked with Hasbro, the thing is they vault a lot of their art and I’m not allowed to tell people about it or show people. So it’s kind of like this beautiful art that no one is going to see until they’re ready. Eventually, they’ll show it.
I notice a lot of juxtaposed images in your work. For instance in one piece you have a girl with an octopus around her head with butterflies sitting on the sea creature. Is that intentional? Is there a symbolism there that we should be looking for?
When I paint, there is a lot of symbolism in my artwork. So for me, butterflies can symbolize freedom or fragility. And then, octopi are really intelligent and mysterious. So all of my images have different symbols which represent the girls personality or her journey. I don’t often explain it because I really enjoy the viewer’s interpretation.
I take a lot of my European inspiration, or heritage, and bring it into my artwork. So I love anime, which is cartoonie and then I bring that sense of the Renaissance into it and made this sort of amalgamation of the two.
Talk to me a little bit about what you’re wearing here. (Camilla is draped in a beautiful semi-sheer scarf)
(laughs). One thing I really love is fashion. I’ve been doing conventions for a while and people only have a limited amount of wall space. I wanted to create wearable art so they can take their favorite piece of my artwork and wear it. I’ve got leggings too. This is one I developed myself. I’m not working with a company this is all from me.
I designed it and worked with a local manufacturer and it’s all made in North America. I work with small businesses to develop these products. It’s just rewarding.
So what do you find is more rewarding to you as an artist? You’ve collaborated with some pretty big names but you’re now doing your own thing and having success. Where do you find your fulfillment?
It’s both, you know. They offer different things. Disney is such a big company. There’s this moment when you’re like ‘Oh my God…it’s Disney!’ But then when I do this (create scarves) there’s a sense of fulfillment that I made something and I worked hard to make something out of nothing on my own. So, I get fulfillment in different ways with each product that I come up with.
Talk about the emotion behind your work and how, in your journey, you have experienced the effect it has on people.
Whether somebody spends a lot of money or no money, but just says that they like my art, to me that’s the most amazing thing. I started out just for myself and now I’ve found that my artwork actually touches people emotionally and it means something to them and it’s so rewarding. There’re no words for when somebody comes up and says, your painting means so much. I’ve had people cry over my art because they’ve connected with it.
I noticed right away that there is an evocative feel to your work, more than just something pretty to hang on the wall.
There’s nothing wrong with pin-up girls but my artwork is meant to connect with people emotionally. It’s not meant to be just a hot girl or their favorite character like Batman doing a strong pose. If I was going to draw Batman it would probably be in his most vulnerable moment. I think that art should connect with you on that level.
Is there a piece that is your favorite or means the most to you?
I don’t have a favorite, I’ll be honest. But I do have one that I connect with, it’s called Beyond the Rainbow. That was the very first of my Rainbow series and it came at a time when I wasn’t feeling that my heart was in the artwork. I was kind of stuck on this constant loop of doing girls with animals on their heads.Then this image of a girl with a melting chest and all of her pain just coming out of her popped in my head. I took a leap of faith. For me to actually paint that was really scary because I was known for my big wide-eyed girls and animals and that has none of those. But I’m glad that I did because at that point it if I hadn’t done that, I would have stagnated and I wouldn’t have been able to create pretty much all of the artwork you see here.
Camilla was at ComiCon as an exhibitor and also as a panelist discussing the groundbreaking use of painting as a medium to create original artwork for upcoming projects with Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse. She is currently promoting two of her latest art books; Dark Horse’s “Rainbow Children” and Random House’s “Pop Painting” which are follow-ups to her wildly popular Helmet Girls. In her spare time, she recently collaborated with Derek Cardigan on an amazing eyewear collection which showcases her designs (www.coastal.com/camilla-derrico).
Her solo exhibit, Dances with Dreams, opens this Saturday, April 23rd and runs through May 21st at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles.