I was lucky enough to interview Camilla d’Errico at Emerald City Comic Con last month and discuss her work process with her, along with how her art has expanded in the past few years. I’ve followed her art for a long time, and it seems that in the last three or four years it has truly exploded in art scene, and the convention scene in particular. To open, I asked what it was like for Camilla to see that sort of growth.
Camilla stated that she started getting serious in art about ten years ago. “It’s neat because in the past three years it’s kind of exploded in a surreal sort of way. Like the seeds that I planted in the beginning are coming to fruition. With the sunglass release, I started that two and a half years ago. My ‘how to paint’ and my ‘how to draw’ books were also started around the same time, as well.” She laughed lightly and said that to see them all come about is kind of overwhelming and exciting. “I mean, I always hoped I could be successful as an artist, and now just see it– and to see my art translated in so many different mediums is the most exciting thing. Also, just coming to the show and seeing my work on a banner, hanging? I did a totally nerdy dance and I’m just like omg! Deep down, I’m still just a fangirl. I’m just so excited about everything that’s happening and I can’t wait for, like, the next things that are coming.” Which, of course, she couldn’t tell me about right now, but she said that she couldn’t wait to expand and grow every year–and who knows where she will be in ten years from now.
I was actually curious about the process of how the watches and the eyeglasses were created; how that was different compared to a normal art process.
“That’s that’s a good question, because it’s a collaborative effort working with a team of experts.” Camilla explained, and went on to describe how she worked with the accessory experts on how to translate her two dimensional art into a three dimensional product. “So I had ideas, and they have ideas, and we work really hard to make sure that it’s a product that we’re both really happy with. Working with glasses is really neat, too, because I paint on wood, and they wanted me to have a little homage to my painting– so we added a woodgrain texture to the side of some of the glasses as, like, a little, you know, nod [to] that. It’s really cool and I actually really enjoy working with other companies to see how they actually view and interpret my artwork into their platforms.”
I was additionally curious about how Camilla translated her art knowledge into her “how to” books; it seems something that would be difficult, especially to make it understandable to all art levels.
“That is the hardest thing I’ve done to date, actually,” she said. “I know how to paint and I know how to draw, but I’m self taught, and I do it just instinctively. But for me to create a lesson that isn’t just like–use this thing, and this is what I do here. I have to actually explain my process. So I had to really put so much time and effort and I think that’s why it took two years to do each book.” Camilla went on to explain that she worked with a team of friends and family who asked her questions while she would paint.
“I would do something and they would ask me, ‘Well how did you do that?’, and I realized I needed to explain certain things. So I spent so much time making sure that the lessons were really thorough, relatable and casual. I’m a really casual person and sometimes these ‘how to draw’ books, or these instructional books are really overwhelming; they can be really stiff and I wanted the language of the book to be as open and comfortable as possible. So it’s going to be me having a conversation with people and I think at the end of the day it came out really really well and I’m really proud of it.” Camilla laughed after this and added, “I think it’s funny because after the ‘how to draw’ book I was like, OK I think that’s it for me– that was, like, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But then they asked for the paint book and we’re going back in. But I had so much fun with it so I’m hoping that we do another one. Perhaps a ‘how to color digitally’ because I also do that.”
Doing a book on digital coloring interests her specifically since many books on the market are very technically driven and can be overwhelming. “I remember the first time I opened up Photoshop and I didn’t understand. Like it was like all Klingon to me and I couldn’t understand it myself! I’m self taught on how to digitally color too, so I would try to make it casual. I would not use any technical terms– because I don’t know them!” She laughed, “I just I’m like, use the pointy clicky thing! That’s in this thing, you know, making it casual is really important.”
I know Camilla speaks a lot about how she draws inspiration from everyday things, and her imagination in general. But I also noticed that she tends to work with animals a lot–I was curious to know if there was any particular reason she does a lot of animal work.
“I love animals so much. It’s from my upbringing; my parents are huge fans of animals. Like, my mom won’t kill a spider– she won’t kill anything. So she taught me from a very early age to respect animals, and my father is a hunter so he learned the cycle of life and he taught me the natural world. My whole childhood involved watching the Discovery Channel or romping around the backyard with my mom, studying the birds or butterflies”
It’s been such a huge part of her life, so using animals as iconic imagery and as symbols came naturally to her. “So if I use a snake it will represent something to do with sexuality, strength, mystery or danger, and if I use a butterfly it might represent fragility or freedom because that’s what it means to me.”
Camilla went on to state that when she puts the animals together with the girls she paints, each animal becomes a part of the girl’s personality and story. “It’s exciting, actually, to hear other people think, because everyone has a favorite animal or the one they don’t like. I’ve got Yuta, which is the girl with the snake, and some people hate snakes. They can’t do it, you know. But then they’ll love it when I use a narwal.”
Camilla said her strong use of animals also comes from being an eco warrior. “I donate to so many charities and I make sure that everything that I consume is cruelty free. I think it just sets a good example– I’m not doing it, like, to be political, but it’s simply just a part of who I am, and I think it strikes a nice balance.”
Earlier in our interview, Camilla had spoken of how she had always been involved in art, so I was curious how she started. Was it something she had been involved with as a child, and had always wanted to be involved with?
“Yeah, actually! When I was born my mother said I had artist hands, so I think she always guided me into doing art.” She mentioned that watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 80s and 90s heavily influenced her as well. Initially, she wanted to be an animator, but then she said, “I wanted to be a paleontologist because I loved dinosaurs, and wanted to only draw dinosaurs. Then I found out paleontologists don’t just draw dinosaurs– they have to go out in the sun, too–and I have the complexion of chalk.” So instead she put her skills towards graphic novels and painting, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was also curious when Camilla works for other companies (Disney, Marvel, etc), and does commissions, like comic covers or things like that, what was her process for dealing with that, because obviously it can’t be her own distinct style all the time. How does she try to work in her own style while keeping in the theme of the comic?
“It depends on whom I’m working for,” Camilla said, “For example, working for Disney was interesting in particular. I sent in sketches and they sent me back their revisions in red marker and I thought it was like back in grade school! I had to argue my style with them and say, ;you know you asked me to draw your character in my style,’ and find a way to come to a happy balance with them. I’m not going to just do something that the company isn’t happy with, but I want it to be something that everybody likes.” As she says, if it’s a character that’s recognizable, she can’t change it too much, but at the same time she needs to maintain some of her own style, so it is all about balance.
To close out the interview, I asked what sort of advice Camilla would give to people who have a passion for art, but feel the need to be practical, or are simply worried about following their dreams, and honestly, Camilla gave one of my favorite answers I’ve ever received to this question.
“I started off being practical. So I would definitely suggest not jumping in without a parachute. I started my career while in school and when I graduated I took a job in an art supply shop. I kept sending out my art to companies; it’s not a smart thing to just go out into the world and expect immediate success. You should definitely have a job, and then slowly work your way into your dream position–and then quit and do full time, like I did. I’m really thankful I did that, because my parents taught me to be practical, but to also to be ambitious. So that is what I would suggest people do: to try and balance the practical with the ambition.”
If you are in the LA area, the Corey Helford Gallery will be showing Camilla’s pieces in a show called “Dances with Dreams” through the 21st of May. Check it out: http://www.coreyhelfordgallery.com/shows/camilla-derrico/butterfall/