One of my favorite fantasy artists is Camilla d’Errico so it was a thrill to get to meet and talk to her at this year’s Emerald City Comicon. As you can read below, Camilla obviously loves her work and has a passion for creating art that is meaningful to her.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I’m here with Camilla d’Errico at Emerald City Comic-Con. You have a few new art books out.
d’Errico: I do, yeah! I’ve got two books. One is called Pop Painting. It’s with Random House. And it’s my first instructional book on how to paint. It’s kind of a first of its kind.
There’s not another book out there that teaches people how to create surrealism. It’s a really thorough book. I spent two years making it. It has lessons on how to paint skin tone and fur, for instance. The book is for the aspiring artists who want to find their own voice and style and who want to try painting for the first time.
So I am real excited about that book. It’s been really successful.
CB: Did it change the way you approach your work to kind of think about this in a more systematic way?
d’Errico: You know, it did because I do everything instinctually. I’m self-taught. I never stopped to think about how I do things.
So when I was creating the book, I actually had to have my husband and my assistant ask me questions while I was painting because I would just go full hog and I wouldn’t stop to think about it. So they were like, “Oh, why did you do that?” So it was much easier to create these lessons when I had people actually noticing my techniques and asking me about it. So it’s given me a really thorough lesson plan. I wanted to be really casual, too, in the tone.
It’s not a stuffy book. I know a lot of these “How to Paint” books can be very technical. This is full of my personality. I’m a really easy-going person, so the book is really easy going.
CB: That sounds like it is important to you that people do their own thing, too– not just your style of surrealism.
d’Errico: Yeah, exactly, because as an artist you are trying to put your own art out into the world. You don’t want to put someone else’s. So although you can learn from my book and you can learn how I’ve painted a rainbow bunny, the point is for you to then take what I have taught you and the technique and then apply it to your own style.
I think one of the hardest things for artists is to actually know what their own style is. It takes time. That’s one thing that the book teaches you. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of practice. Every painting that I do takes two to three weeks to actually develop.
CB: I think everyone’s personal style, no matter what creative art you do, has to evolve over time.
d’Errico: It does.
CB: You kind of have to let it. You have to stay with your influences and allow it evolve.
d’Errico: Exactly. You can be influenced, but you shouldn’t be painting what someone else has already put out in the world. You need to create new things, you know?
CB: Now how much of your work is digital versus physical media?
d’Errico: So my work Tanpopo is digitally colored as well as any covers I do for BOOM! and Dark Horse. But I would say that maybe twenty percent of the work I do is digital. The rest is actual all traditional.
CB: You like to work with the physical media then.
d’Errico: I do, yeah. I was actually doing that live painting on Twitch on stage yesterday. I hadn’t painted in a week. And I was filthy at the end of it. I was just covered in paint and I felt so good. There is something so rewarding about the physical evidence of your hard work. The fact that there are so many happy accidents that happen while you are painting… You can’t recreate that digitally. When an aquamarine blue meets a quinacridone violet, it is just so beautiful and it is so organic.
CB: A lot of what I hear from my musician friends, too, is you lose a certain… It’s good, but with digital work, you are losing this fidelity in a way to your original vision.
CB: It’s too precise.
d’Errico: Exactly. There’s actually too much room for you to change your mind because you can undo digital infinitely. You can actually just cut things out. You don’t work the mistakes you make when it is traditional.
I’ve actually fallen asleep at my easel and woken up and there’s a smear of paint. I’m just like, “Oh, no!” But then I have to work that into that. That’s actually very rare. It’s not like that happens all the time.
CB: You must work very hard if you’re falling asleep at your easel!
d’Errico: I do! Oh, yeah. Well, I just wrapped up my solo show, which is exhibiting in Los Angeles. I have been pulling all-nighters for the past three months just to finish it. I’ll go to bed at four or four-thirty and wake up at eight-thirty and just start over.
But this is going to be a solo show that has fifteen original, new oil paintings and fifteen black and white ink pieces.
CB: I can tell by how much passion you bring to this you really truly love what you’re doing.
d’Errico: Oh my god, yeah, I love it! I do. I can’t stop. I thought about it when I was growing up, what I wanted to do. All I could come back to was just art. I just always wanted to do art. I decided that I would be an artist.
Growing up I didn’t know what kind of artist I was going to be because I wanted to be an animator. And then I tried it. I’m an awful animator, just the worst. So then I decided to become a comic book artist. The whole being a painter happened by accident. I was not encouraged to be a painter. My teachers in college at the time said that I wasn’t very good at painting. I actually failed color theory, believe it or not.
Isn’t that strange?
CB: This is like Einstein flunking math.
d’Errico: Yeah, right? Well, Michael Jordan was told he was never a good basketball player. You’re just like, “Yeah.”
So I didn’t know I wanted to be a painter until I graduated and I wanted into a gallery in Vancouver. I had some designs I had done for some snowboards. They were doing a snowboard show. I showed the art. The owner loved it. He just asked me if I would ever want to work on canvas. After that, everything changed. He was just like, “Just take what you have done on paper and do it on canvas.” So it became a second career that I wasn’t expecting.
CB: Do you find yourself dreaming of the art as you are doing it?
d’Errico: Oh, yeah. I’ve actually painted dreams I have had. It’s funny you would ask me that because my show that happening April 23rd is called Dances with Dreams. It’s all about the subconscious mind.
CB: How do you convey that on the canvas? How do you maintain that dream state as you creating it?
d’Errico: Well, I paint some of the dreams that I have. One nightmare that I had, because I am arachnophobic, was that there was a spider nesting in my hair. So what I did is I made a painting of a spider in a girl’s hair. I twisted it so that it’s a spider that’s made of damask and made of lace. And I turned it into this sort of beautiful dreamscape instead of it being the nightmarish thing that I had had. So I put myself in this very… I played a lot of mellow music when I was painting these particular pieces and just kept touching back to the surreal images that came in my dreams.
CB: I do a lot of fiction and nonfiction. I actually find myself dreaming about words.
d’Errico: Oh really?
CB: All of these words just flowing through my mind, random words.
d’Errico: You’re kidding!
CB: I actually know I’ve had a really successful day when that happens.
d’Errico: Oh, yeah. Do you know what I keep dreaming about all the time? Just conventions. I dream about them. I had a dream I was at San Diego Comic Con, but instead of having a booth inside of the show, they put me outside in the food court. I was struggling to get my booth set up, but there were hot dogs everywhere. I woke up in a panic, in a cold sweat.
CB: So let’s talk about your love for mythology.
d’Errico: Oh my god, yes. I named my dog Loki because I love the Norse mythology. Yeah, no, I love it. I actually named some of my paintings after the Greek gods and some of the Norse gods, too.
I named one Aria. She’s the goddess of the lions. There’s a few: Iris, the goddess of rainbows, and Diana, dream catcher is one of them. Diana’s the goddess of nature.
CB: I know Tanpopo really played with mythology.
d’Errico: Oh, yeah.
CB: A lot of your art has this kind of mythological feel to it.
d’Errico: Yeah, that’s right. Well, Tanpopo is based on my love of the supernatural and also literature. I think it is a one-of-a-kind story where I have used the actual passages from literature and made it into a narrative about a little girl with no emotions. It is her journey to discover her humanity. And her guide is the Christian devil.
So the mythology actually of the devil is in Tanpopo because it’s not like the religious devil. It’s the devil in literature. Oh, thank you so much. Because every author has sort of had their version of him. So I’ve used Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain. I love Mark Twain’s story, Mysterious Stranger. And that one really dissects what the devil is. He just has a different perspective than we do. I think that’s what Kuro in my story, he’s just not human so he has different morals. He has a different way of seeing the world.
CB: In a way, that’s what the mythological gods are.
d’Errico: Of course.
CB: That’s why there is the reoccurring theme of them being aliens, too, because they really truly are alien to the human experience.
d’Errico: Yeah, exactly. They don’t exist in our planet; they are immortal. So they don’t have the same sort of issues that we do. As humans, our lives are short and finite. Theirs are never-ending. I think Mark Twain put it really well that it’s a way that an elephant doesn’t care about the spider it is about to step on. It can’t understand a spider’s life because it is so much larger than it, you know?
CB: That’s a wonderful analogy.
d’Errico: Yeah. Well, credit to Mark Twain. I know, he is amazing.
CB: So are you working on your series with Grant Morrison, The New Bible?
d’Errico: Oh, my gosh, I love Grant Morrison. I got to see him in Los Angeles just in November. And we talked about it. Hopefully we are going to start working on the story. It will be published I believe in Heavy Metal Magazine.
CB: Okay. Yeah, he’s taken over that magazine. Their new comics are wonderful and very surreal, too.
d’Errico: Oh, my gosh, I know. And Grant was really inspired by Tanpopo. So last time I talked to him, that’s the direction that we want the story to go. It will be very much like Tanpopo and very edgy and not as linear as a lot of the comics that are out there right now.
CB: You have the life an artist really wants to have at this point, aren’t you?
CB: You’re so busy.
d’Errico: I know, I am so busy. I have another solo show in November in Australia.
CB: Oh, you have to have one up here. I’ll go to Vancouver.
d’Errico: I know. Well, I am already booked up until 2017.
d’Errico: Oh, thank you very much.
CB: That’s everybody’s dream, right?
d’Errico: Yeah, I know. I work really hard to make sure I maintain the dream.