Pop Surrealist & Comic Book Artist Camilla d’Errico on Life and Art
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Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me Elle. If you’re studying English, don’t forget that you can study these podcast episodes as English lessons on LingQ. Work your way through the transcript as you listen, translating words and phrases as you go. Those words and phrases will then be saved in your own personal database.
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Another great way to boost your level and make a breakthrough with your English. This week. I am joined by a very cool guest. She is a comic book artist and pop surrealistic painter and creator. I’m joined today by Camilla d’Errico. Camilla, how are you?
Camilla: How are you doing, Elle?
Elle: I’m great. I’m great. Thank you. And thank you so much for joining me. You’re joining me from Vancouver Island today, right?
Camilla: That’s right? Yes. I used to live in Vancouver for, uh, oh my gosh so many years. And then just last year we moved to Vancouver Island and it’s amazing.
Elle: Yes, I bet. I got a kind of a mini tour of your places just before we recorded. It looks beautiful. How is, uh, what’s the lifestyle like on Vancouver Island?
Camilla: Island life is like being semi retired. Uh, it could, it could be because I think we moved into retirement community without meaning to, we’re just, we were like, Hey, that house looks nice. And then we’re like, wait a second. Everybody here is like, oh, like there’s no one under 70 or like ok. Yeah, so it’s, so it’s so peaceful and quiet.
You see golf cards, you know, like just motoring every day past the house. And I’m like, oh, there you go. You’re just like Phil going golfing. It’s really quiet. And honestly, it’s such a difference from, from living in Vancouver where I lived in, uh, or my husband and I, we lived in a loft that was just in the middle of downtown, right in the middle.
And it was just loud. There would be sirens honking. There would be people screaming or talking, or it was, it was quite… it’s, it’s very, very different. And I love it. I love this quiet, peaceful like life.
Elle: Excellent. It sounds lovely. It does. Camilla I want to talk a little about how you got into art essentially.
So were you always a bit of an arty child, were you always drawing doodling or did it kind of come later?
Camilla: Totally. So my mom, uh, she said that when I was born, she said my hands were that of an artist. She just knew right away that I’d be an artistic. And I mean, my mother, my mother was a midwife in Italy too. So like she saw a lot of babies.
Uh, and I don’t know. I mean, she was always so encouraging. When my mother, uh, when my parents immigrated to Canada, they ended up having a daycare center in the home, you know, they just, and I was surrounded by children all the time. And I was coloring in coloring books and painting and doing all these artistic things.
And uh, I think maybe it was meant to be, and maybe it was just that my mother was encouraging, but I always was drawn to cartoons and art and beautiful things. So yeah, it was, um, I think if I could have been, I would have been born with a crayon in my hands.
Elle: It sounds like the perfect blend. So you’re born with kind of skill and these hands and then you have parents who nurture that, especially your mum.
Camilla: So my parents, like they wanted to be… they’re um because my parents immigrated, they wanted me to have a really good life. So they, they were scared initially about like me being an artist, like, okay, you know, the starving artist is… there’s a saying for a reason, but they, so they were like, yeah, they were very encouraging, but also very practical.
And I think that really helped me develop as a professional artist. So it wasn’t just like a hobby, as soon as they realized I wanted to do this, like as a career, they’re like, okay, well you’re, if you’re going to do it, you get them to do it right. And I’m like, yup.
Elle: Is anyone in your family, were your, your parents are they artistic? Or anyone, your aunts, uncles, grandparents that you know of?
Camilla: So my mom, um, she’s artistic, and then my great aunt, my great aunt. My great, why can’t I say it? My great grandma. So she was very artistic too… and yeah, there was a, cause I guess it runs in both sides of the family.
Um, my sisters didn’t get any of it though. It was like all condensed into me. Um, just, but they’re, you know, my family, I think they’re creative thinkers and they definitely are very unique in how they approach life. And so it’s not just like, Um, yeah, so my family’s creativity kind of comes out in different ways.
And for me it was a very visual kind of way.
Elle: And did you know then from a young age that art was what you wanted to do for your career then?
Camilla: Oh yeah, I actually thought that, um, so I was really big into dinosaurs. I don’t know if you were, but I was like obsessed with dinosaurs. And I thought, oh my gosh, this is the best thing ever.
I could just have a career of drawing dinosaurs. I thought that was what a paleontologist did. When I learned that, nope, we have to go into the hot sun and dig up dinosaur bones, and then there’s all this other, and I’m like, I have the, I mean, I’ve got this skin the color of, you know, mozzarella.
So I would have burned so quick. I mean, I burn, I get sunburns just being indoors. So imagine if I had gone outside. Um, so yeah, but, and so after… and it’s funny because, um, you know, my mom being like, so like around kids all the time, we watched a lot of cartoons and it wasn’t until The Little Mermaid, the Disney movie that I was like, I turned to my mom and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so… I love this so much.
And my mom mentioned, she was like, yeah, well, that’s somebody, you know, that’s a career right there. I said what do you mean? I’m like, well, she’s like, well, people get paid to do to do that. Like people get paid to um, like, are you kidding me? People get paid to animate. And my mum was like, yeah, like that’s it.
I’m going to be an animator. So I, and that was when I was 12 and I was like, yeah, I’m going to be… no, younger than that, I don’t even remember. And my mom was like, okay, well, if you want to be an animator, you have to like, take all of the electives in high school and, you know, go to courses. So that was what I had planned to do.
Now, I apparently I’m just a terrible animator. I actually was like the worst. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the repetition of it. Uh, so it wasn’t for me. So I found other avenues to express myself creatively.
Elle: And did you go to school for art?
Camilla: Yeah, I did. So I went to, um, uh, the Kelowna University and I went there and I did a semester of fine… of um practical arts before I ended up going to the, the Vernon college to do the animation program.
So I learned, and I mean, I took all sorts of electives in high school. And then when I did the, after I did the, the, uh, graduated from the animation program, I, I went back to the school, um, in Vancouver and that was at the Capilano University. And I did the Idea Program, which is design illustration and painting.
So I had a very, I have a very, uh, like well-rounded creative history, you know?
Elle: So I mentioned in your intro that you are a pop surrealist painter and creator, because you don’t just paint you create jewelry, fashion, like toys, you’ve done so much. Very cool. Um, so, so what is pop surrealism?
Camilla: So, you know, it’s funny, I didn’t even know that pop surrealism existed until somebody mentioned it to me years ago.
And so pop surrealism is basically a faction of the low brow movement, art movement, which developed in the seventies. And it was this movement of artists who were doing a bit darker stuff, but more cartoony, you know. It was a branched off from what the traditional art was, you know, like realism and pointillism and abstract, like they were taking, uh, essentially like cartoons and elevating it.
And so pop surrealism, it’s the lighter side of that. It’s um, Yeah, it’s it’s, uh, it’s, it’s really fun. So it’s like essentially taking pop art and then twisting it with surrealism. So I fell into that without knowing it. I was just painting girls with, like I was, my style was inspired by animation, which anime in the Japanese style.
And, and portraiture is from Italy. You know, like I’m, uh, obviously my, my background is that. And so I was always obsessed with the Renaissance. And so it was like a, an amalgamation of the two. And because I did this kind of surreal element of having like giant animals on a little girl, like, like small heads, it was like, oh, that’s surreal.
And I got, like, I just was absorbed into that movement of art.
Elle: You were doing it before you even knew there was a name for it, essentially.
Camilla: Yeah, exactly. I didn’t even know. I was like, cause the movement was in Los Angeles mostly and I’m, I was in Vancouver and I didn’t even know about it until a collector from Los Angeles kind of mentioned it, you know?
Elle: An you say animals on the heads, I’ll show some images, um, for those, uh, people watching and links of course, to your art for those who are just listening, but I especially love the tentacles of yours. Just so cool.
Camilla: Oh, thank you. Well, you know, and it’s when I started out, I mean, I’ve been doing this for so long that there’s been so many stages in my career. So I started out with like, um, head gear, the helmet girls, and then it evolved into girls with, um, animals on their heads.
And now it’s, I’m slicing rainbows. It’s so much fun.
Elle: Yeah, has there been, uh, like you say, you’ve been, you’ve been at this for a while. You have so much work. Has there been a kind of highlight of your career so far?
Camilla: Oh my goodness. Um, well that might be an easier question if I wasn’t a Libra that can’t make decisions.
So I definitely know that I think a pivotal show for me was my, um, my Niji Bambini show, which means rainbow children. And it was a point in my career where I took off from doing just girls, like with animals. And it became the rainbow, the rainbow children. And like, this is, this is one of mine. So the she’s, she would be considered one of the rainbow children.
And I branched off from doing what people expected me to do. And I took a risk because anytime that you have collectors or you’re doing like, uh, or you’re a musician or something, and then you have a change of style, suddenly you could lose a lot of people. And it’s like, you’ve built this audience and what if I’m betraying them by giving them something they don’t expect?
Uh, so that for me was a show that I, I had to do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be true to myself as an artist because when you have all these ideas in your head and I want to explore those, I don’t want to put myself in a box, a creative box, you know, so that was definitely a make or break a show where I was like, I’m going to do this.
And if it fails, then that’s fine. I’ll just be a comic book artist. And I’ll like, I can hang my hat as a painter. And I’ll do it proudly. I’ll do it with like flare. Um, and you know, it turns out that it was my, one of my most successful shows in terms of like, I really surprised people in a good way. Like they were blown away by these rainbow girls.
Like I think I have a, yes. So this was one of my rainbow children. This is the very first one up. It’s a… so this was the dream melts and she’s just crying these rainbows. And I don’t think anyone had ever seen that before. And after that, I mean, you see people melting rainbows and dripping all colors. And I, I can see that that’s influenced probably by what I did, what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.
Elle: Yeah, that must be amazing to see that, to see your idea, your work in other people’s work. Do you feel kind of, do you ever feel like “hey, that’s my idea”.
Camilla: I have definitely experienced direct rip offs, which is, oh yeah. But that’s like another… I do think that like obviously artists, we inspire each other and it’s like, if you, if one person does one idea, then like someone else will take it and be like, you know, make it their own.
And, and that’s totally fine. I think it’s just when people do that direct, um…
Camilla: …copy where I’m like, you are not being true to yourself as an artist. You’re just taking someone else’s popular idea and trying to make money, which isn’t what artists should be doing. I mean, maybe this is the starving artist thing, but you need to be creating art because it comes from yourself, from who you are.
Because you like what someone else is doing and you want to be popular to do you know what I mean? So, yeah.
Elle: And how did the toys and figuring creation come about?
Camilla: Oh yeah. That’s so that actually was probably since 2009 or eight. Yeah. Yeah. So I was doing what other, like at the time I was just doing prints and I was doing, um, books, but because I love comic books and I go to conventions and you see, they make action figures out of the art and like anime figures. I, I love those so much. And I always wanted my art to be three dimensional because it adds another level. It like, it brings something that, you know, I had an idea and it brings it like literally physically to life.
So I’ve always wanted that. And so when my sister started working with me and we started to, she started to do the merchandising side of things because I needed to focus on art creation. I needed to focus on like galleries and doing that. And so taking, bringing my sister on board helped me to all to um, I guess brand myself into merchandise, which I previously hadn’t really been able to do because I didn’t have the time and I didn’t have, I mean, there’s only one of me.
Right? So…. yeah. And then eventually my sister moved on to a different career, which is, I’m so happy for her. And, uh, and I just kind of took over and it was like, I was in the position then where I’ve, I’d learned a lot and now I have umbrellas and kimonos and I mean there’s…yeah. And the figures too, like, yes, I work with other companies to do sculptures and figures of my artwork, because I’m, I’m not an expert there. Like I have to, I’d rather collaborate with other people and have their expertise, like bring something to life versus me trying to, you know, make a mold, which I don’t know how to do that. So, yeah. But yeah, it’s it’s so it’s like really cool to see all the different ways that you can take your art and make it wearable or add it to someone’s life, you know, and it’s not just on their wall anymore. It’s like they could take it outside and they can wear it, you know?
Elle: Yeah. That’s very cool. Um, so I mean, it sounds like it’s such a wonderful career. Clearly you’re doing well and you’ve rebuilt this amazing life and career with your art. I wonder is there a kind of dark side to the career. I mean, I know you mentioned, you’ve mentioned the kind of people copying you straight ripping you off. Um, what have been some, some of the obstacles you’ve faced as an artist?
Camilla: Oh boy. You know, that is a whole other, like, do you have three hours? Well, it’s such a… artists can really be taken advantage of unfortunately, and if you don’t know how to protect yourself, you don’t even know that there’s people who will take advantage of you. So, and that’s why being an artist you have to really have a good sense of business, because if you don’t, then there’s this naivety about artists, where we were like, we’re so, we can be so positive and we’re creating this and we, you know, we give it to somebody else to do something with it.
And you expect that they’re just gonna honor your trust. Uh, you know, but I think one of the lowest points for me was when I was working on an Avril Levine manga, so it’s an Avril Levine comic book and was just, yeah, crazy and insane. So it was a two part series and I didn’t have a contract with the company and I’m like, okay, well I did the first book without a contract, but I’m like, well, I need a contract.
Like it has to happen. You know, I’m working on the second book I just want to protect myself. And my lawyer is going back and forth with the publisher. And then um, I’m still working on the book as the contract is kind of being negotiated. And then I get a phone call saying, oh, we’d like to meet at, uh, uh, you know, I should’ve seen it coming, uh, at like a public location.
And there’s just like, yeah, you know, like, uh, we’re gonna have to terminate you. And I’m like, but I’m almost halfway through the book. And there was this particular kill clause in the contract where if they terminated me and 50% of the art had been done they owed me for the entire book. And if they, which that’s a, that’s a pretty, it’s a standard thing. Right? But for them, they were really pushing against that. And I understood why, because they had actually hired somebody else who was, had been, who was working on the book while I was working on the book and they were negotiating with me. So that was really gut-wrenching because I brought them the, this, the writer, I brought them the co… like everything in order to develop that book and then they just outsourced it. And I was, yeah. And I was like, I was 40% done. And so I, yeah, I was like just at the edge, you know, and that was really disappointing. And people actually, uh, you know, they don’t, a lot of people don’t realize that I didn’t do the second book because they hired the company to basically recreate my style.
Elle: Oh wow.
Camilla: Yeah and they use my, they used my cover for the second book. So when you look at it, you think that, oh yeah, Camilla drew it, but I didn’t. So shady, shady. And of course I’m not going to say who it was, but, um, you know, so there was that there’s a low point and then there’s like, there’s other things that happen where it’s so frustrating and it’s not like, uh, like for example, when I, when I was doing conventions before the apocalypse, uh, before the pandemic, uh, you know, you would, you would, uh, I would have stuff mailed. And I remember one time specifically, I opened the box and half of it was empty and I called my, my team who had packed it. And I’m like, Hey, like, you guys didn’t, did you not, did you not fill the box? And I’m like, where is everything?
And they’re like, no, like we sent you everything. And it turns out that somebody mid transit opened the box, took out hapf the stuff and then kept it going. So. Yeah. So someone just stole thousands of dollars. Um…
Elle: oh my goodness.
Camilla: And you know that that’s through FedEx, which is the reliable pla… and they’re like, well, we delivered it.
I’m like you delivered… and there’s no way there’s no recourse there. They’re not going to like… it got delivered.
Elle: No insurance.
Camilla: Nope. Well, they can’t, they can’t because ithebox wasn’t stolen and I can’t prove that someone stole what was inside, you know?
Camilla: Yeah. So. Oh, no, I know. And then the last thing I will mention is somebody was made a whole entire show uh, that was my art recreated, my paintings, almost like, like exactly, I’d say like 95%, exactly. And had a show and then represented that art as their own.
Elle: Is there anything you can do in that case?
Camilla: Oh, yeah. I mean, you can contact the gallery. Well, yeah, you could sue. I mean, it was a young artist and I was, I was just like, I contacted the gallery and I let them know.
And this, the artist, you know, I’m like, you don’t, you have to have some integrity, uh, because you may be my fan, but you’re literally stealing from me. And if you’re a fan of my art, that’s a huge betrayal.
Elle: Um, so as much as you can plan these days, uh, how is 2022 looking for you? Any, anything going on?
Camilla: Yeah, I mean, with the hope that there’s going to be a little bit more normalcy in 2022, I do plan on going to, uh, some of the major convention cause that I missed out on going this year because you know, living in Canada and the borders being so finicky, like they could just shut down at any point. I just decided to take a hiatus from doing the conventions, because even the conventions themselves, they don’t know if they’re going to happen. And, and also, and this isn’t by any means to like… but I just don’t think that even just during the pandemic, it’s a good idea to you know, get 70,000 people together in one spot. So it’s like, you know, for me, I understand that we’re all boxed in and like, I basically have been living in lockdown for two years. But if, um, yeah, I just wanna, I just wanna go to conventions again, when I feel like it’s a bit more handled and hopefully it will be, you know, like, so there’s that, and then.
Yeah. So hopefully I’ll be able to do like in person events again. I do have a new coloring book that’s coming out next year with with Random House. It’s cute. It’s really, it’s called, uh, Dragons and Other Magical and Mythical Creatures. So it’s full of like my favorite, you know, like animals and mythical creatures and all sorts of crazy things.
So I’ve got that coming up.
Camilla: And then I have my next art book coming out with Dark Horse called Dappled Daydreams. So I’m looking forward to that release and hopefully fingers and toes crossed this helmet girls uh, figure that I’m working on is going to be released as well. So…
Elle: Wow so lots going on. Now how many books do you, have you, do you have, have you written, have you created?
Camilla: I think it’s close to 20 at this point.
Elle: Wow! Amazing.
Camilla: Definitely like 15 and then with these two new ones, it’s going to be closer to yeah, so…
Elle: Excellent. So an exciting year and hopefully exciting with the things that you’re releasing and hopefully exciting in that you’ll get to travel a bit too, fingers crossed.
Camilla: Fingers and toes. I’m really hoping. Yeah.
Well, thank you so, so much for joining me Camilla. It was a great chat and yeah best of luck with everything in 2022.
Thank you. And thank you so much for having me. This has been a real treat, so I really appreciate it.
Elle: Thank you. Have a great day. Bye.