NYCC 2018: Mermaids, Bees, and Ghost Dogs, Artist Camilla d’Errico Does It All [Interview]

Pop surrealist painter and all around wonderful person, Camilla d’Errico was at New York Comic Con last weekend promoting her work. Along with signings and panels, Camilla had a beautiful booth set-up in The Block all weekend. Collectors and new fans alike had the chance to purchase some of her beautiful works and chat with the artist herself. 

We sat down with her to discuss some of her recent projects, including her work done on The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero’s Journey. We discussed that, mermaids, bees, and everything in between. 

Your art is beautiful, can you explain a little bit about the mediums you use?

Yeah, so actually use traditional paints. I use whole mind oil paints but they’re water soluble. I’m a big conservationist, I really believe we should take care of the planet so when I graduated college I was using oils and acrylics but that’s not really good for the environment. I found this toxic-free oil paint that a Japanese company invented so that’s what I use. I use that on top of birch plywood. 

That’s so cool. What’s it like working with the wood? 

It is amazing, I love it. Sometimes I actually see the painting in the wood. It is like one of those 90’s portraits where you had to stare at it to see it. I could never see those, but I can see like, a girl transforming out of wood grain. What I really like about it is that it is a hard surface so it is easier to paint on than canvas. If you press on canvas a little bit it actually dents the canvas and then you have to tighten it.

I really like to work with the wood because I like my paints to absorb into it. Every piece of wood is individual and unique so some wood likes certain colors better, some absorbs it differently, so every time it is a different experience. Over-all I just really like the natural feel of it. 

As I was looking at your art, I noticed some of the details you’re able to get on your oil paintings. How are you able to get that level of detail with that medium? 

I think that comes from the water aspect of it, like the fact I can thin [the paint] down to do really thin washes. I can actually blend it with acrylics. Sometimes I’ll use fluid acrylics which are much thinner and hold in a lot of pigment. I use those to get the details.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you came into your artistic style?

Back in high school I wanted to be an artist for Top Cow. I really loved Michael Turner and his work, and Marc Sylvestri so I was focusing on that until Sailor Moon happened. And then I’m like, “oh my gosh, Tuxedo Mask is such a babe and he fights in a tuxedo”…

I think we all had those feelings.

Right? He was totally my first boyfriend. So then, what I started to do was focus on anime and manga. I dove into that genre and what they were doing with their stories. To me, I connected with it better. It was more emotional and a complete character arc. They would take their one character an transition them into this grown-up by the end. North American comics focus more on the powers and villains sort of thing. 

Once I was in college I kept wanting to be a manga artist. I didn’t really want to be a painter, my teachers told me I wasn’t very good at painting. 

Have you gone back and sent them your paintings now?

Yeah, it is actually kind of funny. I actually help them with their curriculum and I go back and I’m a presenter sometimes. I go and I show the students my plethora of published books and paintings and let them know that I learned a lot, but they never encouraged to do my own style. 

It wasn’t until after college that I was walking by a gallery where they were doing a snowboard show. It just so happened I had done snowboard designs and the gallery owner said they were fantastic and asked if I’d thought about painting. I told him I was terrible at painting, apparently. So he said, “why don’t you just do your style on canvas?” I said “with acrylics?” And he said yeah. 

So I did, and my first show sold out. 

Wow!

Yeah, and then I have had sell-out shows consistently. It has been really amazing to discover that part of myself because I never meant to be a painter. But that’s what life is, I think it is amazing because sometimes it takes you in a direction you never expected. 

So that’s how I developed my style and I feel like every year I’m learning who I am through my paintings. Each show I do is like an entry to a diary. I can see how angsty I was in the beginning. I was super single and I had a lot of girls crying because that was a break-up phase. Now I’m married and I’m actually trying to say a lot about myself in the paintings in a more direct way.

I believe in unity and I believe in diversity. I’m Canadian and we always believe that people are a mosaic of a culture, not a melting pot where everybody has to melt together. I had a solo show that was called “Sky” and the idea was that we all live under the same sky. We’re all human, we all bleed read, so that was my show this year. That’s a long way to answer your question. 

No, that was great. Thank you so much for sharing all that. Was it difficult when you started doing manga to visualize storytelling from the opposite direction? 

Not for me because I had a background in North American comics so I was pretty used to doing left to right, so all I was doing was taking my manga style and working it into that. But I mean, I know that Tokyo Pop who I worked with on the Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero’s Journey) cover did it right to left which was amazing. 

I just remember going through my manga and anime phase and learning to read it backwards took a little while for me, so I was curious as to how visualizing it backwards really works.

I think when you read enough of both genres you can understand it a little bit better. 

Were you a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas before you were going into Zero’s Journey?

I was a huge fan! I told the panel Thursday that I played their songs at my wedding. I love it so much so when I got asked to do the cover I was pretty excited. It is good that you can’t see me when I’m at home to read an e-mail because I was just like, “holy shit!” I was so excited. 

And Stu, who I’ve known for years, is the creator of Tokyo Pop. At the panel he joked that he didn’t know I really liked Nightmare and he would have paid me less. It was funny. I probably would have done it for free. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Zero’s Journey and the process of putting that together?

I came in on it at the tail end. The project had already been created, I did the variant cover. My process is always different working with Disney because I’m what they call off-model. The book itself is on-model, so the characters look like they do in the animation. But my characters look like I’m drawing Zero, so they have a manga and chibi-esque look to them. 

So Disney, anytime I’ve worked with them, I always get notes back saying it doesn’t look like the model. I say, “I know, that’s why you hired me”. Stu and I worked hard to explain that to Disney because it came back with a few notes, but the good thing is that Tim Burton saw it and he loved it. It was nice to have Tim Burton’s backing because when Disney said it wasn’t going to work, Stu came back and said “well, Tim Burton approved it!”

It was a long process because of how much they had to get used to me being off-model. We did a lot of little tweaks to make sure it was perfect. One thing I can appreciate about Disney is their perfectionism. I would want the same, but at the end of the day we did create a cover with them that I’m really proud of. I think it looks really cute and I’m proud that Tokyo Pop is using it as their icon on instagram. 

How was the panel Thursday? 

It was freaking packed! I was so busy. I got up there and I was the first one because I’m usually early and there were just tons and tons of people. It was nice to see a lot of my fans too. We did a lot of Q&A. Me and Dan, the colorist, got along really well so we had this fantastic banter. We were joking with the audience, got some really good questions, they wanted to know about Zero, but there was a lot of really good talk. 

I’ll continue to do the variants as long as they ask me. Then we did the sing-along movie. I sound like Tom Whites right now because I’ve been talking so much so I didn’t want to sing. It was actually amazing though because it was my cool-down period. I sat there and watched a movie, and a lot of people were singing. Then we did a giveaway at the end with a quiz. 

Sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of such an iconic film, especially so close to Halloween

I know, right? It was really cool. People came up and had tattoos of The Nightmare Before Christmas and I was like, “this is awesome.”

Transitioning away from that into more of your original work, what inspired the mermaid coloring book? 

The mermaid coloring book was on the heels of my successful Pop Manga coloring, which was the first coloring book I did. It sold so well that the publisher wanted me to do another one. It was really funny because they wanted to do a themed one and I said great, I had so many ideas. At the end of the day we chose mermaids, which I’m okay with because it was The Little Mermaid that actually made me want to be an artist. 

It all started with Disney

It totally did start with Disney! I thought I would be an animator but I’m a shitty animator. I’m the worst animator, I barely passed. I didn’t have a lot of time to create the mermaids – we had like, three months to pull together 80 pages of mermaids – and it was a lot of mermaids. 

It was great, I liked the mermaids and I liked the sea creatures. I’m a huge fan of mythology so I had kelpies and selkies, and an octo-mermaid. Then I made mermaids that were jellyfish. 

When you look for a project to lend your artistic eye to, what do you look for?

I look for something that connects with me. I’m a very nostalgic person too so if it is something that brings out my inner child, or that inner squeal, I’m totally into it. That happens a lot. There’s some projects I don’t work on because of timing. The projects I’m super excited about are ones like my how-to-draw book. I like to teach people and I went through college not really understanding the style or what I could do with my style. 

I hear that from a lot of kids, that their teachers don’t like manga. Well manga is art, so here’s a book that teachers you that. Those are the projects I’m really excited about. I’m working on a new graphic novel series too. This actually goes back to the first art I used to do as a gallery artist, helmet girls. It was these girls with gargantuan headgear with beautiful dresses. They were contradictions which I really loved. 

I’m talking to Line Webtoon, too. I have a comic up there right now called Davinchibi. It is Da Vinci as a chibi. 

Looking forward, are there any projects that you have that you’d like to do or dedicate your time to? 

Helmet Girl is a big one, I’ve been working on getting the script ready with Joshua Dicehart, this amazing writer. So we’ve got the script and now we’re pitching it to Line Webtoon so hopefully that happens. Then I really want to do the next book of my Tanpopo (Boom Studios) series which is based on literature. 

Then I’ve got a solo show in Newport, NY next year and it is going to be the zodiac. I’m so excited. I know that the Libra one is going to be the hardest for me because I’m a Libra and I can’t make decision. Oh, I’ve got a sculpt of my Aria piece that is going to be available in a limited edition run. It is made out of resin and you will be able to hang it on your wall. 

I’m doing Designer Con in Anaheim, and I’ve got a rainbow sushi toy coming out. So I’ve got some really great projects in the works. 

I also want to mention the Beehive Book. Lately I’ve been really into bees. It started when I was working with Planet Bee last year to work on conservation. They built hives and education children in San Francisco. It started there and they took off and now I call them my “fuzzbutts”. 

Now I’ve got a collection of them in my new book, The Beehive. It is a 70 page book of my fuzzbutts which I’m very excited about. It is a limited run so once that sells out I’m going straight to volume two which will probably be my pop culture bees. 

What inspires each of the bees?

Well, they all have names and personality. Some of them are really sassy, some of them are really glutenous and are super chubs and super fluffs. They’re so cute. I have one that was under a flower getting a shower, some of them are grumpy, but each one has a personality. I love it when people see them because they identify with certain ones, it is really great. 

And you do them on a traditional medium too?

Yeah, they’re done with acrylics and oils. 

Where can people find your work?

They can find it on my website or on the Camilla store on Etsy. I’ve got a variety of merchandise so that people can take my art outside their home and wear it and stick it on their car. 

We’re grateful to Camilla for taking a few moments to sit down with us during a busy convention! Be sure to check the links above to learn more about her work and snag a piece for yourself. 

Interview was edited for length and clarity.