October 26, 2011

Now That I Think About It

An Interview with Dante DeStefano

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click any image to enlarge

My interview with
Dante DeStefano (noting up front that she is indeed a lady of the female persuasion) started back in March of this year. We traded a few correspondences back and forth and she kept me nicely updated about her progress! So gold stars all around for any foreheads that want them (I have to always buy the extra large bags full of same for my dome but still have one or two left)! I would also like to confirm that I actually wanted to publish this a few weeks back and that the awesomely timely publication right before Halloween is unrelated to anything. Yeah.

I did begin to feel a little guilty though as she mentioned that even though she was appreciative of me ‘taking the time to really thoroughly research my work and background’, that in some ways I had thrown her for a bit of a loop. I don’t know, but I guess from my ‘side of the table’, I just begin to get nervous when someone says ‘hm, never really thought about that before and now you’re keeping me up nights wondering what it’s all about really.’ Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but Dante did say that I’d given her a lot to think about and all I can say is that when that happens to me, I’m up for days with a migraine.

But I guess it was a good experience for all of us, even if my typical bang-on-your-door-until-you-open-up style was supposedly more in depth than any other questionnaire about her art and career that she’d answered before. Dante did say that was cool with her and that actually, after starting the interview she said the process helped her make some changes in her presentation and focuses (focusi?), that is, on her website and other places.

Anyway, I hope that the process did indeed turn out to be beneficial to her – not that her work needs it for sure because she totally rocks. And I think we’ll all learn something, too, which is nice! So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Yes, let’s!


Welcome, Dante! Before we even get started on the whole art shtick, I have to ask : I’ve been lucky in the past to spend a few fantastic weeks in Florence (Italy) and the surrounding areas. With that in mind: how did you come about receiving your fantastic yet historically interesting first name?
Hi Ziggy! Oooh, I’ve been to Florence, too. It’s gorgeous. My dad is from Italy, so I get to go see my family there occasionally.

Anyway, “Dante” is kind of an interesting name. For starters, I’m a lady. I like having a boy’s name. My art isn’t always very feminine, so people expect male artist a lot of the time. I kind of have an androgynous mind.

Also, “Dante” means “enduring”. It’s a strong name. I like to think that I can go through Hell and back and totally kick ass doing so.

OK, thanks for letting me get that out of the way. Can you tell us then please what you’re working on now (or more accurately stated, when we’re actually doing the talking bits)?
I’m working on my freelance illustration assignments and I’m excited to begin working on a new series of paintings for a show at
Kai Lin Art gallery in Atlanta called “Monsters 2.0”, opening in September. It’s the sequel to the first “Monsters” show that opened that time last year. I’m also touring around and tabling at different festivals and conventions in the Southeast. The next big con I’ll be at is Dragon*Con here in Atlanta. You can check out my blog to see where I’ll be at other upcoming shows.

Also, I’m working on a comic book series called “Ragbone” about the adventures of a 1920’s ragtime jazz band of skeletons in a fun and spooky netherworld inhabited only by other skeletons, ghosts, and demons. I have the first five issues planned out. It’s a labour or love and I work on it in between working on my freelance projects and other jobs, so the first book is still in the early stages of development.

What about your background and what led you to where you are today? How about your earliest and current inspirations?
Like most other artists, I loved drawing and making things as a kid. My old brother, Nic, was also an obsessive drawer and he really helped fuel my love of art, comics and cartoons when we were growing up together.

As a kid, my favourite comic was
Walt Kelly’s ‘Pogo the Possum’. I was never really into superheroes and villains, but I loved humorous stories and oddball comics. Having said that, I naturally love so many of today’s true stars including Jeff Smith (‘Boneville’), Doug Tennaple (‘Ratfist’), Jamie Hewlett (‘Tank Girl’ and ‘Gorillaz’), Ralph Steadman (he of ‘Gonzo Art’ fame!), and Rob Schrab.

Also, I’ve got to say that
Tom Waits is my biggest overall creative influence! I’ve been listening to his music since I was 8 years old and can still remember the daydreams that I had while enjoying his music. I’m also very influenced by literature by authors like H.P. Lovecraft and I’m a total film nut. I love any story that can scare the pants off of me (which is not easy to do) or broaden my imagination.

Later on, I attended
SCAD-Atlanta for a couple years in Sequential Art and ended up transferring to graduate from Portfolio Center’s illustration department. I learned a lot from both schools, but I have to give it up to my teacher Gary Weiss and friends at PC for paving the way and ingraining the good work ethic that I have today. Without them, I think I’d still be clueless. I love comics and cartoons, but I also love classic painters, impressionists, golden age illustrators, and plein air.

Most recently, my biggest creative influences have been my friends. It feels so awesome to be able to say that because it’s true and it’s great to have some of my favourite artists and people in general as creative support. Some of these friends have been there since I was at PC. Some of them I met later at festivals, conventions and art groups. They’re all amazing artists I’m blessed to have them by my side.

Now, I’ve been to Hot-lanta many a time (although I will not divulge all reasons here for same, mostly in order to protect the innocent). What’s the art scene like there?
Hahaha, honestly, I’m still not sure. We have one, but I’ve only been a part of it for maybe a year, so I’m still getting a feel for what’s going on.

Unfortunately, a lot of our galleries have closed their doors after being hit by the recession. Since that is true, I feel that there has been a shift towards small artists’ groups, studios and short term, “underground” art parties. Also, artists here are reaching out to different venues other than traditional galleries, like restaurants, cafes and boutiques. I consider this a smart move. It just shows that our artists are adaptable.

I’m very fortunate to be working with a wonderful gallery like Kai Lin Art. The owner, Yu-Kai, keeps a great eye out for emerging and local artists and his gallery is stocked with a mix of light-hearted, quirky work and uniquely beautiful, but more serious pieces.

You seem to have a pretty wide and even eclectic selection of different outlets and even materials you work for and with, including children’s media, oil painting, apparel and surface design, cartooning, and artwork for music and bands. Why do you think you are – or perhaps better said – want to be so ‘focused’ on and involved in so many different outlets?
Again, honestly, this is because I’m such a noob!

(ZN: we think – but are not 100% sure – this stands for ‘newbie’ or someone who is new at something... we googled it, and are pretty convinced that about half of the links and images we got back are NOT what Dante means!)

Right now, I’m focusing mainly on art that I sell at shows and freelance illustration. What I like to do most of all is art that is in my own style. In school, first I focused on comics, then on children’s media. Later on, I discovered the possibilities of freelance illustration and kids media.

At the beginning of 2010, I had just gotten over a round of illustration gigs that I got right after graduating. They didn’t end very well, so I took some time, without looking for clients, to soul-search and focus on making artwork that I enjoyed doing, whether other people liked it or not. This is something I’ve learned from listening to the music of Tom Waits. You’ve just got to make what feels right and the weirder it is, the better it gets. Luckily, people like it.

It wasn’t until I started listening to myself and making art for the love of it that I began getting work that I enjoyed out of it. My website is very broad and sometimes scattered because I’m still getting my name out there and trying to find my niche. As an illustrator, right now I need to display a wide range of my talents in order to get different kinds of work until I get more well known for my own unique style that I’ve begun to cultivate.

Continued in
Part 2