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

Now That I Think About It

An Interview with Dante DeStefano

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

Dante, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed looking through your different portfolios on your home page, well done! A couple or even seventeen or so questions to these:

Your different collections show a wide range of styles. Are you still looking for that ‘one’ (+/-) style that defines your work or is this something that you would rather avoid? I guess I’m asking : how important is it to you that someone sees one of your pieces and says ‘hey, now that is DEFINITELY a Dante DeStefano’?
It’s become very important. As a young artist, I’m just starting to feel comfortable in my own skin and build a body of work that is definitive of my own unique vision. The more I draw or paint, the clearer that style becomes.

Also, the clearer I can see what it is I want to focus on. I totally dig all things spooky, vintage and rock ‘n’ roll. Those things live in my heart and just seem to roll off of my fingertips onto the page.

Also, this may be a rather obvious statement: but it seems you clearly have an affinity for monsters. How did this come about?
I’ve always loved monsters, robots, mythical creatures, and weird things of the like. I love pushing the boundaries of exaggeration and coming up with odd combinations of parts to put on my characters. As a result, a lot of my sketches turn out to be monsters.
They’re my special friends. We go on adventures in my head and some of them end up on paper or whatever. I’ll also watch just about any monster movie out there. I’m a huge horror fan.

I enjoyed as well your quote about your furry (or scaly or...) friends, including what I believe is even a picture of your cat (or bat?) below:

Each of these monsters have their own personalities, so when I start drawing, I had to let them just be themselves and tell me what they look like.

What comes first with these : their personalities or their shapes, colours, appendages, catalogue of victims, etc.?
I think it’s a mix of shapes and appendage combinations.

All of my work begins with simple geometric shapes. I push and pull those basic shapes around and combine them in an interesting way until they become the start of a good creature. Then I look at what kind of creature it is starting to look like and add some features to them that maybe wouldn’t typically be on that kind of animal.

Can you walk us through your oil paint ‘rub-out technique’ for many of these works? That sounds fascinating and the imagery as well as the texture you achieve is fantastic!
Yes, oil rub is wonderful on its own, but I’ve married that technique with a texture called “mastic”. They work wonderfully together because the rub-out picks up all of the wonderful cracks and layers of the texture.

An oil rub-out begins with covering an entire surface with a thin layer of paint and then rubbing out the light parts that I want with a brush or rag dipped in oil. The layered texture is achieved with smearing mastic over hand-cut stencils and found objects.

Is it important for you to have a balance between what seems to be sometimes inorganic and organic aspects of your art?
Totally! Like I said earlier, I always start my characters and compositions with basic geometric shapes as a foundation, but I like to add lots of organic flourishes as secondary elements. I also like the final painting or product to have a rustic, handmade look that compliments the inorganic shapes. This is especially apparent in my watercolour and ink wash paintings.

Even in the shapes I like to use, I like a balance of straight lines and curves. I also love playing with common-lines and tangents to flatten out spaces on purpose. Those can be an artist’s worst enemy if you don’t know how to use them.

I’m also very impressed with your collection of design and self-made textiles. How did you get interested in the more apparel and/or fashion side of life?
I love fashion and dressing up. I’ve spent a lot of time shopping around in thrift stores. Surface design is one of the largest industries that designers with a background in illustration can get into. It’s one of the few in-house design career options that are available right now for someone with my skills.

Maybe someday after I’ve sewn my wild oats (ZN: is that even legal in Atlanta?), I’ll work at a company making surface designs as a full-time job and be able to work on my fine art and comics in my free time. Plus, pattern design is fun and lets me play around with color.

Now as a fellow Cancer, I am somewhat surprised by your... hm, let’s call them ‘special abilities’, particularly as I would think they'd be more of a 'Scorpio' thing. But can you tell us: what exactly are “lobster powers?” And without putting you and the good citizens of Atlanta in danger by revealing too much to your enemies, but how did you come about gaining these powers (and also, how often do you need to communicate telepathically with crustaceans in your work)?
As you mentioned, “lobster powers” is the ability to communicate with crustaceans. You see, I was pinched by a radioactive lobster at the Dekalb Farmers Market one day and developed these abilities soon after. I can also use the powers to call upon my pinchy-clawed friends to help me fight my enemies when needed.

Otherwise, Lobster Powers is also the name of my Tumblr blog.

Back to the real world but only barely: I read on your blog that you’ve just returned from MegaCon. How much preparation and late night hours do you spend working and getting ready for cons aka conventions? Do you attend a lot of these?
I attend Dragon*Con every year just for fun and I’ll be tabling there this year. Cons are a blast. I just started tabling at conventions and festivals last year.

MegaCon was my second comic convention artist table experience and the first time that I’ve ever travelled for art’s sake. It was a successful trip and I had a great time doing it. You meet so many awesome people at these things. It’s been a great way to get my work out to my kind of people. I definitely plan to do more. It does take a lot of preparation to table at a con, but it’s all worth it in the end.

Also, do you as a ‘displayer’ see these as a big advantage for your career or are they more along the lines of ‘necessary evils’?
Being an artist at events like these has been a wonderful opportunity. It’s definitely a big plus. It’s a great excuse to travel and form friendships with people in other places. I wouldn’t get that chance otherwise.

Growing up wanting to be a puppeteer myself (I had all kinds of felt puppets and my dad even made a fantastic full-sized ‘theater’), I was happy to see that you are also involved in puppetry. How did your involvement in this come about? Do you see any revival if you will of this art form, either from a making them or using them in shows perspective?
In Atlanta, we are very fortunate to have
The Center For Puppetry Arts, America’s largest puppet theatre, museum and puppetry community centre. I’ve been attending shows there since I was 4 years old. The Centre made a big impact on my childhood.

I also attended their “puppet camp” for many years and then went on to do a short production internship in the workshop and on stage. Puppetry as an art form goes back to ancient times and will always be around in some way.

And while we’re on the subject, I was overjoyed to see that you, too, are a Muppet fan! What did Jim Henson and co.’s wonderful creatures mean to your creative upbringing?
Holy crap! I don’t know if I can express how much I love all things Muppets and Jim Henson!!

As a kid, I spent hours watching the shows and movies, reading books about the Creature Shop, making puppets, and putting on puppet shows for my friends and family. Henson and puppetry in general had a huge impact on my creativity. It hasn’t stopped, either. I still crack up while watching ‘The Muppet Show’. Nowadays, one of my favourite things about the skits in that show is how simple they are. Think of “
Mahnahmahnah”. A skit like that is just made up of a nonsense song and the characters dancing around to it and it’s hilarious!

I try to convey that same light-heartedness and simplicity in my artwork. When things get too complex and heavy, I just think of The Muppets and lighten up.

Okay, time to REALLY put you on the spot : if you had to choose just ONE area to work on, what would it be and why? Conversely, are there any other areas you’d like to take a stab at (knoting the knitting reference there, knice, huh?)?
At this point, I’d have to say I’d like to focus on “fine art”.

Even though I’ve worked with a lot of different media outlets, it all boils down to three areas: art, illustration and design. They all work together harmoniously. The “art” area is basically stuff that I did without “adult supervision” or a client when I’m making it. This is the stuff that makes me really happy. It seems to me that when I focus on and show this work that I receive more illustration or design work as well.

What else have you had / do you have on your creative radar for the coming moons?
Other than Monsters 2.0 and
Dragon*Con which have now ended, I want to try and find some new homes for my art outside of Atlanta. I was going to do a tour of South and North Carolina with that in mind but the con wound up taking more prep time than I expected. On my 'to do' list for sure!

I also wanted to try and be at Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend in Orlando, Florida in early October - as it's an event that really looks like it's tailor-made for my work! - but things were just too busy to make it. I'm looking to try and be there possibly next year though.

But I do plan on being in lots of arts festivals in Atlanta, hopefully in the coming months. So if you’re in the area, keep an eye out for me. In between and beyond all of that, I’m open for commissions and freelance illustration!!


Dante DeStefano is a very talented young visual artist, illustrator, designer, and mad creator currently plying her trade primarily in the warm climes of Atlanta, Georgia! I’d add something about her obvious charm as well but methinks I’d suddenly feel the psychic grip of lobster claws around my neck if I did ... so I, um, won’t.

Among the ever-growing skill-set she brings to the table are her well-versed abilities with both traditional and also digital media. She skips about just as happily as can be between fine art and commercial design, letting perspectives from both worlds influence each other harmoniously. We’re not sure what that means exactly but we promise to test out various ‘enhancing substances’ to see if we feel the same way, too!

Her current main focuses are oil painting, children’s media, surface design, cartooning, and artwork for music. Dante’s work can be regularly found in galleries, including the fantastically supportive Kai Lin Art gallery! These days you’ll find her doing all kinds of creative stuff including working as a freelance illustrator, touring at comic book conventions and art festivals, and just in general honing the fine art of mad science to perfection!

Please check out more of Dante’s monstrously fun images and more at these and other links!


Social media

Additional Galleries
Kai Lin Art
Homegrown Decatur


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Dante DeStefano, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more, including the links provided above.