Are you thinking about starting a business as an artist and unsure of how you can make it in the creative industry? Camilla D’Errico (successful urban contemporary painter, illustrator, character creator and comic book artist) shares her journey of pursuing art, learning the business and building a loyal fan base. She details the first steps she took in starting a business as an artist and how she was able to work with brands like Disney, Hasbro and Wiz Kids.
Whether you are an artist or not this interview is full of tips, tricks, and overall encouragement for any woman looking to dominate her industry and make an impact through her work.
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How long have you been an artist and how did you start?
I’ve been an artist all my life. My mother told me that I was born with an artist’s hands, so from an early age I was always drawing. My art journey started in high school by taking every art elective I could and continued my education at Okanagan University and Capilano University. I built my skills with years of learning various techniques and different styles.
I had to struggle with prejudice against anime and manga as a serious art style. Luckily, I’m pretty obstinate, so when someone tells me I can’t do something, I tend to stubbornly prove them wrong. I started in comic books in 1998 when I went to San Diego Comic-Con and showed my portfolio to various publishers. From there, everything began to take shape and eventually, I became a painter in 2004.
The owner of Ayden Gallery in Vancouver loved my art and encouraged me to create a series of paintings on canvas, which I had previously never done before. From there, I went down the “painter’s rabbit hole”. I think my biggest take away in life has been to expect the unexpected and jump on opportunities when they present themselves. I may not have intended to be a painter but I’m incredibly happy that I risked it.
How did you turn your artwork into a thriving business?
It took time and lots of hard work. It all started with going to local comic book shows and building up an audience. Then I collaborated with local clothing businesses to merge my art with their lines. From there I started to work with my sister, who was a businesswoman, and she helped me with the contracts, business model and expanding my reach. After my sister left to work on her own business, I built a team that helped with fulfillments, contracts, and keeping things organised.
When starting a business as an artist, you have to work with people that you trust and that believe in the product, in this case, my artwork. I love working hard and making sure I stay on top of marketing, licenses, ordering, and building out my five-year plan. Keeping the business going means working hard, finding ways to budget and build, and always pushing forward and overcoming challenges.
What challenges did you face in starting a business as an artist?
There were so many challenges and there still are. I think the hardest thing about starting a business as an artist is how the world evolves and how you have to stay ahead of the game. When I first started there was no such thing as social media and then, of course, Facebook changed everything.
After that came Instagram and now we have curated algorithms which at times make it frustrating trying to stay ahead. I’ve been doing art for twenty years and I’ve seen industries fall (the paper industry), I’ve seen industries rise (online selling) and it has never been easy.
There were also the times when people didn’t follow through on their deals so now I know from experience to always have a contract even with friends or people you’ve worked with for years. At any time things can change and the saying “it’s not personal it’s just business” will eventually bite you in the butt if you don’t protect yourself.
How did you connect with high profile companies like Disney for partnerships and catch celebrity attention?
I go to so many conventions and get my art in front of thousands of people. Having a booth with my art is like a beacon in the ocean. There are scouts from companies that go to cons and seek out talent. That’s how I got my chance to work with Disney, Hasbro, and Wiz Kids, to name a few. The celebrities? Well, that I can’t tell you. I think along the way people noticed my art and some of it went viral online, which may be how I got on their radar.
What are effective tools or methods you use to market yourself?
Going to conventions, trade shows, markets, etc. is an excellent way to market yourself. Being physically in front of a targeted audience that appreciates art and what I do is a great way to gain exposure as well.
I also do a lot of social media which keeps me in touch with my fans, and I love connecting with them, so we have a very personal relationship. I read and reply to comments and messages, and never take them for granted. Every single person has the ability to change the world so I will do my best to connect with people positively.
I see that you self-published your own series, Tanpopo. Can you tell us more about what it was like and how you did that?
I self-published Tanpopo many years ago until Boom! Studios picked it up and published it as a graphic novel series. It was an interesting process and I learnt a lot about working with print companies. I recently released my newest collection of art, “The Beehive: A Collection of Fuzzbutts Vol. 1.” which is the first book I’ve published since Tanpopo.
Book printing requires a lot of technical aspects, knowledge of paper, various printing techniques and marketing is also a considerable part of the publication process. I would say that self-publishing is one of the hardest projects that I’ve done.
What advice can you give to anyone else who is thinking of starting a business as an artist?
Work hard, sacrifice, celebrate the successes, and learn from your mistakes. If you’re thinking of starting a business as an artist, you need to realise that being your boss and other people’s boss is extremely hard. You are in control of your destiny, so do not wait for others to find you or for success to fall out of the sky.
I gave up a lot to build what I have, every day I give it my all and I still sacrifice. To be honest, it would be so much easier if I had a day job as I wouldn’t have the responsibility of an entire business resting on my shoulders. However, I wouldn’t be as fulfilled as I am now. I love my business and career, and for me, the hard work pays off. If you want to follow your passion, then be prepared to work your butt off for it.
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Camilla D’Errico is an urban contemporary painter, illustrator, character creator and comic artist residing in Vancouver BC, Canada. With roots in comics, Camilla’s beautiful work is seen on toys, clothes, accessories and more. Camilla is published by Random House/Watson Guptill books, Boom! Studios, Image Comics, IDW, Dark Horse Comics and more, with self-publishing roots for her literature-inspired series, Tanpopo. Camilla has distinguished herself as one of the breakthrough artists in Pop Surrealism.