Daniele Serra is a professional illustrator. His work has been published in Europe, Australia, the United States, Japan, and displayed at various exhibits across the U.S. and Europe. He has worked for DC Comics, Image Comics, Cemetery Dance, Weird Tales magazine, PS Publishing and other publications. He is winner of the British Fantasy Award. His most recent offering is the lavishly illustrated artbook Veins and Skulls. As today also just happens to be his birthday, we would like to extend him our warmest wishes for the day.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What were you like as a child?
As all children I loved to play, to watch cartoons and to read fantasy stories. I was told that I was a pretty quiet kid, I did not really want to study. My babysitter was my cousin, I loved to listen to her telling me the summaries of the horror movies that my parents did not let me watch. I have wonderful memories of my childhood, a period which may not come back but at the same time is always within of me. My studies were very different from what I am doing now. I’m mainly self-taught, although I have attended two courses, one about comics and one of oil painting, very important and essential for me. Before trying to work seriously in the field of illustration, I worked for seven years as a graphic designer.
Were you creative as a kid? What is the first thing you remember drawing the most of?
I do not know if I was creative as a child, but I’ve always loved to see people drawing, remember that before going to school my father had to make a drawing otherwise I cried . I remember huge books with drawings to color, colored pencils, I loved all the stuff that were used to create a drawing, like rough sheets, tempera.
When did you first discover your love of art? Do you remember what sparked your interest in the very beginning?
I’ve always been attracted to the books of paintings by the great painters that there were at my house. I think it was my first encounter with the art, I remember especially the strong emotions caused by Giotto’s paintings, I was terrified by his Last Judgement , I loved watching the details of Caravaggio, Klimt lines, all with naive eyes of a child who found himself catapulted into fantasy worlds.
Your work seems rather dark. Why do you like to deal with darker imagery?
It comes naturally to me, it’s not something I sought after. At the moment it’s the way of expressing myself, I like to use a particular type of colors, to create certain atmospheres for pure pleasure. I tried to work on things more “solar”, but I didn’t enjoy it and so they are less impressive. I think it’s just something that binds to a type of feeling, an attitude which invades my life 360 degrees, all that I Ilike reading, watching, and listening to, it has often a patina of melancholy, but a beautiful melancholy, that makes you feel good. However, for me the dark aspect is secondary to the sensual romance, let’s say that I feel romantically decadent. Anyhow, I always work in a very instinctive way, when I plan to work, both as a structure such as lights / shadows inevitably loses freshness, so I prefer to work in a fast and instinctive way, and finally, the result is always something quite dark!
Why do you think society has always been drawn to the darker things?
It’s something I often wonder, maybe it’s a way of exorcising our fears, to visualize the fears often allow us to detach from the, take away as something external to ourselves. In Western culture the relationship that you have with death is often complicated, we are afraid to talk about it, it’s hard to accept, but probably there is a side of human being who is strongly attracted by it, because it is part of himself. All that concerns “evil” needs to be drawn, read, painted, because it allows you to classify it, framed, so we can say: Ah, ok this is evil, what scares me. And so we exorcise it.
You have worked some for DC. Are you a fan of comics?
I’m a big fan of comics, and, of course, the opportunity to work for DC has been a wonderful experience. I really like to work in tandem with writers, it allows to compare opinions and help to grow. I also love the fact that working on a comic gives the possibility to tell a story, something that I find beautiful. Now I have other projects of comics that I hope will soon see the light.
Who are some of your favorite living artists?
They are many, those who are most dear to me are Kent Williams, George Pratt, Ashley Wood, Jason Shawn Alexander, and many others.
When did you decide to be a professional artist? Did you ever want to be anything else?
In life I’ve done different studies and jobs, but I think my mind was always focused on finding the right way to be an illustrator. It is not easy, every day is a challenge, but that’s what I like to do, so I hope to continue like this. The real decision goes back about 5 years ago, when I left my job as a graphic designer to devote myself entirely to the illustration. Let’s say that I realized that maybe I could make it work this way when I signed the contract with DC.
What do you think is the main difference between a professional artist and an amateur one?
For me, the key difference is to meet deadlines and to work on commission. When you work as an amateur, if you’re not inspired you choose to draw only what you like. But when you are “forced” to draw certain things (which probably would have never drawn) and you have to do it in a high quality and delivering on time, you have to develop a professional capacity that goes beyond the talent and creativity. Here, the only thing that often distinguishes the amateur from the professional is the ability to work while maintaining high quality in spite of the various external pressures.
Are there any little known things about you that you’d not mind sharing with our readers?
It is better to remain mysterious about the habits of an illustrator!
What do you like to do when you aren’t creating?
I really enjoy reading, being with my wife and our cats, watching movies, and playing guitar. I would like to also do some carpentry work, that has always impressed me, but I never find the time. I also like sports and dinners with friends. A few quiet things, I don’t have a very adventurous life.
What is your favorite subject to cover?
Lately I’m very passionate with ghostly landscapes in watercolor, but I think I don’t have a favorite subject, so it’s often nice to have particular subjects on which I have never worked with to see what happens. I can tell you that I find the subject more complicated, for example where there are cars, I have big problems when I have to draw cars, I just do not like to draw them.
Do you have a dream project?
Many. But I cannot tell you.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment it just came out my art book Veins and Skulls for SST Publications and I am working a lot in promotion it. For the rest I have to do several book covers and a couple of projects with my writer friends for comics and illustrated books.
Anything you’d like to say before you go?
Thank you for the interview, thanks to all those who will read it. I really enjoyed. Thank you!
More examples of his work can also be found on Van Gogh’s Ear at: The Art of Daniele Serra