Visual artist Daniella Batsheva is a self-proclaimed “Illustrator with a design habit” whose aesthetic straddles the line between underground and mainstream. Her art boasts the beautiful detail-heavy, intricate linework of the Victorian era mixed with the dark goth imagery inspired by horror films. Softly stylized figures with deep color palettes. Whimsy with a creepy twist.
Q: When did you begin to take an interest in art and for how long have you considered yourself an artist?
A: I can’t remember a time when art wasn’t a part of my life in some capacity. I was always drawn to any utensil that could leave a mark, so I’ve been scrawling on different surfaces all my life, even before I could grasp the concept of art.
I still struggle with calling myself an artist, actually. To me, “artist” is a title that carries tremendous weight, something that, in my mind, would place me on equal footing with old masters. A title has to be bestowed and, while I have had others that I view as artists bestow that upon me, I’m still uncomfortable with presenting myself that way.
Q: Have you been trained, and if so from what institution? Or are you self-taught?
A: Yes, I graduated from the Illustration department at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. While I was classically trained, I think most of my growth happened well after graduation. The benefit of an arts degree isn’t about honing your talent so much as it is about learning the strict schedules and discipline required in the field. I learned how to work with others in a professional setting and how to accept criticism. Anyone can learn to draw like a pro just watching YouTube videos or going to local life drawing sessions.
Q: Tell us about your artistic process as an illustrator.
A:Despite how fun a lot of my subject matter looks, the process is extremely strict. My illustrations are a service I provide to my clients, and I want them to feel as comfortable as possible throughout the project. I tell my clients to send me tons of fun reference and we work together to pinpoint the exact aesthetic they want for the piece. Granted, these days, people know what to expect from me and they commission me because they like my style, so I never get a project that’s too far removed from my personal interests!
Predictably, I start with thumbnailing and sketches, revisions for days, but then once everything is approved I go straight for the inks. I color in Photoshop to keep things simple. I really enjoy the look of flat colors and cell shading, so I never bother to get fancy brushes or anything. I still feed the need to ink on a physical surface first, though. It’s a sensory thing for me. It sounds a bit old fashioned, but I need to get my hands dirty, otherwise I don’t feel as much love or connection to a piece.
Q: What has been your biggest career achievement thus far?
A: Having a full piece of mine tattooed on someone that I never met. Sure, working for celebrities and all that is great, but the fact that someone felt so strongly about my art that they wanted it on their physical body forever? That’s special. That’s intimate. There are no words to describe how much that means to me.
Q: What challenges do you face when you’re creating and what makes you happiest when you’re bringing a new project to fruition?
A: Knock on wood, I rarely have an unhappy client, and I work very hard to keep it that way. I’m my own biggest challenge. I’m as anxious and shaky as a greyhound trying to hold in a full bladder. My mind runs a thousand miles a minute and it might take a while for me to nail down a composition I love enough to actually start sketching.
What makes me happiest is when I add the final highlights and I see everything come together. It’s so satisfying to sit back and take in the entire piece, in full color, seeing what could become of a simple ink drawing.
Q: How does listening to music influence your art? How do you select what song to listen to while creating specific pieces?
A: Music has a way of lighting up different areas of my mind and helps me find the imagery to describe very nebulous feelings for which I have no words. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for that, but I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe it accurately.
I don’t select specific songs, really, I just start off with one artist or playlist and steer myself towards the vibe I’m looking for. It’s not something I’m very conscious of, it’s just become a part of my process. It’s almost like meditation! Before anything gets done, I need to get in the right headspace for it. Music has a way of lighting a fire under my ass and gives me the motivation I need to get my work done.
Q: What inspired your work with alternative music bands, and are you a musician yourself?
A: If howling like a banshee after a few margaritas counts as being a musician, then yes! Otherwise, no, far from it. I can carry a tune, but that’s about it.
When it comes to the alternative, especially music, I noticed a freedom in those subcultures that I couldn’t find in the mainstream. Not to say I don’t love a good fairy tale illustration, but you know that hallucination scene in Beavis and Butthead Do America where White Zombie was playing in the background? That scene is the best example I can give as to why I was drawn to the alternative. That is ten times more fun than any political cartoon that was ever made, ever. Words can only go so far, so that’s the best way I could think to show someone why I choose to do what I do.
Q: You are a life-long horror fan. Tell us how horror influences your art.
A: Much like with alternative music, I love the freedom I find in horror. Why draw a Thanksgiving dinner scene when you have the option of drawing monsters? It’s difficult to pinpoint where horror has influenced my art because the element of horror and unease has always been a part of my work.
As an illustrator, I’ve grown into horror and it’s grown into me. I don’t know where it begins and I end. All I can say is that the realm of horror and Halloween has always been so comforting to me that I couldn’t see myself without that spooky streak. To me, it’s kind of like asking a flower how it’s influenced by the sun.
Q: How does your Yemeni-Jewish background influence your art?
A: It hasn’t, until the past few years when those elements started creeping in. Being Yemeni-Jewish is something I’ve never been able to consolidate with my other interests and it’s because I’ve never seen it done before. It’s still a part of my reality though, so I’m looking for ways to integrate it. I had never found a character or figure I could truly relate to in the alternative, at least not in a cultural way. I want to show Middle Eastern aesthetics through a darker lens now, not just for me, but for any other weird kid that might be struggling with embracing that part of themselves too.
There is so much beautiful imagery and design that can be found in the middle east and I want to see how that looks in the realm of ghosts and Halloween. I think there’s room for that.
Q: If you could do any project with full funding what would it be?
A: I would love to do a line of fully illustrated clothes with all-over prints. Cute clutches and high heels covered with detailed drawings of monsters inspired by medieval illuminations! Mainly because I want to wear it, though.
Other than that, I’m a simple person. It’s less about the product I’m creating and more about the message behind it that I truly like. I’d love to do an illustrated campaign for an environmental group like Thames 21, or massive illustrations to decorate library walls the way Yuko Shimizu did. It’s more important to me that I have a positive impact than anything else. I love the feeling of contributing to a community, so I’m more interested in that.
Q: If you could meet any artist (living or dead), who would it be and why?
A: Vigee Le Brun, 100%. Of course, she’s one of my favorite painters ever, but I’m also fascinated with the things at Versailles she was privy to. I bet all the models for those delicate Rococo portraits had some really scandalous behaviors! She lived during such an interesting time, was a pioneer, and somehow managed to keep her head through it all! I’d listen to her talk for days.
Q: What piece of art has had the biggest impact on you, and why?
A: I recently had this conversation with a friend, actually, and I would say Vigee Le Brun’s “Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat.” I’ve had run-ins with that piece for decades and something about it always stopped me in my tracks, but I could never pinpoint what. Something about it is very soothing to me.
I didn’t know she was in the National Gallery in London and I was wandering through it’s halls one night with a friend when I suddenly got sick. I was in a really bad way, high fever and borderline fainting, was about to leave and suddenly I saw her in real life! I thought I was hallucinating! It was so magical. It was like finding an old friend, just when I really needed them.
Q: Tell us what changes you would like to see in the art industry?
A: Regarding the art industry, first and foremost, I’d like to see it respected. I think we’ve lost our way a bit, especially in the States, and the average person doesn’t understand the value of the arts and how culturally enriching they are. We should be encouraging artists and embracing their talents outside of platforms like YouTube and Spotify. Everything is disposable now. Society is based on convenience, rather than depth and meaning. This ties into much larger issues that I won’t get into.
As for within the art industry, I’d like to do away with the hierarchical thinking. Certain types of illustration are held in higher regard than others, same for fine arts, I’m sure. We should be able to highlight and appreciate all types of artists, regardless of how marketable their pieces are to the mainstream. We need to focus on uplifting artists based on their talent and messages, not because of how viral their work is. There’s a lot of gatekeeping as well, so I’m not sure what the solution is. Maybe the undoing of our collective egos. Fat chance that’ll happen, though! Haha!
Q: What advice do you have for young artists just starting out?
A: Take what I say with a grain of salt because this is based on my own experiences. Know that if you do commit to doing this full time, it is going to be brutal, and you have to be willing to put everything you have on the line to make it work. The world right now is particularly cruel to artists and I don’t wish my experiences on anyone else. If you have a family that you love and a comfortable stable home, I recommend becoming a realtor or something. If you’re filthy rich, you’ll probably be fine though.
If you go for a career in the arts, you absolutely must keep at it. Discipline is crucial to success. Any moments of glory will be massively overshadowed by the amount of work done behind the scenes. You’ll be putting in more hours than anyone else could possibly understand, and you’ll probably lose friends and partners over it.
That being said, even with all those challenges, this is worth it. It’s meaningful. Working in the arts is a constant source of knowledge and you will meet so many amazing people and grow so much more than you could’ve ever imagined. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
Q: What have you been working on lately and what is coming up next for you? Where can we find you on social media?
A: You can check out all my work on my website daniellabatsheva.com, which is always being updated and has links to all the brands and clients I’ve worked with.
At the moment, I’m working on multiple pitch decks and a few products, which will only see the light of day if they’re greenlit. I’ve been working with Kerrang!, an alternative brand based in London, and doing the illustrations for their editorials. I’ve also been designing gig posters for numerous venues around London with Trashville, which is a fresh entertainment and arts brand.
There’s always something happening, so once anything is released, I’ll post it to my socials!
You can find me on IG (@daniellabatsheva), Facebook (facebook.com/daniella.batsheva), and Twitter (@danibatsheva).