Nathanna Erica: Self-taught Illustrator and Character Designer from Brazil
How has your creative journey evolved compared to the first time you picked up character-designing tools?
Nathanna Erica: The first time I started working digitally, with a tablet, I couldn’t even hold the pen correctly. I’m pretty much self-taught when it comes to Art (my Bachelor’s degree is in Law), so everything was a constant trial-and-error exercise. I don’t think a person can ever stop learning; so for me, my creative journey is something I want to treat as a constant work in progress.
I have evolved to the point I’m now working with tools I never thought I’d be able to only a few years ago, and drawing with confidence I didn’t know that I had when I first started, but I think that one of the joys of being an artist is that there’s no limit to what you can do with your art. So the learning never stops, and I don’t ever want it to, because there are so many things in the world worth turning into art, so many artists – that I’m convinced are gods and goddesses in disguise – to learn from, and so many textures and materials to try out that I may need over 100 years to do all that.
How important is it to you to feature your colorful and vibrant Brazilian culture in your designs?
Nathanna Erica: As a person with a very complex ancestry (my mother has Spanish grandparents, and her father has Bolivian ancestry whereas my father has Portuguese and Italian ancestors), I have a mixed heritage of several cultures, but most importantly, I’m very drawn to what in my opinion, is the best aspect of being a Brazilian citizen: we are colorful people by nature.
We have Samba, we have Bossa Nova, and we have species of birds not found anywhere else in the world. We’ve been having some very dark days here lately in pretty much every area imaginable, and sometimes it feels like they are never going to end, but I know that most people are desperately eager to go back to those days when we could be proud of our forests, of our music and our culture.
As an artist, I feel I have the responsibility to put this hope for better days into my work.
Where does your love for old Hollywood films come from and how does the subject feature tie into your art prints?
Nathanna Erica: I often joke with my friends and family that I was born in the wrong decade. Sure, I love modern Hollywood films, but I sometimes feel like I belong to a different era. Sometimes vintage furniture in films seems familiar, or a street that no longer exists but I could swear I’ve walked on it.
So weird! I’m not going to lie, I love black-and-white films. I love trying to guess what was the original color of an actress’ dress, or what a certain color looks like in black and white. I especially love how old Hollywood films often had a budget so small compared to the massive amounts we see today, and yet the cast and the crew managed to craft timeless stories that would go on to influence films for decades to come.
The use of light in Citizen Kane, the terror of Hitchcock films, and the overall charm of the old days are themes that I love, and even though I have no idea of where it all comes from (maybe a past life?), I know where I want it to go – right into my artwork!
Which mediums do you prefer working in especially for the Disney character-inspired creations?
Nathanna Erica:I particularly adore working with paper cutting. I enjoy cutting the little pieces and assembling them and seeing it all fit like a jigsaw puzzle. With Disney, both here in my country and overseas, I’m sometimes asked to work digitally, but the paper-cutting pieces are often the rock-star ones in my repertoire!
What does the creative process of getting an art design into a printed print look like?
Nathanna Erica: I’ve had a few issues in the past with finding the ideal kind of paper for my art prints, and getting the color right. In the case of my paper artwork, capturing the 3D feel of the original piece and putting it into a printed print. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but as time went by, I learned a lot about different types of cameras and camera lenses. Which ones were the best for capturing works of art, it’s been great having to research all that!
Nowadays, I know exactly what to look for when I choose a print studio to produce the material for me. I’ve tried doing it all by myself, but I found it best to stick to only some of the art aspects (the photographing and the color-correcting) and leave the printing part to the professionals. Even though I would want to own one of those huge printing machines that print everything one can imagine (but it would be tricky finding the room for it)!
How does working for Disney Publishing differ from working with design studios and publishers?
Nathanna Erica: I feel like working for Disney Publishing (which has been my first experience working for Disney outside of The Walt Disney Company here in Brazil) embodies two of the things I love the most. I grew up with The Little Mermaid and learned the joy of reading from Belle.
Moreover, I also adore the natural elements featured in Disney Films, especially the forests and animals, so my childhood was defined by Disney animated films. This combined with my adoration for picture books, which manifested my vivid imagination, not work, for a living. I think that the main difference, in this case, is that I feel like I can bring the love I have for these characters to the work I do, having known them for so long that they are like an old childhood friend.
What is the difference between the creative process of creating character designs, book cover designs, and art for a film or television show?
Nathanna Erica: Even though the purposes of a character design, a book cover design, and a piece of conceptual art for an animated film/television show are vastly different, my initial approach to them is pretty much the same. I receive a brief, where I find the art notes I need to use as reference and I get to go from there keeping in mind that I want to make that design invoke feelings from the audience.
This is the most important thing for me from the start, and all my initial sketches, the references I use, and the final composition need to come together to create art that speaks to people. I think that is what making art is all about, be it when you are designing a character, or when you are illustrating a book, or creating a world that will, later on, be seen on a screen.
As the creator of the Wizardapril challenge on Instagram, what was the goal of the challenge and how did it feel when over 3,000 inspired artistic creations were born as a result?
Nathanna Erica: At first, I wanted to do something to keep me busy and focused during the early days of the pandemic. It was very hard watching the news and seeing what was about to come in the next months. Especially the uncertainty and the anxiety, so making art is a way to improve my craft and better my mental health.
For what started as a simple way for me to stop worrying over things I had no control over, the challenge exploded. As I love magic, fantasy, wizardry, and all that comes to that, so Wizardapril (like a play with the word Wizarding) seemed to me that would be a good exercise to bring a few people together in making art. I never thought that people would look forward to it next year. I’m hoping I can keep it up for years to come and that it can help other artists to be encouraged and keep creating. We are always in need of some more magic in the world.
How long did it take to create the Frog Lady and Tiny Baby artwork for the Mandalorian television show?
Nathanna Erica: The Mandalorian is a show that took me completely by surprise. I like Star Wars, especially the classic trilogy, but I was never super knowledgeable about the franchise, its myths, and legends, so you could say I was more of a casual fan.
However, with The Mandalorian, I loved it immediately (the characters, the story, the sense of respect for the classic films, and at the same time the boldness of being original without losing sight of what Star Wars is all about) and I desperately wanted to create fan art of it! So the Frog Lady and Tiny Baby illustration was another piece I added to my ever-growing collection of inspired artworks for the show, and it was done pretty quickly, compared to how long my art process usually takes. I painted it for May 4th, in one afternoon, which is often the case when I’m super inspired by something.
Where does your passion for nature is a focal point in your creations come from?
Nathanna Erica: Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been very passionate about nature and I think it comes from growing up in a very “green” environment. My grandma always loved her garden and her endless variety of flowers, and I have some early memories of playing with her mango trees and pretending I was in a magic forest or something like that.
Nowadays, my passion for nature is put into my work as a way to maybe help the situation we’re experiencing with the destruction of our forests and the environment in general. It’s not much, not nearly enough, but whenever I can, I try to get funds through my art to donate to serious organizations devoted to the cause.