There is an aesthetic strength that comes from knowing yourself. When you're open to all of your diverse facets and layers, you're able to tap in that special, specific something that truly defines you. Canadian illustrator Esthera Preda is an expert at creating a world that's steeped in her own uniqueness. Her work is delicate, complex, and unmistakably hers. We caught up with Esthera to chat about tattoos and folklore, and to delve deeper into what exactly makes her artwork so recognizable.
A lot of your illustrations seem to be inspired by old-school tattoo styles? Is there a reason for this?
Indeed, traditional tattoos, especially Americana style tattoos, are a big source of inspiration for me. I'm really fascinated by illustrations from the Civil War to WW2. I love how art from that period really documented the world opening up its borders. I feel like it's very present in the tattoo culture, and I'm guessing it's because of the wars. But I'm no tattoo historian! I just love the romantic ideas associated with tattoos from back then.
Do you have any tattoos? Do you know if anyone has tattoos of your work?
Yes and yes! I started learning how to tattoo last summer and so a few people have some of my artwork. I'd like to keep tattooing, but just for fun. It's something that really demands a lot of dedication and I prefer to focus that energy on illustration. And to tell you the truth, I find it pretty nerve wracking! I never feel that way illustrating, so it must be a sign. However, I do a lot of custom tattoo designs, which is the best of both worlds for me. I get to draw something I'm comfortable with and then a skilled tattoo artist can beautifully render the design on someone's skin.
I read that you are really inspired by dreams and fairy tales. I think most fairy tales are trying to teach us something, a specific fear to have or what is morally right. Do you feel that dreams are the same way?
Dreams are very mysterious! I was surprised to read that scientists don't even fully understand the purpose of sleeping. But I do feel that dreams can often mirror some of our deepest feelings, yes. Or I also like to believe that some dreams take us to some sort of parallel dimension. You know how some dreams feel so long, like months sometimes? Our brains must experience time differently when we dream! It must mean something, but I don't know for sure. It's too nebulous, just like trying to remember a dream.
Do you create your own fairy tales to inspire your work, or do you pull from stories throughout history?
A little bit of both. Folktales always inspire me and whether it's an intentional or not, I end up integrating elements into my own mythology. I think it's really hard to invent something completely new though. I feel like the art world is constantly building upon previous times' creations. At least, I know that I am affected by what I see from the past.
How did you choose your medium? Do you ever work outside it?
I chose by trial and error. I knew I liked using brushes to draw but that I didn't like using acrylic or oil paints. I liked the ink style from pens, but I didn't like actually drawing with a pen. Those mediums just wouldn't create the textures I had in mind. Eventually I figured out that ink and watercolors were what I was looking for and now it's very hard for me to work outside of that realm. I think it really defines my style and when I use other mediums, I feel like it doesn't belong in my universe. However, that's my next trying to integrate gracefully new mediums into my illustrations is my next goal!
I love all of the different animals that you portray in your work. Do they each have a specific meaning or do you include them for more aesthetic purposes?
Thanks! I usually paint in a very subconscious manner. When inspiring elements come to mind, I paint them and then arrange them until I feel like the composition is right. I find that manner of working liberating and so I never have a fully realized vision of my illustrations when I start. It's like playing a fantasy video game where you have a map in the corner of the screen. In the beginning there's just black around your character and as you go you become more and more aware of your surroundings until the map fully unveils. The meanings and direction of my illustrations always take shape as I work.
One of the reasons I'm drawn to your work is the element of softness juxtaposed with this feeling of fear, the unknown, or introspection. What about that balance inspires you?
I think that balance is just another inspiration from folkloric tales. Traditional folktales (before they were changed to suit children better) were often like that. If you read them, you realize quickly that they don't always make sense because of those juxtapositions. In that same way, I don't want my work to be too obvious. I want everyone to make their own interpretations.
Do you have a favorite "famous" artist? I love Toulouse-Lautrec for his honesty.
I admire Henry Darger for his authenticity. It strikes me how pure his work is. I'm always attracted to artists who create full universes.
Your work does feel distinctly feminine (in the best way!). Do you actively let your femininity inspire your art?
Thank you! I do feel like my work is feminine too, although it's not a deliberate aesthetic choice. I have a feminine style of drawing to start with and I like to use bright colors. Add to that cute and pretty, magical elements and you have a recipe for a feminine looking body of work!
Photos by Marie-Claire De Blois.