Daniella Batsheva is an “Illustrator with a design habit” whose aesthetic straddles the line between underground and mainstream. Her art boasts the beautiful, detail-heavy, intricate line work 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.
Daniella shares, “Making art is very much a compulsion for me. I can’t function without creating. Art provides a way that I sort my own thoughts and feelings, so it’s something that is absolutely necessary for me. The selfish side of me creates so that I can share a timeline of my life experiences by sharing the things that I find to be most beautiful. The other side of me creates because I have always felt a lack of art and visual stimulation in my surroundings.”
Daniella says, “I want to create art to contribute something beautiful. I want to have a positive impact on my surroundings. I want to create pieces that make everyday life more visually stimulating, and more fun. I want someone to look at my pieces and think, ‘I relate to that. That brings me comfort. I want to keep that.’”
Batsheva’s art is rooted in the 19th century but with a focus on modernity. Daniella is influenced by classic artists like French art nouveau poster illustrator Louis Theophile Hingre, Irish stained glass artist and book illustrator Harry Clarke, French portrait painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Victorian-era watercolorist Eleanor Vere Boyle, English illustrator Aubrey Beardley, and Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, along with more contemporary artists such as Italian cartoonist Nadir Quinto, Japanese horror manga Junji Ito and American painter Camille Rose Garcia. Horror movie mastermind Clive Barker, English occultist painter Austin Osman Spare, Japanese cartoonist Peach Momoko, and American horror film visionary Charles Band are also artistic inspirations.
Daniella grew up a horror nerd. As a kid, if her family watched movies without a touch of macabre, she wasn’t interested. She explains, “I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker, so horror films have always been an outlet for me. I love monsters, I love the unexplained, I love things that defy logic, and I find that in horror. It’s like when Beyoncé wanted to have an unflattering photo removed from the internet, it made people want to find the image and stare at it even more. As a rebellious teen, when I was repeatedly discouraged from seeking out “bad things,” I went in even harder. I wanted to be soaked in ghosts and goblins. I wanted nothing more than to explore an abandoned mansion and drape myself in black. Every free moment I had in high school was spent watching horror movies. Whenever I came across an old cathedral or cemetery, I would roam around, take notes, and obsessively research its history when I got home. When was this built? Why? Who’s buried there? Are there ghosts?”
While studying illustration at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Daniella felt stifled by the city. But by wandering the narrow, shadowy streets of what was the 19th century Red Light District and prodding the shopkeepers for stories of strange happenings and begging for entry into their secret basement passageways that run beneath, she was enthralled. After college, she moved to Los Angeles where she lived for 10 years, firmly establishing herself within the horror community. LA is where Daniella found her voice artistically and where her professional work began to really take off. When the pandemic hit, she sought refuge in Palm Desert and eventually made her way to Tel Aviv and London. In London, she delighted in being surrounded by haunted history and gothic architecture. Daniella was in heaven there, and the art that poured out of her was effortless and endless.
An essential part of Daniella’s process is the symbiosis between art and music. For her, there’s something psychological happening between imagery and sound. Making music is a vital part of creating a visual piece. She says, “Music helps set up the vibe I’m looking for, it fills the environment with a sound that energizes me, and it can even conjure up its own imagery that pushes my illustrations further in the right direction. Each one of my pieces has a specific soundtrack.” To that end, Daniella loves collaborating with musicians and has done many music projects. She is the first-ever female Lead Illustrator for storied UK alternative culture brand Kerrang! – helping to usher in a new era of inclusivity through her artworks, she created tour posters and merchandise for Paris Jackson, album cover art and tour posters for The Kut’s Waiting For Christmas, and more.
Daniella sees great value in being able to make everyday objects beautiful through design. She observes, “The things we choose to keep or adorn ourselves with are very often a personal statement. Having design and illustrations in our lives can make us feel a bit better, maybe stand a bit taller. I think we forget how much design is in every detail of our days. I thrive on being able to deliver something extra special where you least expect it. I have always thought, ‘If there is a way to make our environment, our favorite or most used objects, more beautiful, then why don’t we?’” She designed product packaging for Pizza Girl sauce, trophy design for horror film festival Shriekfest, book covers, advertisements, and more.
Interview with Daniella Batsheva:
What’s your cultural background? How has it influenced your work?
I grew up in a mostly Yemeni-Jewish household. It’s something that created a double life for me because I would be at a punk show one day, and the next, I’m home eating jachnun with condiments so spicy it would burn off your eyelashes. It was a bizarre third culture experience because I was able to sort of cover it up with my appearance. Only in recent years have I begun to embrace my background and start slipping it into my pieces.
Do you plan to further integrate your culture into your work? How?
I do, and I want to in a really big way. Specifically, because you never see Middle Eastern Jewishness presented through a “gothic” lens, or I haven’t, at least. I want to create visuals that tell the story of my cultural background in a way that hasn’t been seen before. We’re slowly having Jewish lore creeping into the horror community, but the focus is mostly on Eastern European Jews, which is incredible! But I haven’t yet seen a Yemeni or Moroccan-Jewish vampire, and I’m sitting here wondering why. I’m hoping to create a series of pieces revolving around this idea and have already discussed a space for an exhibition in London. I will need to take the time away from work, but I think this will be worth it.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Boots on the ground. This stuck with me and has turned out to be so, so true. Social media only goes so far and is a fantastic tool with which you can promote your work, but your most meaningful connections and progress will be made by physically going out there and meeting people. My entire career is built outside of social media through people I met in real life. It’s a bit counter-intuitive because, as artists, most of us want to be left alone and not have to bother with small talk, but meeting people face to face is how you make a lasting impression. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. Some people are great with social media!
Are there any mistakes you’ve made in your career? What have you learned from them?
Early on, I was encouraged to go in a direction that would make my work more palatable to mainstream audiences. It failed spectacularly. I had to train myself out of it to regain my own voice. I learned that, no matter what, you should never force yourself in a direction that doesn’t feel natural to you. Even if your style or subject matter isn’t popular, if you force yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right, your work will be mediocre at best. Go with what feels right, especially if others tell you it’s wrong. This path is much harder because you’ll have no guidance, and it will take you longer to become successful, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
If you could have dinner with two people you admire – one dead and one living – who would it be and why?
Marie Antoinette and Courtney Love. I could write an entire essay on why, but I’ll try to keep it short. I think they’d appreciate each other’s aesthetic and could bond over having been vilified. Both were targets of hate mobs because, before going for men at fault, people seem to really enjoy tearing down women in positions of power. Bonus points if they’re pretty or proud. Courtney and Antoinette would have a lot to talk about, and I’d witness one of the most interesting conversations of all time.
What are your favorite places to visit when you need a breather?
Santa Barbara was my go-to for a long time. I’d sit at the edge of Stearns Wharf at 3 am and watch the marine layer roll in whenever I needed a taste of oblivion. Most recently, while I haven’t been too many times yet, I found Oxford in England makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Like I could crawl under the floorboards of the library and comfortably melt into the foundation.
Do you find that your clients and colleagues have an influence on the direction of your work?
I do, yes, and I really love that sort of growth. Working with Trashville on graphics and posters has steered me more towards a Cabaret flair, and the posters we’ve been doing for the Camden Assembly have taken on a life of their own. Working with K! has introduced a more human and emotional side to my work. It’s helped me loosen up and get goofier with my subject matter. Beyond the people I work with, I’ve found that my location also heavily influences my work. I take pictures of architecture and plant life and find ways to sneak them into many of my illustrations.
Knowing that your work is influenced by your colleagues, have you ever been accused of copying their work? What would you say to someone who accused you of such a thing?
I have not been accused of copying anyone’s work, though people have pointed out similarities. Oddly, many of the similarities pointed out have been to artists I don’t know. I think, in this day and age, our minds are so saturated with visual information and current events, which have an influence on how we create. I do have many sketches that I have not taken to finish because I find the subject matter to be played out. I make an effort to stay aware of what I’m creating, not just, so my work is original, but so I don’t get comfortable. Once you get comfortable, you plateau. I have some subject matter that I’ve done to death, even recently, so I’m retiring it for a few years before I explore it again. I think it’s important to maintain a certain self-awareness, so your work doesn’t grow stale.
Which current art world trends are you following?
None, really. If I’m aware of anything trendy, it’s because I sought that information. Last I checked, mainstream illustration has still been embracing the questionable Corporate Memphis stuff that’s taken over. Though, I have noticed a lot of occult things popping up in art recently, which is always nice. I like seeing people get weird with their art and fashion.
What can’t you live without?
Coffee. Everyone has a vice and coffee is it for me. I’ll happily give up alcohol, sweets, whatever, as long as I can have a nice black coffee.
What is your dream project?
I would love to collaborate with a fashion designer on an illustrated line of clothing and accessories. It would be so awesome to have a hand in creating something with a message that people could wear. The other dream project would be to do an illustrated campaign for an environmental group like London-based Thames21. People are aware that the canals and wildlife around the Thames require lots of maintenance to be healthy, so I don’t think that just illustrated advertising would work. People would need more incentive to get involved, so I would like to do some illustrated posters that could be raffled off to raise money for that cause.
What is currently on your playlist?
Elder Island, Gary Numan, Aphex Twin (always), Brian Eno, William Orbit, Perturbator.
What are your last three Google searches?
– Blueberry pie ice cream
– White sclera
– Winter color palette
What is your superpower?
Resilience. Pandemic? Quit your office job and skedaddle. Stuck in a war? Get the first plane out of the country and move forward. Crisis? Death? Gather your crumbling body and super glue it together. The shit-show must go on! It’s brutal, but this is what I live by. I give myself time and space for processing, then keep moving. It’s not for the faint of heart and I think many people struggle to wrap their minds around how I have been able to function in such chaos. The things I’ve seen would’ve sent a lot of people to the happy house, but I’m still kicking. Though, I think a lot of people would find this sort of resilience lurking quietly in themselves if they had to face extreme situations like that.
What is your Kryptonite?
I’m not sure I have a Kryptonite. I think, when faced with hardship, I partially push forward out of spite and due to my rebellious streak I’ve had since my teens. But, as far as food goes, mac and cheese is my weakness. I’ll stop in my tracks for a cheesy pasta and become useless until after I’ve eaten and had a nap.
If you could visit any artist’s studio, whose would you visit and why?
Vigee LeBrun. I’d love to be able to shadow her for a day, to see what her habits are. What colors she gravitates toward most, and what sorts of things she kept around for reference or inspiration. Beyond being a brilliant artist, I find her fascinating as a person. She mingled with the upper echelons of society across Europe, so I wonder what sorts of secrets she was privy to. Who was the gnarliest person she had to do a portrait of? Did they smell like feet? Did she have to work hard to flatter them?
What was the last thing you bought?
What imaginary place would you love to visit?
I’d love to party with the character Chernabog from Disney’s “Fantasia” or prance around with the centaurettes from “Fantasia.” Honestly, any setting in “Fantasia” except the dinosaur one because I’d be a snack and that’s not fun. I’d also want to visit Abarat, the colorful world from Clive Barker’s novel, so I could buy a fishbowl hat.
What is your favorite thing in the world, and why?
Holding hands with friends in a completely platonic way is the first thing that popped into my head, oddly. Why don’t more people do that? I really love doing that. I think we’ve sexualized touch too much. Have you ever skipped down the street to the pub while holding your friend’s hand? Best thing ever! Maybe it’s not my favorite thing in the world, but, damn it, it’s up there!
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and why?
Probably Vivienne Westwood because I love the worlds she’s created through her work in fashion and the boundaries she’s pushed. She’s incredibly powerful. I think it’s easier for me to imagine collaborating with other kinds of visual artists because I’d clash too much with another illustrator. I’ve had fun passing pieces back and forth before, and I’ve had fun getting to color some comic pages, but I think I might accidentally butt heads stylistically if I had to share even footing on the same surface or canvas. Not to say I’m not flexible, but having two illustrators on one piece will cause more creative problems that need solving along the way. Though, that opinion may change! Who knows?
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m focusing on creating exclusive pieces with Trashville, a London-based alternative art, clothing and entertainment brand, and I’m becoming more involved in the independent music scene in London. I’ve been illustrating for UK alternative culture brand Kerrang! and aim to continue providing them with pieces that represent a wider range of people in the alternative. I’m also working with multiple publishers on book covers and some educational material for children as well as pitch decks. The pitch decks may not see the light of day, but fingers crossed! I have a real knack for pitch decks. Somewhere between all this, I’d like to start building my collection of pieces focusing on gothic middle eastern Jewishness. That’s a bit loaded, eh?
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