Evocative, emotional, dynamic… The science fiction, fantasy and horror artwork created by Italian illustrator and comic book artist Daniele Serra is decidedly eye-catching.
With a style that is unmistakable when you see it, Serra has provided artwork for popular books and comics, including Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Bestiary (BOOM! Comics), The Crow: Memento Mori (IDW Publishing), The Big Blow by Joe R. Lansdale, Frankenstein in London by Brian Stableford, and many others. His illustrations have been used as the set dressing of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s CELL, directed by Tod Williams and starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.
With a limited edition collection of his artworks available now through UK’s PS Publishing, Serra is seeing his career surge. Here’s a closer look at what inspires his unique, breathtaking artistic style.
TFN NEWS: How did you first become interested in creating artwork?
SERRA: I’ve always drawn since I had the ability to hold a pencil in my hand. And surely, some moments of my life have pushed me more in that direction: I remember my father’s books of art and all the comics he bought for me, as well as the moment when I first noticed HR Giger and Dorè’s illustrations.
I’d been working as a graphic designer for 8 years, but my dream has always been to be a comics artist or an illustrator. So, while I was working in the advertising agency during the day, at night I would draw and prepare my portfolio to ship it around the world. It was a very hard time; I invested a lot of my free time in this dream until I signed the first contracts as a cover artist and I had the chance to work with DC Comics. After that, I decided to jump into the new adventure, so I resigned from my permanent job and I started drawing full-time.
We know you’re drawn to weird/horror stories and art. How did that interest develop? Was it a particular story or movie that sparked your interest in horror and strange tales?
When I saw for the first time “The Last Judgement” by Giotto, especially (the portion of the painting that represents) “Hell,” I realized I have a passion for horror and weird art and stories. I was attracted and afraid at the same time; it was a strong emotion. Then, I remembered how (Stephen) King’s books and the art of HR Giger opened up visionary worlds to me. I think Alien, Hellraiser and King’s books were, in my teens, strong inspirations that led me to love these kinds of topics.
Is there a particular creator in the horror field whose work stands out to you as exceptional? What is it about their work that captures your attention?
There are many artists that I love, and I think they are absolutely brilliant. One of them is David Cronenberg—for example, it’s fascinating the way he deals with the theme of flesh mutation. In my opinion, his approach is always original. His way of staging his stories always manages to capture me for their reality and rawness while maintaining a sense of great poetry.
You have a distinctive, very recognizable artistic style. There’s no mistaking your work, which is a great thing for an artist! How did you develop your style and arrive at the techniques you love to use?
My style is very spontaneous. The fact that I am self-taught has influenced a lot. I have not studied the techniques and theories of color. Everything stems from my need to express my emotions and personality. I think this applies to all illustrators. Maybe there are those who love the technical aspect and the stylistic study more, while there are those like me who are more linked to the emotion of the moment. And there are those, like me, who are more linked to the emotion of the moment and do it in an instinctive way.
I work almost exclusively with watercolor, since my wife gave me a beautiful pack of watercolors as a present a few Christmases ago. I fell in love with them. They are a great medium for my style because they are very instinctive and fast, a thing to take into consideration when you have many deadlines.
You’ve worked on quite a few cool projects. Do you have one or two that are special favorites, or that you’re particularly proud of, and why?
I am particularly proud to have illustrated two of my favorite authors. In fact, I had the opportunity to illustrate Tommyknockers by Stephen King (PS Publishing) and Tortured Souls by Clive Barker (Buchheim Verlag). I think these two books represent a dream come true that I really care about.
In addition, I have been lucky enough to work for many weird/horror authors, and I assure you that I try to give my best for every book I illustrate. I can truly say that each one is special to me.
Tell us about your process for creating. How do you develop your concepts and come up with inspiration?
As for the work session, I can say that I work mostly straight away. I make very few preparatory sketches, and also the final pencils on which I will then go to color are sketched. I leave a lot of space for the final phase of coloring where I define everything and decide which path to take, the level of lights and balances.
When I start, I don’t have a very clear idea of how I would like the final work to come out. This is because I am quite poor technically, and I let myself go to the sensations of the moment. This fact involves a very strong emotional tension—because I never know if the next brush stroke will be fine or it will be a disaster!
I usually work on ideas in the morning because my mind is “fresh,” while I often dedicate the night sessions to the manual work of drawing.
Are there any particular tools, materials, software, etc., that you prefer to use these days?
I only use watercolors for illustrations and ink for comics. I usually do everything by hand. I use the computer just to scan the works, so my materials are a couple of marten-haired brushes of different sizes, Winsor & Newton watercolors and satin paper from Canson or Arches. In short, all normal material, nothing strange!
You’re based in Italy, but your work has made its way around the world. What has it been like to see your work become so successful?
Let’s say that now, working outside your country is quite simple thanks to technology. The internet allows me to collaborate with any part of the world while staying in my studio in Italy. Obviously, I prefer travel for fairs so as to meet the people I work with and be able to talk to each other face to face, which is much better than a cold online message.
You’ve won the British Fantasy Award for art. Tell us about that.
I have twice won the BFA as Best Artist for my overall work as a cover designer and illustrator. It has been a great satisfaction! Having a recognition for one’s work is always a source of happiness and encouragement, an injection of self-confidence. It was an important moment in my professional career that I tried to immediately transform into a new starting point in the constant search of an evolution that can lead me to an ever-increasing communicative level through my work. Having won the prize represents, for me, precisely being able to communicate something, an emotion, a feeling. This is what interests me the most.
These days, things can seem a little strange for everyone. Has the pandemic affected any of your projects and your work? Or has art been a kind of refuge for you in these times?
It is a very complicated period that surely affects everyone deeply. From my working point of view, not much has changed for me because I have a home studio, so basically my days have not changed during the lockdown. Luckily, I have not contracted the virus for now, so my work is proceeding calmly and is absolutely a refuge from this reality. The greatest effect of the pandemic is linked to the delays in the exit of projects, therefore leading to a general slowdown of some comic books I am working on. Otherwise, being in lockdown allows me to work with fewer distractions.
Your work has been collected into an artbook that’s on sale now, with an introduction by Clive Barker, whom you’ve worked with. What can readers expect to see in the book?
This is a book that I really care about. It includes a lot of my work from the last 4 years—covers and illustrations and posters and even some works done just for myself. There are no accompanying texts apart from the incredible introduction by Clive Barker. I would like people to experience the artbook as a museum where they can enter and get lost among the illustrations, with the difference that they can take the time they want, open it at random and leaf through some pages and maybe take it back the following day: a museum with a ticket of entry that is valid forever.
What are you working on right now? What would you like to work on in the next few years?
I’m working on two comics in Italy, two big projects that will see the light in 2021. Then, I have various illustrated books in progress and book covers.
For the future, I would like to do something related to scenography in cinema and theater. One day, I’d like to be able to illustrate a book by ETA Hoffmann, a record by Einsturzende Neubauten and a poster of a Cronenberg film.
We have to ask: Your website’s bio says you have an exotic insect collection. Tell us about it! What got you interested in insects, and what kinds do you have?
My wife is really fond of insects and arachnids, so I found myself living in a house that is home to several multi-legged beings. In addition to four cats, we have spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, snails, millipedes and… some carnivorous plants!
To learn more about Daniele Serra and see his art, visit his website.