September 03, 2019

Artist Spotlight: Stephanie Buscema on the influences that led to her Santa Muerte 8″ Dunny Design

You’re not likely to catch New York based illustrator, painter, and textile maker Stephanie Buscema relaxing on her day off, because WHAT DAY OFF? She’s working that small business life, baby! But if you really press her for an answer, you’re likely to hear something about antique hunting, record collecting, and going to the beach. “But that’s only about twice a year,” she says.

Never resting, Stephanie has led an interesting life – raised by a family of comic book artists and music lovers, Stephanie was destined to live the creative life – and we at Kidrobot are happy that our paths have intersected in this moment with the Kidrobot release of the Santa Muerte 8″ Dunny by Stephanie Buscema. We sat down with her recently to learn a little more about her life, her art, and her collection of inspirations.

KR: At what point growing up did you realize that you were an artist? And was there a time in your life where you were on the doctor, lawyer, or corporate trajectory before ending up in a New York art school?

SB: I knew from a young age, because I grew up around a bunch of artists, so it was just like yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. There was no other option I had in my head, I guess. My family worked in comics, so I apprenticed and worked through them and studied and started doing comics in my teens. Then I wanted to further that and learn a little more painting and also studied illustration. And that’s how I got into it all.

KR: Speaking of art school, a lot of formally trained artists reflect on their art school days with mixed feelings. When you think back on it, are you glad you went?

SB: My experience was that I learned more on the job when I left school. That’s where I started honing skills. I went to art school because I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go in. Art school was sort of an in between place for me. Trying to figure out where I was supposed to be and what I wanted to do. But I feel like I didn’t get any real-world experience out of it.  I mean, they don’t really teach you the business end of things and how you can support yourself as an artist. It’s just like – okay, here you go, buy this really expensive paint and make some art! So you end up asking yourself “what am I going to do with this when I get out of here?” The takeaway is rough for what you’re paying.

KR: Your paintings and illustrations are clearly influenced by pop culture. I see some references in there to The Cramps, Beetlejuice, Nosferatu, Betty and Veronica, and more – all with a signature style that feels very 60’s. What do you think were the biggest influences that helped you develop your artistic style?

SB: I think a lot of it had to do with growing up with a lot of old cartoons, being around a lot of children’s books, and also records – album cover art. As far as the children’s books go, it was specifically Little Golden Books. All of those artists had this very distinct painting style with guache and I always loved it. It was colorful and it was fun – so all of those things most certainly influenced me growing up, at a young age. And with album covers, it was the work by people like Jim Flora. His stuff really, really stood out to me. He was a big one. Also, Disney illustrators like Mary Blair. And everything was all around that era – 50’s and 60’s. That look. They all sort of had that look. I researched a lot about what mediums they used and how to use that medium. Because nobody knew how to use it anymore. I remember going to art school and asking “how do you get this dry brush effect?” And teachers saying “Oh I don’t know. I don’t even know what medium that is.”  It wound up being guache most of the time, so I started really trying to push that in my work. 

KR: You also work in textiles and have a company called Kitschy Witch. Were these things part of an organic evolution of your painting and illustration skills or was it something else?

SB: I think it was, for sure. It was really just looking for other ways to apply design and art. And how you could put it on a unique product. I had collected vintage clothes for years and years and years and I always loved the novelty prints. They were these really weird cartoony, abstract colorful fabrics and I wondered how I could make my own. And how could I make it in a way that looks like it was made in the 50’s or 60’s? So I paint and draw every single thing by hand. We have them printed through old methods, so everything is just a little bit off register. It’s almost a silk screen process. It’s not digital. This is real deal. It’s just another kind of vessel to create, so this has been a really, really big part of my life. We do these limited edition, small-batch fabrics and will only print off x amount of yardage and that’s it. Once it sells, it’s on to the next print. It’s crazy to see that people are into it, but it’s a process for sure.  It’s been an honor to be able to make stuff for people and have them receive it well.

KR: Your upcoming Kidrobot piece, “Santa Muerte,” which translates to “Sacred Death,” or “Holy Death,” falls on the wonderful, darker side of the Dunny world. What was the inspiration for this design? 

SB: It was just straight up Santa Muerte. I submitted a couple of designs and that’s just what we went with. That’s what felt right.

KR: How were you first introduced to Kidrobot?

SB: My husband and myself used to go years ago to the store in Manhattan and it was something like we’d never seen before. It was so cool to see artists actually applying their own styles and sensibilities to an actual physical toy. So I’ve been a fan for many, many years. So I’m kind of nerding out about being able to contribute something. It’s cool, it’s one more vessel to design and to create something really special.

KR: What is a typical day in the life of Stephanie Buscema?

SB: Lots of coffee in the morning. Usually wake up, take care of orders, then get to the drawing table. I do a lot of work with production, making sure the fabrics are being printed. Things like that. I look at my calendar and ask myself what is it this week? Is it gallery paintings? Is it clothing? Is it client work? It’s always changing. So it’s sort of like whatever’s on the roster for that day, we have to tackle. It’s always mixed up, which I like.

KR: Under what circumstances do you create art? In a quiet space? Loud music playing? 

SB: A quiet space, but headphones are always on. What I’m listening to depends on what I’m working on. There’s a mix of stuff – garage punk, rockabilly, psychobilly, you know – whatever I’m in the mood for. If it’s something more subdued I’m usually listening to someone like Brian Eno or something chill. 

KR: When you’re not creating art, where you can you be found?

SB: Well, there’s really no days off. I’m grateful for it, though. I’m not complaining at all. But if things are a little slow, I might doodle. Or maybe we’ll go hunting antiques or records. Or maybe even go to the beach but that’s like twice a year or something. 

KR: What’s next for you? What upcoming project are you excited about right now?

SB: I’m doing a lot more gallery shows. In September I’ll have an artist feature at Wonderground Gallery and Disney. I’m doing a bunch of paintings for them, which is cool. I’m doing a couple of group shows for Haven Gallery and then designing for the business, of course. 

(link will go live at 10am MT on September 13, 2019)

Artist Bio:

Stephanie is a New York based painter, illustrator and designer. Inspired by old story books, vintage design, monsters, halloween and circus sideshows, her work can be seen everywhere from picture books to fashion.

Stephanie discovered her love of painting while studying at the School of Visual arts in NYC, which soon lead to working in the Illustration industry in 2006. Since then, she’s worked on a wide variety of projects, from picture books, comic books, licensing, character design to accessory and textile design. Keeping true to her love of handmade, she continues to create art and paintings using traditional image making methods.

When time allows, participating in gallery exhibitions, creating personal work and designing new creations for her small business, Kitschy Witch Designs, are at the top of her to-do list. 

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