For Los Angeles illustrator Bella Pilar, work begins with a latte, a sketchbook, and a large stack of magazines. Her local cafe is her favorite spot for a dose of inspiration. Pen in hand, she flips through well-worn issues of Vogue to rev up her internal database of poses, prints, and silhouettes. Once an idea catches her fancy, she turns her thoughts to paper, sketching her signature, long-limbed ladies with practiced ease. Then it's off to her studio, which she keeps well stocked with the tools of her trade: 29 tubes of gouache paint, 18 watercolor brushes, and plenty of Arches hot press watercolor paper.
"Drawing and painting have been with me as long as I can remember," Bella says. "My mother started taking me to art classes on weekends when I was nine years old. I immediately caught interest and quickly discovered how happy it made me. I knew then that creating art would be a part of my life forever."
Educated in fashion design at F.I.T. and Massachusetts College of Art, Bella's first job out of school was as a window dresser for Macy's in Manhattan. "I started out painting the makeup (using grease paints) on the faces of the display mannequins," Bella recalls. "After that job, I moved on to painting real faces - working in New York and then L.A. as a freelance makeup artist. Now I paint faces on watercolor paper." She moved to Los Angeles with her documentary filmmaker husband, and continued her work as a freelance makeup artist. While most makeup artists used photographs as a reference, Bella used her own illustrations. One of these illustrations caught the attention of a magazine editor, which ultimately led to her first editorial illustration job.
Bella brings her style to life with a paintbrush and a bit of gouache. Then, with the guidance of an art director, her work appears on the pages of magazines like Marie Claire, Glamour, Uomo Vogue (Italy), Vogue (Mexico), Hamptons, and Modern Bride (China). Bella's client list is long and diverse, and, to date, her work has appeared in locales as varied as Dubai, Hong Kong, Germany, Latin America, and the UK. One glimpse at her body of work demonstrates the universal appeal of Bella's illustrations.
Many of Bella's campaigns have taken place in Italy, where her character Fleur acts as the mascot for the highly regarded retail chain La Gardenia. With over 160 stores, La Gardenia is Italy's largest makeup and perfume retailer. Bella's televised campaigns have aired throughout Italy, and her artwork has received national attention on multiple occasions.
The success of her line of greeting cards has made her Papyrus' all-time top selling artist and has brought her art into hundreds of thousands of American homes. Her limited edition greeting cards in particular have become collectors' items, and fans bring them in for Bella to sign at artist signing events in New York and California. The range of products that Bella has licensed her art on has expanded to include tote bags, gift boxes, tee shirts, children's toys, bookmarks, journals, and a line of fabrics. "I like to see my artwork on various products," Bella says. "I hope to see many more products with my artwork on them in the future."
Bella's whimsical feminine illustrations have appeared in advertising and marketing campaigns for companies like Bloomingdale's, Tiffany & Co., Timex, La Perla, and Lancome. "I love the variety of work I do, and I hope I'll continue to grow in all areas." Targeting fashion-forward women, Bella's "By Invitation Only" campaign for Tiffany & Co. and fall designer handbag promotion for Bloomingdales called upon Bella's talent for conveying glamour and sophistication. Her figures have been called "sassy and [...] coy" by some, "exquisite, exotic and chic" by others. Bella's distinct style has also helped her woo corporate clients like Target, Viactiv, and Hewlett-Packard. Whether it's releasing limited edition vintage tees (Target), announcing a yearlong partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation (Viactiv), or publicizing a web-based party invitation app (Hewlett-Packard), Bella's illustrations have played an integral role in making corporate projects memorable, accessible, and successful. "To be in this profession, you must be confident, with a unique style of your own that only you possess," Bella says. "I feel like I am always competing with myself, to improve each piece of artwork to be stronger than the last."
Bella also works regularly with clients that target a younger demographic. In 2011, she illustrated the Petal Pushers series (Scholastic) by Catherine Daly. The books, designed for girls eight years and up, focus on four young sisters and their family flower shop Her illustrations have also appeared on magnetic paper dolls (Mudpuppy), children's apparel (My Vintage Baby), and books geared toward teens (Chronicle Books). Bella's cover for Sarah O'Leary Burningham's How to Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl's Survival Guide captures the book's tongue-in-cheek take on teen rebellion and family relationships. Bella's fresh-faced illustrations have also appeared in a number of teen magazines, which include YM, Sweet 16, Girls' Life, and Marie Claire. When asked about the source of her inspiration, Bella reveals that everything she does is dedicated to her two daughters. "This has a special place in my heart. Just like those art classes that my mom brought me to that molded me and my fascination with creative work, I hope to inspire my little girls."
Bella has developed a highly recognizable style that has been noticed by clients and the media. In 2010, her Papyrus greeting cards were sewn into an 'origami dress' for Los Angeles' Fashion's Night Out. The dress was modeled by Project Runway finalist Rami Kashou and was featured on a number of fashion blogs, creating a splash among Los Angeles trend spotters.
In January 2011, Vogue Mexico and Latinoamerica published a four-page feature on Bella, describing her figures as, "graceful, feminine women with endless legs [and] swan necks," "the ultimate personification of chic." The interview coincided with Bella's work for Vogue Shopping Experience, an all-day charity event that took place in Mexico City's fashion district. Bella's illustrations ran as advertorials in the Mexican editions of Vogue, Glamour and AD Magazine.
Then in February 2011, the Mexican women's magazine Femina interviewed Bella for a full-page article about her career as an illustrator. During the interview, Bella stressed that individual style is what makes artists stand out from other professionals. "It doesn't matter how many other illustrators there are out there looking for the same work. As long as you are true to your individual style, competition is never a thought. How can you compete if you're the only one that does what you do!"
Bella Pilar's love of fashion combined with a sweet whimsical aesthetic make her the go-to girl for the fashionista and girl-next-door alike. To see more of Bella's work, along with behind-the-scenes images of her illustration process, visit her blog at junipervalentine.blogspot.com.
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Q&A with Bella Pilar
What's the best part of being an illustrator? I have a great excuse to hang out in coffee shops. I camp out with a latte at a window seat and sketch jobs on the days I am not in my studio painting.
Flight or invisibility? Invisibility.
If you could change one thing about your studio, what would it be? Can we make it bigger please.
What is your go-to karaoke song? Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Pat Benatar.
Your ideal vacation spot? Anywhere with new and interesting foods. It could be a fast paced urban jungle where I'm eating at the best restaurants or the most exotic street vendor foods standing on a busy corner. Or it can be a quiet desolate beach or countryside where I'm eating the local specialties in the peace and quiet. My dream vacation is a food tour of the world. We recently stayed on a farm in Sonoma where we milked the goats and collected eggs from the hen house. That next morning we were eating fried eggs and goat milk yogurt. Pretty ideal.
What do you do when you're not working? Hang out with my kids and husband.
What is one tip you want to share with other creative professionals? I'm practical - buy in bulk. No, seriously. You never want to reach for that watercolor paper or that lead for the pencil, and find that... uh oh, there's no more! And it's 2 am! So all you fellow late night workers, keep a good supply of supplies in your studio.
Why gouache? I find it soothing to paint with. I don't struggle or battle with it. It's quite comfortable and natural for me to express ideas in this medium. And I love the texture you can create since it can be transparent as well at opaque. Great for a good splatter.
Who are three artists you admire? My daughters and my husband. My husband's drive and love for his filmmaking is quite an inspiration. As for my two little girls - I scream with joy over every little art project they do. Each one is it's own little masterpiece. The thing is, is that they see greatness in every piece they create, without hesitation or doubt. They are confident in all of their creations. I admire that.
What are some sites you have bookmarked in your browser? www.epicurious.com Cant cook dinner without it. www.etsy.com I mean, really, so much talent out there. I love to shop here late night when the kids are down. www.illustrationmundo.com It's all there. www.pinterest.com Lots of eye candy.
Your favorite member of the '80's Brat Pack? Molly rules.
You're a born and bred New Yorker. When and why did you decide to move to Los Angeles? I've been in Los Angeles much longer than I had ever planned. We moved here simply for a change of pace, a new experience. But its hard to slow down the pace of this New Yorker, and I basically jet back to NY every free moment I can. I live in LA, but my heart belongs to NY. You can take the girl outta NY, but you cant take the New Yorker outta the girl, isn't that what they say?
In an ideal world, you would have a lifetime supply of...? Chocolate. Rest. Love.