This past summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Alicia Santa Maria about “The Masterpiece”, a piece inspired from Issue 41’s “The Gallery” by Finnegan Shepard. We discussed how her artwork strives to represent themes and character dynamics from the story as well as her general creative process and how different mediums of art and inspiration impact Amy’s work.

The following interview took place via Zoom and has been edited for clarity. 

Amy Santa Maria, a linguist by trade and a creator at heart, experiments with capturing small details with continuous contour lines. Her favored mediums are calligraphy pens, linoleum block prints, and charcoal. In 2019, her charcoal portrait of BTS singer V received 3rd place in Visual Arts at the Orange County Fair.

Berkeley Fiction Review: I really love the way you depicted body language in this piece. Was there a specific reason you decided to use hands? Could you describe his thought process behind how one of the hands seems to reach for other?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Mhm. So, normally when I do pen drawings I like to draw it all with a continuous line, and I found that hands are both fun and kind of easiest to draw because you can’t really mess up drawing a hand too badly. And when you’re doing it in all one continuous line there’s like a lot of emotion in all of the angles and the folds. So I thought it was a good way to kind of depict that emotion from the story without actually drawing out the entire person. Why one of them is reaching for the other was that idea in the story, that this guy [Tilo] is chasing this picturesque life with his ex [Madeline] and how, you know, memories are always more beautiful than reality.

BFR: That’s a really interesting description! So there’s also a frame surrounding the bodies of the characters in this piece, so what was the inspiration to create these boundaries between the two characters, and could you elaborate on the thought process between the contrast of the frames’ designs?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: So I drew the frames to show that there’s still a barrier between these two people and not just in terms of distance but also just where their lives are at and their personalities, which seem to not mesh too well. And so her frame is in the middle because she’s his focal point and his frame is kind of off to the side, and it’s not as glorious because I felt like in his perspective he was reaching for this glorified life that he wanted a part of again, even though, you know, the distance between them was too great to close.

BFR: Yeah, the focal point is a really interesting aspect, I think, because the entire piece is kind of centered around this obsession with her. How did you decide on using the monochromatic color palette for this piece and what did you want to express by using blue specifically?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Yeah, normally when I do drawings with just pen I like to stick to just one color and maybe I’ll add black in it or something because I think when it’s just pen, the lines are really crisp and clear so if you add too much color it kind of muddles them up. And then I chose blue because blue has that melancholic, nostalgic feel to it. It also kind of reminded me of when you’re looking at old film and it kind of fades over time. It gives you that old-ish feel.

I chose blue because blue has that melancholic, nostalgic feel to it.

BFR: That’s very cool! I think it’s a really amazing color for the piece. As soon as I saw it, I thought it really attached itself to the story. 

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Thank you!

BFR: Did you have any challenges with starting or planning the piece in general or did it just kind of naturally come to mind?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: I think the overall design kind of naturally came to mind just because I gravitate to drawing hands so that was an easy piece, and then the frames kind of went with the art museum and the gallery from the story. But, the challenge was more so that I normally just put my pen to the paper and draw without needing to have a certain layout because normally it’s just little sketches of one thing. But with this one, I needed a frame in the center and then I needed to frame two to the side. I had to make sure the hands were kind of the same shape so doing the sketch first kind of made the hands feel a little stiffer than how I normally draw them, but I think it still turned out well because, you know, in art, things are stiff, they’re not moving anymore.

BFR: I think that having that stiffness also kind of adds to the story in general because they’re both stuck in a different time; they’re both kind of envisioning the future but using the past to recreate it. 

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Right.

BFR: What are some aspects of the story that really inspired you to create the artwork and were there any specific lines or just portions in general that immediately caught your attention?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: I don’t think there are any lines in particular but I just liked the theme of the art gallery and then, how it was mixed with running into this person that you used to love because it made me think of how art is kind of like memories. They’re a more picturesque version than what they really are, and it’s just capturing one singular moment in time. It’s always going to appear better in our minds than what it really was. I guess it’s kind of like when you take selfies and you’re like, “Oh I don’t look like this in real life”, but if you see videos of yourself you’re like, “Oh yeah I kind of look like that”, because it’s just like a freeze-frame of what we were in that moment and it’s really unnatural to us because in reality life is flowing and moving all of the time.

It’s always going to appear better in our minds than what it really was.

BFR: That’s a really good point. I think that that really adds to the piece as well because of that idea of impermanence, that isn’t real. Now, just going into your creative process in general, could you describe your creative process and generally where you usually find inspiration for your works?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: My favorite things to draw are probably, like I said, hands or just people with street clothing because I think that with amateur photography there’s like a lot of wrinkles in the clothes and I think there’s a lot of personality in how people design their clothes and stuff. I like to draw that with just pen, and depending on what I’m drawing, or what medium I’m using like if I do charcoal I like to do portraits of people because it’s more photorealistic. But yeah, I think maybe the biggest inspiration is just people and anime and just things I’m into at the moment.

BFR: So, what about how you start out creating an art piece? Do you tend to plan them out meticulously or do you kind of just find it easier to see where your art will take you?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: It depends on what I’m drawing. If I’m just using pen and then sketching out people, then I just let the drawing go where it wants to go. But if I’m doing something more photorealistic, and I’m doing charcoal, then that takes me a couple of months because I really only have the attention span to work in twenty to thirty minutes, maybe an hour and then after that, I get frustrated if it’s not done quick enough. So, I just work out in little chunks, a bunch, until that piece is done. I guess it depends on how long a piece takes; whether I’m going to stick to the plan I laid out beforehand or if I’m going to do something really quick and move on.

So, I just work out in little chunks, a bunch, until that piece is done.

BFR: Then, in that sense, do you have a fair medium to work with? I know you’ve mentioned charcoal support and just general pen. How do you think those mediums work best for the type of piece you decide to pursue and do you feel like different mediums have different feelings?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: For sure, I like to draw with pens, charcoal. I sometimes do acrylic paints, just for fun to draw clouds and nature. I also do like linocut prints when you cut out the block and ink it and then stamp it to make art prints. So, the subjects I do in all of those different mediums are so different that I usually don’t cross over between the styles of them. I feel like I have four different art styles. So if I want something more photorealistic then I’ll go with charcoal. I wouldn’t paint a photorealistic person. But if it wants something more fantasy-ish I’ll do paint, because you’ve got a lot of colors and textures because the brushes are all different. And if I want sketches, I’ll do pens and if I want art poster-ish type of art. Then I’ll do linocut.

BFR: In that sense do you have any upcoming projects or works in progress that you’d like to tell us about?

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Right now I’m in the really early stages of making a webcomic, just working on character designs and plot and whatnot, but it’s gonna be about a Japanese American superhero and she gets cursed and has to go travel to Japan to break it, and it’s gonna involve themes of what it means to be an authentic person of Japanese heritage or like what it means to be Asian American, in the U.S. versus in Japan. So I’m going to try to mix storytelling styles and illustration styles of typical American superhero comics and also Japanese manga.

BFR: That sounds really amazing. We’re looking forward to seeing it!

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Thank you! 

BFR: So, finally, where can our readers find you so they can keep up with your work? 

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Yeah, I post some art on my Instagram @eimidesigns and I sell some of my art on my Etsy too by the same name, Eimidesigns. I’m planning to put more original artwork up there soon!

BFR: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! I had a really great time.

Amy Alicia Santa Maria: Of course!

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