Artist of the Month: Esthera Preda

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By her own reckoning, Esthera Preda is a half-beast half-woman creature living in a little castle cave in the magical Québec city. Her whimsical illustrations stem from the folk gothic tales she used to read as a child. From creating documentaries about snowboarding to illustrating her own zines, Estée has more talents than you can shake a stick at. We caught up with her to chat gothic motifs, thrift shopping and lazy Sunday's.

Esthera Preda heads image

For those who don't know, can you tell us a bit about who you are and the work you produce?

My name is Esthera Preda, I'm called Estée by most. I'm an illustrator currently based in Québec city, Canada. Using mostly ink, gouache and watercolours, I love to paint creatures interacting in a surreal world.

How did you make the transition from making films about snowboarding to illustration?

It sort of happened naturally in the way that I slowly felt like I had reached my goals in snowboard film making. As I felt ready for some new challenges, the US economy happened to crash as well, making work in that field more scarce. Eventually, it made no sense financially to keep on so I took about a year off figuring out what I wanted to do next. I started painting for fun and sharing it online and that's where it started becoming a concrete pursuit.

A little birdie told us you love reading European folktales and gothic fiction. What do you love so much about these genres?

I'm mainly attracted to the romantic idea I have about the times and settings of those stories. I suppose it's a kind of nostalgia for the unknown that existed in our ancestors' lives. They also help me make sense of my existence. It's as though they contain hidden brides of information revealing the universe's dynamics.

Esthera Preda naked

There are a lot of folk and gothic motifs woven into your work. Would you say that your Romanian heritage and love of those genres is at play there?

Absolutely. And what's interesting about that is that I've never consciously realised it until I went and visited Romania for the very first time last year. It's as though everything finally made sense. My love for mixes of cultures through history was finally explained through the eclectic Romanian culture which has been at a cross road of cultures for centuries. The creepy romantic feel of the Carpathian mountains explained my love for gothic fiction and its decaying romanticism. The crumbling facades of cities built by French architects during the 19th century mirrored what I imagine the declining American South would look like in gothic fiction literature.

Your illustrations predominantly include women and animals. Why is that?

So often I feel like I have to be rational in my everyday life (which is fine) but I try as much as I can to draw from the visceral when I paint. I like for everyone who looks at my work to interpret it as they please. And I especially like to hear what it means to them. People find unexpected meanings in my work and I find that interesting.

The women in your illustrations all look very similar, almost as though they could all be the same woman. Who is she?

That's a good question! She's drawn for the visceral once again. For some reason, I always thought she looked like my sister who now lives thousands of miles away. Maybe it's a way for me to get closer to her.

Esthera Preda Flower head image
esthera preda plant heads

Where does your love of plants and horticulture stem from?

My mom has always been a plant lover. It's funny because when I was young I would often get annoyed with all the plants she would grow in the house. It felt like a thick jungle with tall and intimidating plants and somehow made me feel uneasy. As I got older and got my own place, I instinctively felt like I needed plants to feel the space and that's when the addiction started!

We love the zines you create that centre around surrealism and the gothic. How did that idea come about?

It came out of a brainstorm with fellow Canadian artist Caitlin McDonagh who also likes to paint all things magical. We wanted to do a collaborative project so we decided to curate and create together What The Wood Whispers, a zine featuring 13 artists exploring the theme of magic. I really liked my experience working with Caitlin so I created another one with comic artist Pishier from Québec. It's a strange little ecclectic zine exploring paganism on one side and the gothic on the other.

We hear you love shopping in thrift stores. What do you love so much about drawing from the past and could you say you feed that whimsical reminiscent feeling into your work?

Yes, definitely. Clothes and objects that survive through decades carry such emotional baggage with them that it's almost palpable. One time, I found two antebellum era crazy quilts and it was so incredible to actually get to see and touch the work made by a 19th century woman. Once again, it's the romantic idea that I have of those past times that attracts me and fuels my work.

Follow me Esthera Preda

What would your perfect lazy Sunday consist of?

A warm sunny day spent swimming in a river and sun bathing on some rocks.

What can we expect from you in 2017? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I feel so motivated and full of energy this year! I'm hoping to create as much as I can and keep working and collaborating with inspiring individuals.

Concretely though, this upcoming February, I'll be showing some new work in a group show at Quebec city's Biennal. Besides that, last fall, I created some illustrations for Canadian fashion-retailer La Maison Simons home brand Twik. The line is coming out this spring and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. I'm also working on my very first picture book with Monsieur Ed, an awesome independent publisher from Montreal ran by two amazing women so I'm really excited to work on that as well. Oh and I just started playing music in my husband's band and I'm thrilled to start exploring the musical world with them.

Esthera Preda illustrated dreams

Follow Estée on Instagram or purchase her work at Society 6. Interview by Danielle Morgan.