Zelda Devon was born in 1978 in San Francisco. She was trained unsuccessfully at Savannah College of Art and Design and successfully at a small atelier in Brooklyn, NY. Zelda has done illustration, packaging, and event pre-visualization work for clients including Christian Dior, Shimmer, DC Comics/Vertigo, The Discovery Channel, The Weinstein Company, and Godiva Chocolates. Zelda currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Visit www.zeldadevon.com to learn more.
One of the first things I notice about your work is how relatively few of your illustrations depict scenes taking place on land. There are so many images that take place in the air, or on, or under, water. Is land boring to you?
That is an interesting observation. I’m in love with viscerally beautiful environments that are dynamic. If there is a monster crawling out of the land, or the land is covered with a thousand mushrooms of various sizes, it wouldn’t be that boring.
There is such a powerful sense of story in all of your work. Is this simply because you are an illustrator and illustrations service a story? Or would you be a storyteller in your own regard regardless of the project you are working on?
Form follows function. Stories are a wonderful catalyst that give drawings a reason to be born. Story is the glue that holds it together.
Your work is vivid emotionally as well as visually. That is one of the first things that leaped out at me about your work. Not only were the visuals lush, rich, and saturated, but the emotions as well. Talk to us about the role of emotion in your work.
Beautiful things are richer when infused with an emotional story. My backgrounds and characters have complicated, intricate, perhaps even painful lives. You are only allowed a glimpse. You get to make up the rest.
What is your dream life like? It is cliché to talk about science fiction/fantasy illustration being dreamlike, but I’m sure you’ve heard that before about your work. What relationship do your dreams have to your work, if any?
When I do dream, none of the dreams enter my remembering mind. My therapist would be really upset. What doesn’t translate to night dreams definitely translates to daydreams, in which I’m a daily participant. Towering bookshelves filled with luxurious stories, an antique Chesterfield, and a little industrial light to illuminate what I’m seeing. A glass greenhouse brimming with a crawling menagerie of exotic plants. Maybe even some have eyes.
Do you have any strong phobias/neuroses/fears that you care to share? It seems that part of the power of your works is that they tap into phobias. The scenes of flight use skewed angles and extreme perspective to make the viewer feel that she is about to tip out of a precarious cauldron or vessel and go tumbling into space. The ocean scene featuring the giant octopus with the lighthouse eyes and the vertiginous wave makes my stomach drop. The drowned ball scene is gorgeous and suffocating. Are you tapping into personal phobias here or is this just artist’s skill at work?
My phobias are banal: how to buy a car that won’t break down or how not to burn my omelet. They have little to do with real nonsense, like death or taxes or . . . heights. I just love visuals that are dynamic and spiral in motion. I am given a window to fill and I want to fill mine with ancient archetypes that hook themselves deep into your subconscious.
What are some of your influences, in illustration, fine art, literature, film, games, etc.?
My inspiration casserole has many layers. Dean Cornwell, J.C. Leyendecker, Ivan Bilibin, Ramon Casas, Dave McKean, Léon Bakst, Mike Mignola, Claire Wendling, Mead Schaeffer, Moebius, Yoshida Hiroshi, and Heinrich Kley are found on the easy-to-reach shelf. Cracks in old walls, costume design, architectural ornament, elaborate European fountains, and deep sea giant isopods are also muses. I love dark, strange, twisted, sad things. I love old occult lore, Polish poster art, stop-motion animation, and Japanese and Russian fairytales. Also, sex and death.
You also do packaging/lettering work for corporate clients. One of the things I noticed is how you resist current trends of minimalism in graphic design, especially in lettering. Do you feel that less is not more, less is a bore?
I love minimalism in my house, but adore fancy, ornate, luxurious design, à la drug packaging from the 1920s.
What is your dream project?
To contribute a heavy visual impact on a major motion picture or animated film.
Note: Images 1-3 in the gallery below are collaborations between Zelda Devon and Kurt Huggins. — eds.
Spread the word!