Amid the digital art techniques of today, Carla Wyzgala’s mastery of watercolors might make you think she’s old school—until you see the vibrant, sexy pin-up girls she paints. From her professional training at the American Academy of Art Chicago, Carla uses her incredible skill to portray a range of pin-up girls from the bold and seductive to those with enigmatic sensuality. Using the fluid, luminous medium of watercolor allows her to celebrate the feminine form. She draws inspiration from everything from fairy tales to popular culture figures to create her own style of glam girl, as well as her sought-after skull masquerade series.
I love your watercolor pin-up girls. What inspired you to begin drawing them? Why did you choose watercolors as your medium?
Watercolor was the first medium that made sense. We get along pretty well. It’s honestly a personality thing. I started out trying to figure it out in high school, but it wasn’t until my professor at the American Academy of Art guided me to a more laid back and experimental technique, letting water and pigment mix on its own, that I really fell in love with the medium.
Your art draws a lot of influence from pop culture—Disney Princesses, Star Wars, Xena. A lot of these characters are childhood staples. Why do you choose to portray them as pin-up girls?
I remember being very influenced as a kid by pretty female characters, especially the ones that also kick ass. I was always drawing new character designs in my sketchbooks, and for whatever reason only of ladies, and that has stuck with me. Changing their hair and make-up is almost like dressing up to me. It has become my way of bringing something new to characters we all love. My style has developed naturally into pin-up and I studied the masters of pin-up a bit in college. I simply love the expression of a woman’s confidence in body image.
What was the inspiration behind your Skull Masquerade series?
Skull Masquerade is a series that I developed for an art show at my local café in Chicago and was sort of a stepping stone for creating a congruent body of art and deciphering my style and my message as an artist. I’m not even sure it was conscious, but it was the turning point for my style, as sort of an alternative to the super sexy pin-ups.
I find the dinosaur skull pin-up girls to be most intriguing in the skull masquerade series. For me, it evokes a sense of extinction and eroticism. Was there a particular message you wanted to present to your audience?
I love that interpretation, thank you! I honestly create these pieces thinking mostly of how the color scheme will complement the type of creature’s skull and what kind of woman should wear it. Its only now, later in the development, that I am seeing a narrative between these characters.
The idea of the pin-up girl has evolved since its inception—spanning as symbols of sexuality, symbols of freedom from Victorian era stereotypes, oscillating between positive and negative. What is your take on the idea of the ‘pin-up?’ Has it influenced what you create? Why did you choose to do pin-ups?
I love this question. Pin-ups to me are a form of expression of sexuality and confidence in body image, as I said earlier. It is so important to have positive strong women expressing love of their bodies today and in any era, really. The female form is truly a thing of beauty and decorating it with lace and corsets is too much fun.
Many of your subjects appear contemplative, even serene in some instances, yet give off a primality in their piercings, bondage-esque accessories, and tattoos. Was there a purpose to portraying them as such? How does the sense of the ‘feminine’ (however you define it) play into your work?
Incredible questions! I love the contrast between the tough and delicate, talking about anything from materials to body art. There is a delicate balance that I like to play with to keep either end from taking over the image. I’ve never been a fan of artwork that borders on gruesome or unsettling in any way, so just a dab of gothic influence is enough to keep the art from being all butterflies and kittens.
Bouncing off of that, your other pin-up girls seem to be bolder than your skull masquerade series—as in eye contact, body posture, etc. How do you see these series differing beyond the addition of a mask?
The girls hiding behind masks have a mystery to them, a narrative that even I am unsure of. And I think that is their allure, whereas the pin-ups are exploding with confidence. I think there is still a mystery to the ladies of pin-up and it’s important to me that they appear to be intelligent. I often call it a spark of thought behind their eyes. I think the two different styles are equally me and could be a product of being a Gemini, if you believe in that sort of thing.
Is there a story behind these characters? What other elements do you like to bring to this series?
I am honestly terrible at creating plot and story, but I do have a small sense of their personality. It more or less creates itself as I’m painting. I like exploring fashion from all different eras and cultures. Without getting into historical accuracy to a tee, I just like to dabble in influences from them. Currently, I’m developing mixtures of fantasy and pin-up. I’m always learning new things about watercolor and exploring new fashion trends.
Can you tell me about your Kickstarter, Blue Eyes and the Beastling?
Blue Eyes and the Beastling is the premiere graphic novel in my collaboration project, Hidden Door Comics, with my sister and writer/creator of Witchman. We have a shared love for fairy tales and have noticed an absence in graphic novel form, especially with a classic fairytale art style. So, we decided to do it ourselves! With many more stories in the works, we are truly doing this as a passion project and hope others share our passion of fairy tales.
All pictures are property of Carla Wyzgala and are not to be used without her permission.