We had the good fortune of connecting with Calla Donofrio and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Calla, what makes you happy? Why?
I have spent the majority of my life struggling with depression and anxiety. I was in and out of therapy for about a decade and on and off of medications. In the end, I realize that I have nothing in life if I don’t have my mental health. And so I’ve come to see what things truly bring me happiness.
Nature: One thing that I’m starting to appreciate more since the pandemic is having opportunities to be in nature. I’m very grateful to now live in a neighborhood where I can be surrounded by beautiful trees and wildlife. And being in Los Angeles, I can pretty much be outside every day of the year. I live in a house with two gardens now. There’s citrus and pomegranate trees, roses, jasmine… I like to go some mornings to Malibu and walk on the beach while the sun is coming up. It helps my mind feel cleansed and clear.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I was formerly a collage artist but now have shifted my focus to representational (mostly figurative) oil painting. I enjoy painting portraits the most. I think that what sets me apart from many artists is that although other painters may be skilled at realism, they may not be so skilled at building concepts or being able to talk about their work. Having a combination of these two skills is hard to come by and can help to strengthen your work. I would say that I feel the most proud when I sell a piece to someone. Knowing that they were so touched by an idea that I had in my head, that they wanted to put it in their home to enjoy each day, helps encourage me to keep going and to feel like my efforts are important. And i would say the thing I’m most excited about is having the time right now to make all of the paintings I have planned out. As I mentioned in my previous interview with Voyage LA, I had an online art business during art school and participated in many gallery shows accross the US as well as worldwide – including a group show at the Tate Modern Museum. But after school I had to get a job so I managed to work my way into the motion graphics industry which I worked in for about 5 to 6 years. I realized early on that it wasn’t the kind of life that I wanted and made a plan to slowly over time transition back to my art career. I had grown up taking many drawing classes so I returned to this practice and from there taught myself to use watercolors. Then one day in Februrary 2019 I suddenly decided to try oil paints. I went out the next morning and bought all the materials. The first time I tried them was like magic. And from that moment I knew this is what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. From there I juggled having my graphics career and trying to make oil paintings, and since the pandemic began I have had much more time to focus on just painting. I see my skills and the quality of my work improving quickly, which is intensely exciting for me. But it has not been an easy road, it was a constant struggle for years. Most schools do not prepare students (especially art students) for life after graduation and how you are going to support yourself financially. It was very difficult to get a decent paying job to get myself out of debt, but little did I know that would be one of the easier parts of my journey. It seems like alot of people assume that once an artist becomes an adult they will get a day job and do art in their free time. But that’s with the notion that art is a hobby, and not a real job. In reality making an oil painitng is something which takes not only a great deal of time, but alot of uninterupted concentration and momentum. Someone who is a great artist isn’t just laying in the grass doodling a few minutes here and there or when they’re in the mood, it is a full time job that has be taken seriously. After juggling a busy office job and doing my art work for a few years, I came to realize that it isn’t possible to do both if I’m going to do both of them successfully. This was a hard truth to swallow, which I wasn’t expecting. Another hurdle I didn’t anticipate having was the negativity (and sometimes anger, even) when other people would see me trying to transition careers, and the way it made them question their own life choices. But through it all, I followed my gut and kept going. Along the way I’ve learned that it is smart to make money and to make wise financial decisions, but there is more to life than just money and if you chase security you will never find it. I’m not saying that it’s more noble to be an artist than have a normal job, if I could be happy with that life it would make things alot easier for me. But we need to be honest with ourselves about what we want in life because life is short. My experiences have taught me to be grateful for everything I have and every day that I’m able to spend my time exactly how I want.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, that’s hard to say with the covid pandemic right now haha. I used to love spending time in downtown LA, especially around the Little Tokyo area. But most of my favorite places have changed now. But I would say the places I’d recommend and am looking forward to visiting again are the art museums in LA. LACMA, The Broad, The Huntington, etc. And also going to all the beaches. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to say thanks for all the support and encouragement I’ve had to restart my art career from people like my boyfriend, friends and family. Some of them have watched me since I was a small child talk about how this is what I wanted to do with my life. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be for me if I didn’t have people in my life telling me to go keep going.