Interview with Artist James DeRosso

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How important was art education to you when you were school age?

In the 7th grade I had a fantastic art teacher with a huge classroom filled with every kind of art material. The walls were covered with art. Sculptures of clay and paper-mache sat on most shelves and even hung from the ceiling. She was super energetic and fun, and she recognized my talent and encouraged, challenged, and pushed my creativity. I spent every moment I could in Ms Orr classroom, and those years of middle school were an awakening for me as an artist.

Did you major in graphic design in college because you loved graphic design or because it seemed like a way to make a living in the arts?

I chose the Graphic Design major because it was a path to a “career” which I believed was what I was supposed to pursue with a college degree. I was thrilled to be taking fine art classes and further developing my skills, especially in ceramics. The computer and marketing classes were my least favorite aspects and unfortunately were the greater part of my higher education. 

What drove you to leave the profession for ceramics?

I did go on to work as a graphic designer for several years, but I loathed plunking on the computer all day, and I especially disliked using my creativity to sell products. I wanted to work with my hands and create. I found a job as a part-time handyman and started spending most of my off time doing ceramics.

How did the monsters start?

I was trying to make utilitarian things like bowls and plates and mugs, because that’s what I thought would sell at art shows. I was pretty horrible at that and nothing was selling. The monsters happened because I used to make small “kiln guardians” in college to watch over the firings, and those were very popular with my friends. I really enjoyed making them and continued creating monsters just for my own pleasure. At the third art show I entered, I put some out in my booth and they instantly sold.

Can you share your general creative process for monsters?

Most of my monsters are inspired by animals and insects. I key into specific parts like the horn on a rhino or the eyes of a fly. I’ll see how another artist interprets an animal or even a human, and then I’ll want to do that with a monster.

   

What is the relationship of your drawings to sculpture? Are they plans for the sculptures?

I’ll get an idea about a new kind of monster and the first thing I do is create sketches of those ideas. Pencil drawings are fast and easy compared to clay work, and it allows me to quickly throw down several ideas and see how they look. My best monsters are the ones that I sculpt closest to those initial thumbnail sketches.

   

Some of your monsters are mixed media? Do you find the object and then build the monster? And most importantly, are the items glued and what glue do you recommend using?

Yes, the objects that I find are usually the inspiration for the monster that they become a part of. I’ve always had an affinity for old vintage parts and my mind found a way to combine that interest with the monster art. After a few years of the sculptures getting larger and more complex, I began seeing old scrappy hardware that I was collecting as similar components to those larger monster sculptures. I make sockets and indents in the clay for the found objects to fit nicely into. I want the combination to appear believable and this also provides a better way to secure those parts with epoxy after the ceramics have been fired. I use a very strong 2-part epoxy called PC-7. It’s made to permanently adhere to all types of materials and it’s black.

On the monsters, what materials are you using for the color?

I use two processes to color my monsters. First I stain all my work after the bisque firing, using a mixture of iron and copper oxides. I sponge this away leaving it dark in all the crevices. Then I paint on 2 or 3 coats of glaze for the color of the monsters. I use bright shiny glazes for the eyes, and duller matte glazes for the bodies. The matte glazes also allow the stain to seep through which extenuates the details and dirties up the appearance.

Do you have any favorite monsters you’ve created?

Once in a while a monster will come out to be very exceptional, both is it’s proportions or gestures and also in how the glazes fire. I have kept a personal collection of these as inspiration and reminders to do it again. I also get pretty excited about a new idea and will make a whole line of monsters from that spark.

What do you think attracts people to the monsters?

Initially I think people got into my monsters because they could see the energy that was from my joy in creating them. I think they like my playful style of portraying a monster. I try to be very unique, and just staying with it all these years has honed my skill level. 

Do you have any artists who inspire you creatively?

Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” was my favorite childhood book. I was also influenced by Jim Hensen’s Muppets, and the art style of Tim Burton. I’m drawn to abstract artists like Kadinsky. Recently I’ve been studying the art of Ralph Steadman as I hone my own illustration style.

How did you fall into teaching?

The classroom workshops started when I volunteered to teach ceramics at my neighborhood elementary school. The monsters were a big hit with the kids and I had such a good time that I just kept doing it. That progressed into doing private birthday parties and then doing adult monster making events.

Through the pandemic, how have you been able to interact with students and teachers? Have you joined classes through Zoom?

I have done several Zoom classes through the pandemic, but they were not enjoyable to me. So much is lost through the technology without direct human interaction and without being able to walk around and three-dimensionally view the creation process of the students. Other artists creating tutorial videos has inspired me to want to record step-by-step videos of me creating monsters. I think the electronic medium can work great for showing technique and process without fighting the limitations of interaction.

I understand you not only do workshops for schools but also teacher workshops as well?

I have made videos and done live teaching to art teachers. The largest impact lately has been through my Instagram account. I have hundreds of art teachers following me and using my monster images to inspire their students. They post images of the monsters that their kids make and it’s great to see that happening all over the country. That is an audience I want to create tutorial videos for.

James DeRosso
monster8all.com
@monster8james
503-381-1801