PAINTING & ILLUSTRATION | LOS ANGELES, USA
read our interview with Christiane below
HOUSE OF THEODORA CHATS TO CHRISTIANE SHILLITO
SOME MAY KNOW HER AS THE FETISH MODEL ULORIN VEX BUT CHRISTIANE SHILLITO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE AN INCREDIBLY TALENTED PAINTER & ILLUSTRATOR. HELL BENT ON STAYING TRUE TO HERSELF, HER ART, MUCH LIKE HER MODELLING, OOZES A WONDERFULLY FANTASTICAL & MYTHICAL AESTHETIC - A FASCINATION WHICH HAS RUMINATED SINCE CHILDHOOD.
Before you started focusing on your illustration, you spent time modelling under the persona of Ulorin Vex. How did this persona come about?
I wish I could remember exactly! It was quite an unlikely path considering I’m a huge introvert and suffer from terrible social anxiety. I think subconsciously I created Ulorin Vex as a way to overcome that.. to express my inner extrovert and love of performing. There are some days in “real life” where my anxiety is so bad I struggle to leave the house but as soon as I’m in model mode that all disappears. I could walk naked down a busy street as a model and not be phased in the slightest, it’s a really powerful feeling. As I’ve grown more confident I’ve started to feel like it’s less of a persona and has become more of who I really am.
You now focus full time on your art. What was the catalyst behind that decision?
I’d always intended to become a full time artist but for a long time it was hard to let go of my modeling persona and the popularity that came with it... though I loved modeling as a creative performance outlet and making beautiful images it’s hard not to also get a little addicted to being praised and complimented on your appearance, especially when my personal life for much of my career was very unhappy and dominated by abusive relationships, and that’s not who I wanted to be. Anyway, long story short, I finally escaped that cycle of bad relationships and did a lot of soul searching and working on self-development.. I became so much happier and healthier and I just stopped feeling any need for external validation. After that it was really easy to focus all of my creative energy on my artwork instead of being pulled in different directions.
What are 3 words you use to describe your art?
Dark, Psychedelic, Fantasy
You mention on your website that you “grew up with a nerdy love for anything fantastical”, which your art certainly is. What is it about the fantastical that draws you in?
Oh that’s a hard question! I’ve just always felt very connected to fantasy, including mythology, folklore and the supernatural. As a child I just wanted to spend my time dreaming of magical and impossible things. I guess I still do! Maybe it has something to do with being an introvert?
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What’s your artistic process?
I’m so experimental.. I really change it up a lot! I guess a common starting point would be that I spend just as much time observing the world and thinking about things as I do actually drawing and painting. There’s always something that triggers an idea. I keep a written list of things I want to draw, sometimes with quick thumbnail sketches as an extra reminder.
When I’m starting a new piece I’ll always tidy my studio and put things back into their right place, it helps me focus and feels a bit like a reset button. I’m really drawn to expressive and dramatic gestures and nearly everything starts with a few rough sketches, either from imagination or using a photo as a starting point if I’ve seen something that particularly speaks to me. I’m often very inspired by images of dancers or gymnasts in poses that I can exaggerate even further. Things tend to just evolve very organically from there. I definitely spend the most amount of time on the initial drawing, I think it’s the most important part to get just right.
After that I decide how I want to paint the piece.. I have a lot of different styles and mediums I work in depending on the look I’m after.. acrylic for very bright opaque work with controlled lines or watercolor for more fluidity and expression for example. I’ll usually have an idea in mind before hand but it very often changes after I finish the drawing and feel like taking it in a completely different direction.
I think one of the great struggles of artists, particularly those that create what the masses deem bizarre, is that line between being true to yourself and being popular enough to make a living from your craft. How do you reconcile the two?
It’s definitely difficult.. there’s no denying the power social media has had in reaching larger audiences and therefore clients and customers. I’ve found the problem is less to do with being popular and more to do with censorship. I’ve always had positive feedback and have been fairly successful at selling my work when people see it but it’s the reaching people that has become harder. Of course I could also get around that problem by creating prettier, less erotic work that is less “offensive”, more commercial but it makes me feel really uncomfortable to deliberately make things just because I know they will be popular... it feels so ungenuine. Sort of like pretending to be someone you’re not? And I’m really not very good at that. I’m not sure I’ve really reconciled the 2 to be honest, probably to my own detriment.
What’s it been like as a female artist in the fantastical & fetish art space?
I feel like I’ve been quite lucky that it’s mostly been a very positive experience for me. I already had a fan base that had built up over 15 years as a fetish model and a lot of those people have also been interested in my artwork so it wasn’t too much of a struggle to find an audience.. it felt like a very natural progression. I also already have many friends working in this space, including other women artists who I originally met through modeling, who have been very supportive and inspiring. I’m so grateful to other female artists who have paved the way as it were, I think/hope it’s starting to become much less of a cishet male-dominated space.
What’s been one of the biggest defining moments in your career as an artist?
I still consider myself as being fairly early on in my career but one of the highlights so far was definitely being interviewed and featured in Heavy Metal Magazine for their “Fetish” themed issue. I was also lucky enough to be invited to have a solo show at the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas only months after I’d decided to go full time with my artwork. That was really encouraging when I had still been filled with some doubt; it helped me realise I’d made the right decision.
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What was the last piece of work you did and what was your process for creating that?
The last piece I finished was a great commission that I really enjoyed. I was contacted by a lady who wanted a birthday present for her daughter who does shibari, I was given a lot of creative freedom with the only specifications being a fuller figured female tied up in some way. It was a fun challenge as I’d not really drawn rope ties before so I ended up doing a lot of research on rope bondage to make sure I got it somewhat realistic. I also spent a lot of time sketching from images of plus size models to get a good idea of how rope looks on soft flesh rather than the stereotypical petite female body. I love drawing a variety of body shapes anyway so I probably spent a lot more time on research on sketches than I usually would on a commission of this size. I also wanted to make sure the character looked confident and in control… a lot of shibari images I’d been familiar with previously depict submissive looking women, often with distraught expressions looking like they are not enjoying the experience and that is not my jam at all.
Once I’d decided on the pose that worked best I refined that sketch and then transferred the polished drawing to toned paper mounted onto a wood panel and began underpainting with washes of matte black indian ink to establish tones. I often don’t do an underpainting but in this case I wanted to paint her with thin washes of acrylic paint, almost like watercolor with the underpainting showing through to create a more monotone look with desaturated colors.
Who are the women in your life that you draw energy and inspiration from?
I had the privilege of modeling for Olivia de Berardinis several years ago, which was quite unexpected and exciting as I’ve been a fan of her pinup work for a very long time. I’m still very much inspired by her talent and also what an amazing career she has had, being one of the most famous pinup artists of all time. Especially impressive after starting out at a time where it was even more of a male-dominated space than it is today. She’s offered me bits of advice on a few occasions and even shown me some of her very early work, I really should tell her how much those small gestures have encouraged me to keep on painting but I worry about sounding too fangirlish!
I have a few other amazing women in my life who I also respect and admire so much, quite a few of them are other alternative models, photographers and designers that I met on photoshoots. You’ll often see them portraying characters in my artwork.
TYPE OF ART: painting, illustration
PREFERRED MEDIUM: acrylic, ink, watercolor, colored pencil
SIZE RANGE: 9x12 - 24x30
OTHER DESIGN PRODUCTS: t-shirts, pins, other merch
PRICE RANGE (USD): $100- $3000
WAITING TIME FOR COMMISSIONS: About 3 weeks
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA