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Charmaine Olivia

Dreamland Paintings and Illustrations

San Francisco artist Charmaine Olivia never took an art class, didn't go to college, toyed with the idea of fleeing to Paris, and then moved to San Francisco to become a full-time artist. Whew!

Olivia's paintings and illustrations capture dreamland girls running free with animals. She says she creates these girls to live vicariously through them. Thus, the poetic bravery of these girls is what Olivia's work is really about. Taking the unconventional path in life isn't easy, but Olivia makes it seamlessly beautiful.

Olivia, SF Station's featured artist this month, spoke with us during an interview at her Mission District home studio.

SF Station: I know you didn't have any formal education — art or otherwise — beyond high school. Was that a hard decision? Is it one that you regret?

CO: I think going to college would have destroyed me a little bit. There is a lot of pressure during high school to go to college, but I didn't feel it. My parents are kind of hippies. They took several years off before going to school so they were very supportive of that. I do think art school is important for learning techniques and networking and it's worked wonders for a lot of people, but I think I just learn better by myself.

SFS: How did you get out into the art world?

CO: I started posting my work online on Deviant Art. That was really my start in sharing my work and getting used to people seeing it. On the Internet, you can get your business, your work, your message out to the entire world instantaneously. When someone wanted to buy something I realized I could make money doing what I love.

SFS: So your art is like your own small business. I know you are full-time artist. Do you treat it like a normal job?

CO: It doesn't feel like work because it's so fun, but I do art pretty much all the time. It's great having a home studio because I can work in my pajamas and drink tea all day. Sometimes I'll wake up with an image in my head and then I can just crank it out. But if I don't have something finished in a day or two, I feel like I haven't been productive.

SFS: It seems like you're really dedicated and producing a lot of work. How has your artwork progressed?

CO: I started out painting on wood and that's still my favorite thing to do. I guess my core themes haven't changed, but my techniques have. I do a lot more drawing now. I've also learned a lot, and matured a lot as an artist. Being in San Francisco has influenced that. I've met a lot of really talented people here; so many art lovers.

SFS: It seems like your hard work is paying off. You were recently picked up by Urban Outfitters. How did that happen?

CO: Urban [Outfitters] partnered up with Society6 prints. They selected my work and are now selling five of my prints. I've always wanted to have my stuff in that store so I was super stoked when I got the email from them. I guess it was one of those, “Yes! I've made it!” moments. It's basically mass exposure to my clientele — 18 to 30 year old females — so it's kind of perfect.

SFS: What is the ultimate goal?

CO: My goal has never really been to have tons of art shows. I have a contract with this company in Scandinavia, Bolia, that gets to use ten of my drawings however they want. They enlarge them on walls and use them for all of their advertising. Those are more of the projects I want to do. With galleries your work is in a room. I want my work not just in one room, but on textiles, and on walls, and everywhere. Some people would call that selling out, but I don't care.