Artist Spotlight: Bombshell with Olivia De Berardinis

**Featured Image for this article.** BATMAN RETURNS and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s16). “Chat Noir,” featuring model Michelle Pfeiffer, 2018. Artwork  ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

GDG is starting off 2019 strong with an Artist Spotlight feature on the legendary pinup painter and one of the most successful and accomplished women artists of our time, Olivia De Berardinis! 

Members recently had the unique opportunity to ask questions about Olivia’s experiences as a woman artist making pinup and erotic fantasy art for 40 years. Getting her start back when creating pinup art was an industry that was typically lead and dominated by men when she started out in the mid 70’s. Olivia is living proof that you can break down barriers, and be a successful artist and business woman at any age!

Olivia De Berardinis was born in Long Beach, CA and spent most of her childhood on the East Coast. As stated in her book Malibu Cheesecake, as an only child, her parents set pencils and stacks of paper in front of her to keep her busy.

Magic Happens When An Artist Sees Their First Muse. For Olivia It Was Her Mother Connie, a WWII Veteran

Olivia’s Mother Connie, who was a WWII Women’s Army Corps member and is her very first Muse.
 

Her drawings were of a Barbie-like character that was inspired by her first muse, her mother Connie.

She would often entertain her daughter with her bad impersonations of Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor – all who were major sex symbols of their time. Olivia would observe her and the way people reacted to her, and this amused Olivia. 

Connie posing in one of the dresses that she made and won an award for while attending the Traphagen School of Design in the early 50s.

Connie was a beautiful tomboy with a voluptuous body. She was a pre-war Rosie-the-Riveter, an Army Veteran of World War II, and a working woman. Connie had strong ambitions and she attended the Traphagen School of Design part-time in the early 50s when Olivia was a baby. (The school was founded in 1923 by Ethel Traphagen, who was more commonly known as the Woman Who Pioneered Pants in the 1920s and 30s.) 

After WWII ended, at that time women were often encouraged to give up their jobs and go back to housekeeping. Connie instead sought all kinds of employment and she had hopes of designing and creating one day, only to be dashed by reality. She had a strong desire to work, and a creative job in the fashion industry was unfortunately just not available for her. Nevertheless, Connie prevailed and Olivia still witnessed her Mother fight and win battles while wearing seamed stockings and high heels.

Olivia's Time in N.Y. Art School

From 1967 to 1970, Olivia attended the New York School of Visual Arts. In the early 70’s she moved to Soho and was creating minimalist canvases. There was very little art by women hanging on the walls of the Soho Art Galleries. So Olivia returned to the skills she had gained as a child, painting women. She left the waitress-nightlife culture and started illustrating regularly for sex magazines, working for periodicals and paperback publishers, advertisements, and movie posters. 

Olivia’s Student I.D. from the School of Visual Arts in N.Y.

“Necessity shaped my career.”

I thought illustrating for sex magazines might be a fun temporary job until my ‘real’ career started. In the back of my mind I believed I would go back to the fine arts. It wasn’t clear to me then, but this work became my art.”

In 1977, she and partner Joel Beren started the O Card Company to publish Olivia’s work as greeting cards. In 1979, she married Joel in New York City. They created another company, Ozone Productions, Ltd., to sell and license Olivia’s artwork. In 1987, they moved from Manhattan, New York to Malibu, California, where they currently reside.

Since then Olivia’s work has been featured in Playboy magazine, Heavy Metal, Sideshow Collectibles and much, much more! Her artwork is collected by fans all over the world and has also been showcased in art galleries across the United States and in Japan. 

**The Featured Image for this article.** Olivia’s WIP of her  painting for Sideshow Collectibles. BATMAN RETURNS and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s16). “Chat Noir” featuring model Michelle Pfeiffer, 2018. Artwork  ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

Olivia had over 15 one-woman shows at the Tamara Bane Gallery in LA. from 1987 to 2003.

A regular contributor to Playboy magazine, from 1985 – 2016. She was on the cover of Heavy Metal magazine, 14 times, from 1985 to 1997. There will be a cover in 2019!

Currently she is working on popular culture icons such as Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Princess Leia, and distributing through Sideshow Collectibles.

Olivia's work on Zoom magazine Covers ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

Olivia currently resides in Malibu, CA with her husband Joel. Art available at select galleries, Heritage Auctions, and San Diego Comic Con International. 

You can follow Olivia on:

Who or what inspired you to want to pursue creating pinups? 

Olivia: “I attended School of Visual Arts in New York City from 67 to the early 70s. After SVA I was making minimalist works of art while living in Soho and waiting tables in the Village. There was very little art by women hanging on the walls of the Soho Art Galleries. I did receive some notice, participated in a show at the Larry Aldrich Museum with some giants of the contemporary art world, but it never progressed from there.”

“MotherShip,” 1997 ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights reserved by artist.

“After a few years, frustrated by the gallery and art scene, I quit my waitress job, and began to support myself by illustrating for sex magazines. I thought it might be a fun temporary job until my “real” career started.” 

 I created a portfolio of black and white Aubrey Beardsley inspired women. They emerged from this female character I’d drawn all my life, but now she was sexually amplified by the liberated 60’s, and inspired by choreographer- Bob Fosse, master of jazz burlesque choreography. 

Television commercials for his Broadway hit, “Pippin” ran constantly, a hypnotic loop of 2 women and song-and-dance man Ben Vereen, sporting Panama hats and canes.”

From the film, “Cabaret.” Directed by  Bob Fosse. erformances by Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey, ABC Pictures and Allied Artists, 1972. All rights reserved.

“The movie Cabaret was in the theaters, a masterpiece of dance and direction by Fosse. This was the most charged choreography I had ever seen. I was fascinated by the bizarre, exaggerated moves, the bawdy comedy of it.”

“Piano Lady,” late 1970s ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights reserved by the artist.

“My characters were mentally animated by his dancers, as I drew women in black and white, like the notes on sheet music.” 

“I went to a news stand and wrote down the addresses of adult magazines. Many of these publications were in New York. I made appointments to see the art directors. There was something compelling about entering into this netherworld.” 

First Portfolio Sketches, 1974. ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights reserved by the artist.

There was a shortage of talented illustrators in these magazines and I thought I might get a job and learn erotic illustration. I worked obsessively for several years in my Greenwich Village apartment. I was learning subject and style on the job, and was given considerable freedom by my art directors.”

BATMAN RETURNS and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s16). “Wildcat” featuring model Michelle Pfeiffer, 2018. Artwork ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

 

“My creativity blossomed. The work was fun and I was making a living.”

“I was excited by being in a man’s world. I just wasn’t supposed to be there. I liked drawing aggressive, dominant women- everything that I thought I wasn’t. In the back of my mind I believed I would go back to the fine arts.”

What’s it like being a woman in the pinup industry? Were there any challenges that you had to face to make it to the top that men did not?

Olivia: “The art and illustration world was mostly male, you constantly had to prove yourself. That was 45 years ago, some things have changed. Now I see so many talented women in all the arts, and here I’m writing to a large group of women such as the GDG.”

“Do I think it’s equal yet? No, that will still take time and the efforts of women struggling to find their place.”  

WONDER WOMAN and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s16). "Amazon Warrior," featuring Model Gal Gadot, 2018. Artwork ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

“As for any sex harassment? None, and I was out there by myself showing my portfolio. When I started I did everything back then, I went to their offices with a small portfolio, they would offer me an illustration job, I would lie about what I could do because I was new at it, went home, figured it out and delivered.  Years later, when Joel joined me in my business, I’m sure his presence discouraged any aberrant harassment.”

“I know a lot of women are looking for answers on how to start, but it was so different then than now- so I can’t really help you there. You just have to get out of your studio and meet people, get an idea of where you may fit, and if you are offered a job where you are painting or drawing, take it and learn from the experience.”

Who are some of your favorite Artists? Do you have a favorite pose or theme to draw/paint? 

Olivia: “I find almost all art inspiring, so I’m going to narrow it down to only the art that directly connects to my genre. I’ve had a long life and career, there are too many influences to isolate, to say which ones affected me the most. Since I started working in many adult magazines during the ‘70s, I focused on some of my favorite erotic artists: Lautrec, Klimt, Heinrich Kley, Beardsley,

Von Bayros, Hokusai, Utamaro, Vargas, Elvgren, Petty, Boles. I was learning on the job. I tried to change some of their male erotica to a more feminine viewpoint- men rent, I own. It made sense that I would look to Vargas as pinup inspiration, since he was in the Playboy magazines which came to my parents door since the late 50s. I do remember seeing Gustav Klimt paintings early in my life and being moved by their erotic power.

“Don’t Tread On Me,” featuring model Bettie Page. ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

What gets you through a drawing funk? We all have them sometimes!

Olivia: “I’ve had many artists blocks. Some of them can last a very long time, I worked through them. I still have them. I go on automatic until the spark comes back. I will paint through it, thinking the work won’t be exceptional in any way. Sometimes I have gone back to it and see that they did  have a spark after all- and I just didn’t recognize it because of some inner conflicts I was having. The biggest mistake, at least for me, is to stop working.”


What are some of the biggest hurdles you had to deal with promoting yourself and figuring out a plan for your business?

Olivia: “You can make all the plans you want, but life gets messy, and changes them all. You can’t predict, you just have to ride through it and reroute yourself.  Being an artist is a mental game.  Life changes you and you have to constantly adjust. Don’t assume you know exactly where you’re going to wind up as an artist- compromising can be a gift.” 

Various covers for Heavy Metal with art by ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

Your style and technique of using an airbrush for some of your paintings is very unique and distinctive, and it was often considered to be ground breaking. Along with that of pinup art made by Hajime Sorayama, who also used an airbrush technique with his paintings.

What thought process goes on in your head when you are planning out and while working on your next painting? What goes into your creative process when creating a new piece from conception to completion? 

Olivia: “My techniques are similar to the old pinup masters, Vargas and Petty. Both used the same airbrush, the old PaascheAB. One of the things I learned from them is to use mostly handwork, and polish with the airbrush.” 

“My watercolors or acrylic paintings usually start with arranging a shoot with the model and then reworking her image on tracing paper, refining, adding lingerie, stockings, etc. There is a language to pinup, the lines are simplified, almost “tooned.” Exaggerate too little or too much and the illusion can fall apart.

An example of Olivia’s airbrush work for “Scorpion,” featuring model Masuimi Max, 2018 ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights reserved by the artist.

“It took me decades to learn not to “overcook” a watercolor, to learn how to be delicate was the hardest task. I was given the Vargas Page in Playboy by Hef, in ’99. The pressure was big since I had to produce a painting every month, had big shoes to fill, and I was working with the man who created an empire based on the pinup. I did the paintings- afterwards Hugh Hefner wrote the captions.” 

What was your experience like working with Playboy and Heavy Metal?

These publications typically have a predominantly male audience and Members love that they had a female artist working with them.

Olivia: “I had a great time working for both of them, and was good friends with the publishers, Hugh Hefner and Kevin Eastman.  What a lot of people don’t understand is that most of the work that was used on the 14 covers for Heavy Metal Magazine that I did, were picked from my gallery shows. Also true for Hef, he used the art that I was showing, for over 35 party invitations.”

olivia with Hugh Hefner and Bettie Page
Olivia with Hugh Hefner and Bettie Page, holding up her artwork, “Nurse Bettie.” ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

“It wasn’t until I began painting for the “Vargas page” that I started doing consistent illustrations for Playboy, and that was mostly in the 2000s. I think a large portion of the viewership of both of these magazines were women, but they were ignored.  There were very few female illustrators who did Heavy Metal covers. Two years ago I went to the Wiki page of Heavy Metal and found no mention of any female artists. I had to make it known before my name appeared.”

“Hef was always very good to us, he gave me credits and Joel make sure we kept our copyrights. Hef did intros to many of our books, came to a few of my shows. We also got to go to all the Playboy parties.”  

"Cunning Stunt,"featuring model model Bettie Page, 2017.©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

What do you find to be sexy or that you believe has great sex appeal? 

Olivia: “Confidence and a great sense of humor.”

Do you find pinups empowering to women?

Olivia: “The art of pinup’s over-the-top sexuality always made me laugh- I find the game of sex funny.  When I started illustrating for the adult magazines I wanted to create a more “present” woman, who was in control and had an active part in the sexual act.” 

“Kaida,” featuring model Masuimi Max, 2018.©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

I was always disappointed by the crudeness of how women were depicted in American erotica. There was no power, personality or nuance. 

 

 

 

 

“I can’t speak for other women. Working is empowering to me. “

In your book Malibu Cheesecake, you mention that you were working as a waitress in Greenwich Village and were getting swallowed in to that type night life. You stated that you thought at the time that illustrating for sex magazines might be a fun temporary job until your “real” career in fine art started.   

If you had not made a career out of painting pinups and erotic art. What kind of fine art paintings would have been produced if you had chosen instead to pursue what you had thought was going to be that real “career” in fine art? 

Olivia: “But I did have a few decades of one woman shows in the Tamara Bane gallery, and many others galleries. I didn’t go back to do the fine art style that I was doing in the early 70s. The work was built upon the erotica I was doing for the adult magazines. I had no plan, I just kept working hoping that the path would lead me somewhere.  I was progressing but financial pressures again pushed me into commercial work. The biggest lesson over my long career is that you have to make art out of whatever job you have. It’s all a learning experience- that’s still ongoing.”  

“Boo & GiaFFant,” 2015 ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

“I have dreams like everyone else to be able to make relevant art. I keep working with the hopes that some great revelation will happen. But as many seasoned artists have found, you have to work, constantly work, for inspiration to find you. And ultimately, the process of working becomes an end in itself.”

You have been involved in creating pinup and commercial art for some time now, GDG members and the Team want to wish you a joyous 70th birthday! 

Have you noticed any changes going on in the entertainment and creative industries? Do you think that these changes will help women who are currently in or are aspiring to be creative professionals?

Olivia: “Thank you! The answer is yes I see changes happening, but they are ever so slow.”

“If you knew what it was like 40-50 years ago for women, you would say there are great changes. But if you look at the news in the last year you’d realize we’re still beginning. If you look at the news for most women around the world, you’d realize it’s still the dark ages.”

Sugarbush-Dita von Teese
“Sugarbush,” featuring model Dita Von Teese, 2007. ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

In this era of feminist history with the recent #metoo movement, what do you want to tell people who think that your images of women in bondage/submission send the wrong message?

Olivia: “This question is asking me to defend myself, and I know you didn’t mean for it to sound this way.

To clarify: #MeToo is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, and BDSM is about a wide range of roleplaying sex with informed consent. 

Olivia:  For those who do pinup or anything erotic, stop apologizing for what you like to do. Spend less of your valuable time explaining yourself- it’s toxic. I know this from experience. I assume you’re all feminists- don’t listen to the women who don’t think you’re feminist enough. You will never make them happy. They will make you stop doing what you like to do.

Olivia working on a watercolor of a “Bettie in Bondage,” image featuring model Bettie Page, 2018. This was originally a birthday gift for Dita Von Teese. ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights reserved by the artist.

Make yourself happy, do the work you want to. Art is supposed to express yourself. I spent too many years worrying about how my work was perceived.  Here’s the bottom line- I’m a feminist and I don’t care if I don’t fit some people’s feminist guidelines. 

BATMAN RETURNS and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s16). “Tongue Lashing,” artwork ©Olivia De Berardinis. All rights Reserved

Do you have any recommendations for aspiring women artists that may be struggling to find their own artistic voice or style? Or who may want to put together a portfolio or pursue a career in commercial art or visual development?

Olivia: “I started my career at 25. I always painted, but I had no discipline. Before my career started I used to work every six months when I had “inspiration”. This got me nowhere. So I started by sitting in front an empty piece of paper, with a pencil, and I made sure I sat there for an hour every day and did nothing else but that. That’s how I started disciplining myself, that’s how I started the flow of ideas. Unless you’re a rock, it happens.  

“You have to work. You also have to get out of your cave. “No Fear” should be your mantra.” 

 
“Moon Shots,” ©Olivia De Berardinis All rights Reserved

Olivia: “I wish you all the BEST!”

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