Last fall, Netflix subscribers who received a DVD in the mail got a visual treat when they tore into the mailing envelope: an illustration of a tiny monster sitting on the opened door of a mailbox, eating popcorn, and watching a movie being shown within said mailbox. Santa Barbara artist Cris Hamilton created the whimsical scenario for Netflix’s Design Our Fall Mailers contest; she was selected as the West Coast winner from a pool of thousands, and her beastie appeared inside the jackets from September through October 2016.
While Hamilton’s Netflix tiny monster may be the most famous of her creatures, she has many more in her portfolio. In fact, she has an entire children’s book, called Let’s, starring the wee monsters. Books are Hamilton’s specialty, and each one features charming characters — generally monsters or women — who make introspective and extremely refreshing observations, with a minimalistic or fantastical background. Though Hamilton’s artwork depicts an imaginary world governed by its own laws and logic, it is grounded in her real-world impressions of culture, scientific advances, and politics and aims to uplift and inform readers of all ages. I recently sat down with the artist, animator, and illustrator in her Santa Barbara home to discuss the inspirations behind her subject matter.
What made you gravitate toward monsters as subject matter? Well, it wasn’t necessarily a big, crazy love of monsters. My first one was just a curious creature, and people reacted really well to it, and they called it a monster … And of course now they look a little bit more like monsters. [Laughs.]
But they’re really just creatures. Yes. I draw a lot of women, too [that are fanciful in their representation] … Some [readers] want their people to look like realistic people. And that’s great! And there are plenty of artists who do that, but why would I be one of them? Not to mention there’s a camera on your phone. You can get pictures of people as much as you want to. [My drawings are] my way of saying I think it’s wonderful to create something [imaginative where] people can still see the story in it.
Do you like writing dialogue? It’s the best! … One line can change everything; because of the person replying, it is like a conversation. So it still has to come from the character, but they can say multiple things at any given time, and that’s a writer’s job to select the one [thought] that is most poetic. [Laughs.]
Which artists or writers have inspired you? Lots of them, but my favorite one is Joseph Cornell. He has a piece in the Guggenheim in Venice, [Italy,] in Peggy Guggenheim’s villa … In every room there are pieces of art that were chosen for that [specific room]. In her bedroom is a Joseph Cornell, and it is a shadow box, and it is very simple. It was called “Setting for a Fairy Tale.” … I’m sure that everyone feels this way about a piece of art, where everything is just [gasps in awe]. It is a magical thing when you feel that inside.
What emotions come through in your drawings? I don’t paint [the monsters] until I’m feeling their delight. It’s a little different with the women. I paint them when they’ve figured something out and they’re solid with it. Tiny Monsters, though, inhabit a different world with their own logic. And that logic is they really do love everything, and they’re generous, and they share, but they’re not stupid. They have figured this out, and it makes them all happy. I have [customers] who have to tell me the story of why [the piece] means so much to them. And when they tell me [why], it is almost above and beyond what I intended. It is really extraordinary to have people’s emotions connect like that. It’s very cool.
See all of Cris Hamilton’s work at scaryfairyfactory.com.