Words, photos and podcast production by Jenni Mazaraki
Sitting with his head poking over the edge of the chair, Freddie the toy poodle looks like the boss in the studio of illustrator and designer, Carla Scotto. As cute as he is sitting in Carla’s chair, this is Carla’s space where she creates her distinctive work, changing the world one illustration at a time.
Carla’s studio in Melbourne’s south east is the ‘good room’ in her parent’s house. I visit Carla in the weeks following the US election and I can’t help but comment on the room’s resemblance to the oval office with its grand jacquard curtains sweeping the polished floorboards and formal dining table as her desk. Wearing a t-shirt with an image of Putin riding a bear that she found in an op shop, Carla manages to humorously express her disdain for right wing politics without even saying a word.
On one side of the room, ornate glassware sits on the carved wooden sideboard amongst family photos and ornaments. The other side of the room is home to Carla’s art materials and art and design books. On the day that I visit, Carla has brought in plants to her studio, adding a bit of nature to the elegant space.
Carla’s illustrations communicate a message with humour. As a firm advocate for reducing plastic use, her work blends pop culture references with political commentary and concerns about the environment. Illustrations show sea creatures in conversation with plastic bags, orcas struggling to have a conversation over the deafening noise of ship propellers and lumps of coal in breakfast bowls, ready for consumption.
Listen to Carla Scotto in the podcast interview:
Carla’s illustration style is clean and crisp. First sketching out her drawings with pencil and her favourite Japanese felt tipped pen, she scans her sketches, then colours and finishes them digitally in Photoshop. Her sketches are created quickly taking no longer than 30 to 60 minutes from start to finish. “It’s like, fast, easy art,” said Carla.
Carla finds structure helps motivate her in the running of her design business, “I work very well with deadlines. Creativity needs rules,” said Carla. She acknowledges her intuitive creative process, “It has to feel right, I can’t be pushing it too much, I can’t be looking for an idea too hard, it just sort of, has to happen,” said Carla.
The tragic dichotomy between our daily lives and the reality for the word’s ocean creatures is captured in Carla’s work.
“We have royally fucked the environment but we can turn it around even though the problem feels like it’s way out of our control.” A recent design project has seen Carla designing a poster to support Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a youth driven organisation based in Bali who have organised Bali’s biggest beach clean up.
Carla is clear about her methods to engage an audience, “The way to tackle that is not through fear – that doesn’t work. As soon as you tell somebody that it’s too big, that’s when apathy comes in…that’s why I use humour.”
As the designer for the Girls Will Be Girls blog, Carla supports feminism but feels her contributions are best placed elsewhere. “Feminism needs more women of colour representing it and talking about it and pushing for it so there’s only so much I can add to the conversation. So I found myself actually feeling quite limited talking about feminism with my comics.” Carla believes change is needed to acknowledge different feminist perspectives, “Female artists like myself, who are white, we have to do a lot more listening than creating when it comes to feminism.” Choosing to focus instead on environmental issues, Carla said, “I felt like there weren’t enough people doing the sort of illustrations that I’m doing.”
Creating art is an essential part of who Carla is. “I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, I had a two year break of doing barely anything and it was probably the reason for heightened anxiety and not feeling great about everything.” Her family are supportive of her work, encouraging her to pursue art and design, “My mum has always said that if I didn’t do something creative I’d go crazy.”
With a European background, Carla’s family have always been sensitive to the environment with their lifestyle. Growing their own food, making their own honey and producing their own compost is a way of life for the Greek/Italian family creating a sense of independence and self-reliance. “In the zombie apocalypse, the Greeks will live,” said Carla with a laugh. “If you could get everyone on board to grow something of their own it’s probably better than most therapy going around.”
Believing in the ability of backyard sustainable practices to create cultural shifts, Carla said, “The most rebellious thing you can do is grow your own food.”
There’s also optimism on the plastics front, showing that change is possible even in small ways.
“There’s biodegradable glitter now,” said Carla. Which is good news for fans of sparkly things and ocean dwellers alike.