Meet the Maker: Bianca D'Amico of Chaparral Studio

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Chaparral Studio is a one woman+one canine operation exploring "nature, sustainability, art, humor, politics, and everything in between" through a menagerie of handmade objects made from elements gathered from across Southern California's deserts, mountains, and shores. I spent an afternoon with Bianca D'Amico and her vivacious tailed friend, Hannah, to learn about her process of utilizing objects from nature as a creative medium... Who (are you)?: Hi. I’m Bianca D’Amico. Artist. Green thumb. Owner and designer of Chaparral Studio.

Where (do you work)?: Chaparral Studio is a creative studio. Under the umbrella of being a “creative studio” I make objects for sale influenced by nature, art, humor, sexuality, rock and roll and in general my history of growing up in Los Angeles by way of a creative family.

Specifically, I make terrariums that sometimes involve customized miniature scenes in HO scale. Miniatures may sometimes be found on geodes (as in our Lady / Man / Love Caves) or elsewhere depending on what I pick up along the way. The scenes are often custom made for clients who gift them to loved ones or are used as event décor. Our specialty with the miniatures is developing narratives that are significant and personal to the recipient, but may also pique their imagination.

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In addition I make planted goods, jewelry, and other objects that are again influenced or utilizing natural materials. I also make decorative items for weddings such as favors, centerpieces, backdrops, accessories etc.

When I am not making “things” I can be found styling (with and without plants – but mostly with plants!), art directing, set building, doing voice over work, or photographing performance art. 

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What (do you make)?: 
I work out of my studio in Los Angeles. It is in a building that was once a clinic, now turned into artist studios and exhibition space. The space is called Elephant. Myself and five other artists reside in the building, hosting art exhibitions, workshops, and events. We are not a classic white cube environment. It is a rugged setting fit for artists experimenting.

Aside from my studio, I have a tiny nursery out back that is a constant work in progress. My dream is to one day have the building covered in vines and potted plants. Slowly, but surely I will make it happen.

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What led you to start creating terrariums? 
After graduate school I began gardening A LOT (I quit seeing friends because I was too busy pulling weeds, and instead of buying cocktails, I was buying really nice mulch) and then I started incorporating plants into my art installations. It started with these sexy shiny plant pants that attached to the wall. My work has always been couched in humor and sexuality. 

So when I first started making terrariums (an experiment in sharing clippings with friends – my one ticket to being social again) I found the landscapes in the glass containers were boring. I started adding scenes and my boss at the time encouraged me to sell them in her shop. They sold. I was shocked, excited, and challenged. Viola! I started my business.

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It's evident your work is highly influenced by the lifestyle, landscape, and humor of Southern California. Is your work a reflection of your travels and own experiences, or are the terrariums created primarily from imagination?
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as instinct when it comes to creativity. Your imagination is filtered through your experiences and crashes into your personality to make up what you do and why you do it.

I grew up in a home run by two very liberal, outdoorsy, silly, ambitious and 
hardworking parents who supported my wacky sensibilities by making me go to art classes every weekend since I can remember. Some parents encourage their kids to play sports, mine made sure I was drawing.

That work ethic – balanced by all the adventures and fun we had as a family trying food from all over the world, or escaping into the desert searching for beautiful textures in eroded rock walls – has had the biggest influence on me. 

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How do you choose your materials and components?
It all depends on the concept for the terrarium. Is it a park? Moss looks like mini grass blades and air plants perched in branches look like trees! A desert? Let's take a peek into my shoebox of findings from my last trip to Joshua Tree!
I find things from all over the place. I really can’t be more specific than that. I forage, I buy, I make, I am gifted things…I am a collector.

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Which terrarium design is/was your favorite?
I don’t have one in particular. But I loved making the Zombie Escape one. I am usually not a blood and guts girl, but it was a proud moment when I made their skin look so, well dead. And the body parts were all crooked and I actually got the sense that one of these little zombies could crawl out of the vessel and walk on to my desk and bite me.

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Could you share some of your favorite areas in and around Los Angeles?
In recent years I've gotten into cycling. I think one of the best ways to experience LA is to hop on a bike from morning till night and go from west to east or east to west, eat lots of food from trucks to fine dining, and stop at a museum or two. But if you want a specific favorite spot it might be Barnsdall Art Park. Especially when the Holly Hocks are in bloom. I feel like a lot of my terrariums with the moss are inspired by that landscape.

Which other Los Angeles designers, artists or creatives do you admire or find inspiration from?
Because my background is in art with a focus on feminism I am forever inspired by female artists. I made it my mission in school to really seek out female artists, as they just don’t get enough play in our art institutions. Some highlights for me would be Eva Hesse, Pipilotti Rist, The Guerilla Girls, Carolee Schneemann, Louise Bourgeois, and Hannah Wilke (my dog is actually named after Ms. Wilke).

For creative business inspiration I look to my parents, my grandfather, and first boss (Paulanna) who are also in the business of being creative (photographer, designer, artist / ceramicist & shop owner). They have taught me that the real lesson in creative longevity is to never stop educating yourself.

I also keep a colorful cast of characters around me. My boyfriend is an artist, my sister should be a photographer, and my friends are all makers / artists / designers/ landscaper architects / architects / curators / musicians. I would love some scientists for friends though. Applications available.

And in general I make a point to pay attention to all my surroundings whether they are related to my practice or not. My dog may point her nose in the direction of a cool texture on the ground and I’m suddenly motivated to make a bracelet. 

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Where can we find your work?
On my website and online shop (http://chaparralstudio.bigcartel.com/). At the occasional pop up shop that we participate in. Or at any of these lovely shops:

Thanks Bianca (and Hannah)!

(Images: Gregory Han, Chaparral Studio)