Deanna Staffo

“Deanna Staffo is a Baltimore based illustrator. She received her BFA with honors from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work has been recognized by American Illustration, The Society of Illustrators West, The Altpick Awards (2nd place series illustration) and has been published in Communication Art’s “Fresh List” (Aug. 05), Taschen’s “Illustration Now” and “Illustrated Portraits”. In 2010, she illustrated and designed the cover for The Folio Society’s edition of 1872 novel What Katy Did, written by Susan Coolidge. Deanna has taught in the Illustration Department at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and is currently a full-time Illustration Professor at The Maryland Institute College of Art.”(taken from website bio)

This artist walks the line between caricature, illustration, and fine art. I immediately fell in love with her whimsical designs: they are a dance — a merry jig — of line and color. She has created many pieces that seem very surreal, but I want to discuss the works that truly lead me to admire her; the ones that made me look twice and stay awhile.

Image 1

Image 1


The most characteristic element of Staffo’s work is her use of line. She uses line to contour figures, and it gives a geometric feel to the shapes they create. However, the character of the lines themselves opposes the rigidity that often accompanies geometry. They seem to have been drawn swiftly, almost messily (see Image 1).The energy in the act of drawing is translated to its product, so the lines, though they create a sense of geometry, retain an organic character.

image 2

Image 2

In addition, I love how the lines are not always contained within the figures (see Image 2): they reach out and include the space around the figure. These lines are not stoic and exclusive but unbound and playful.


Image 3

Image 3

Staffo’s black and white sketches are fantastic, and color just adds a whole new dimension to these illustrations. She uses a variety of hues when painting skin, but they do not compete with each other and disrupt the scene. I think Staffo is in her painting element when coloring skin: the way she paints it appears as unbound and as geometric-but-not-geometric as her drawings (see Image 3). Indeed, the facial features in particular are a landscape of hues and contrasts: each is a visual journey.

I also like how some paintings aren’t completely covered with paint. When the artist leaves the white of page visible, the painting seems even more firmly self-aware and unified with the paper.


Stoffa balances the weight of colors, line, and space expertly. She obviously enjoys pattern, and I think she uses it wisely. Yes, the images can seem busy, but she maintains balance with broad areas of empty space. Her bold patterns heighten the whimsical, surreal nature of the image, because the patterns POP!, having as much weight and personality as the human in the picture.

image 4

Image 4

Webs of lines bring out the character of the subject’s lower body. It is so easy to put all one’s efforts into the face when creating a portrait. There are many many intriguing details there, and often the rest of the subject’s body is not approached with as much care. The result: the head does not seem to belong to the body that supports it. Staffo, however, uses line to infuse personality in the subject’s pose/clothing/lower body, and the work seems more unified for it (see Image 4).

image 5

Image 5

Most of her paintings do not feature much black pigment. The colors are light and cheery, though the truly bright colors are balanced with slightly grayed pigments (See Image 5). The effect? Although the entire picture is colorful, certain hues will appear particularly distinct, and your eyes don’t feel bombarded with an overload of information.


Staffo excels in portraiture. She infuses so much personality into a simple scene! The figures’ features are complex: every bump and bone, cheek and hair is exaggerated. Yet, subjects are often portrayed in a simple scene. This contrast of complexity amplifies the world of beauty and personality contained the figure. Through her expressive, unique style, the viewer can truly experience the complexity and excitement Staffo observes in a single human being.

If you want to see more, check out her website or flickr. There are some great sketchbook pages there!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s