Karina Dale is a Portland, Oregon-based pin-up artist who works exclusively in the digital medium. Her pin-ups reflect “real” women portrayed as feminine ideals of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s . Her credo is simple: “I know more beautiful people in real life than I have ever seen on the silver screen. So I draw them! My girlfriend, my best friend, my drinking buddies, and my cohorts in crime.”
Your pin-ups, besides being very pretty and very authentically retro, touch on some themes that are near and dear to the Bettie Page Blog: body image, DIY spirit and bringing the retro into the digital age.
You've drawn the distinction between your feelings between PLAYBOY models and the pin-up models you draw. What is it about your pin-ups that inspires you in ways that a PLAYBOY model does not?
Well first off Thank you very much!!
Secondly, don't get me wrong. I LOVE Playboy. I still subscribe to it. I actually used to read it when I was far too young to be reading it *laughs* and I acquired a lot of my political views from Playboy. It's an intensely liberal magazine because it can be. That’s great!
The models are a pre-fabricated fantasy, something wholly unattainable. That's the point, they don't apologize for it. Like the ancient Greeks used to weave stories about the beauty of goddesses and nymphs, over-exaggerating the reality of their beauty to a point that if you saw her you might die of a heart attack or something. That’s an interesting concept but it’s a little too mystical and ethereal for my tastes.
I like real women who I see face-to-face. They turn me on and motivate me in ways that an idea or a photograph could never do. You can't talk to an idea. My friends are so incredibly beautiful! Yeah they are real women! They wear badly fitted bras and their hair is flat some days, and they still have partners who are falling all over them in love. Most women do really, it’s just that some of us don't notice it.
What I always try my hardest to do is take the image of my friend or model and keep it genuine. I imagine what she would look like in the best undergarments the 50's had to offer, because that’s what makes a pinup look really retro. That distinctive look of a burlesque corset or the "I've got a BestForm girdle on right now!" curve to her hip. I give her nice hair, makeup and a rockin’ outfit. I don't make my models thinner or different than they actually are usually because they look AMAZING when I just let them be who they are!
Women CAN and ARE this sexy and amazing looking all the time, all around you. My last pin-up called Carly Pin-Up, the model doesn't leave the house without makeup and a nice outfit, she looks like that everyday. My girlfriend Shayna, who is often my model, looks JUST like her pin-ups all the time. I guess that’s really my point. I just make the image of the woman what she actually looks like to everyone around her, especially people who love her.
Real women are amazing, and even though there was a feminine ideal back in the 40's and 50's, it was a remarkably attainable ideal for most women. You take your curves, stuff them into some BestForm undergarments and rock the sweater set. It didn't matter how thick you were as long as you left the house with some semblance of support garments and a smooth shape. Men didn't buy into the ideal that women needed to be stick thin and full of muscles. They wanted tits, a pair of bright red lips, and a good martini to come home to someday. I can respect that much more than the heroin chic image and the Athlete-gone-suburban-soccer mom ideal I have seen paraded in front of me my whole life by the movies and the god box.
Is there a lifestyle or an attitude that you are trying to communicate through your art?
Yes absolutely. Be proud of yourself and who you are! Don't be afraid to dress up everyday and celebrate how sexy you are, just like you are, right now! Don't wait for a special occasion, throw away your sweat pants. Put on your favorite shirt that makes you look like a million bucks everyday. Live for today and don't let some skewed messed up body image get you down. It’s not a joke or some silly positive guru crap. It’s reality....YOU ARE HOT, OWN IT.
You seem very proud of your status as a "blue collar pin-up artist" and are open about your techniques. This reminds me of the punk "DIY" spirit, in which part of the motivation for being an artist is inspiring other artists.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I'm not going to pretend to be all sophisticated in ways I am not. I would never be able to pull it off. *laughs* People like you would catch me! But seriously, I come from humble roots. My father is a Harley-riding truck driver and my mother is an ATV fanatic. She even has her own ATV flag company aditudegear. com, if you go there you will see that our websites look strikingly similar. That’s cause she made my website for me, it was so cool.
We are all DIY'ers. We grew up poor - that meant you never paid someone to do something that you could learn to do on your own. That’s just pure wastefulness. If you didn't know how, you get your ass to the library and find out!
That's why I am so open with my techniques and tools. I use literally less than a hundred bucks worth of tools and I make art like I do on my computer. Anyone can do this, it is accessible, and it’s easy to get. Art should never be something that is mysterious or hard to attain. It should be available for everyone. We should all take part in it and try our hardest to inspire others to do it also. It’s really good for your soul to make something you're proud of!
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or a movement?
This is a harder question. I would never imagine putting myself up there with the likes of the people who are IN the pin-up tradition. That's kind of laughable to me. Saying I am part of a movement kind of makes me obligated to actually have momentum. *laughs* Okay, I would say that I see myself as someone who will be something someday. I'm not sure what that will be, but I am hoping it will be good enough for people to talk about.
What do you find inspiring about retro images or lifestyle?
I think I may have touched on this a bit earlier but I didn't explain it, so thank you for giving me the chance. I really like the idea that we can make ourselves up. I like the adornment, the perfectly coiffed hair, the make-up, the clothes. I think when we pay that much attention to the way we look we have so much more confidence and motivation.
I think that in this world and in this time, since women are no longer obligated to wear these clothes and to do these things to be socially acceptable, it is now so empowering to be beautiful in that way. I think it was true that the feminist movement had a point, you can't EXPECT us to do this for you, but we can and will do it for ourselves. We can do it for good reasons that benefit us and give us a tangible sense of beauty.
Is your interest in retro images confined to your art or do you express it in your life?
Man, I would love to say that I have ballgowns and pencils skirts galore. *laughs* I do have old cars and a leather jacket, but I am 6' tall and I am NOT skinny. I have a problem finding regular jeans that fit me let alone clamdiggers or cuban heel stockings in my size. If someone knows a clothing company that does make spectacular clothes in my size...please clue me in!
Thanks to my father, I grew up working on old cars and going to the car shows where everybody dressed and sometimes lived retro even when it wasn't cool at all. I own a 1963 Nova Wagon that is still a project car and my mother will someday soon be giving me her 1967 Camaro. SUCH a hot car. I lusted after it my whole youth, and I still do, so it’s been a long time coming.
The retro lifestyle is something I kind of grew up with, sometimes because our stuff was THAT old and sometimes because it worked better than new stuff, or because it was more attractive and incredibly awesome. Retro things weren't "retro" to me most of the time, they were just cool older things. They kind of still are.
Where do you see pin-up going in the future?
I think pin-up is going to make a huge resurgence. Traditional style pin-up will probably become part of mainstream society again, but it will be a bit bent. I draw gay male pin-ups, retro pin-ups, modern pin-ups. We all need a pin-up.
A pin-up is an image you can take out of a magazine, or a paper, and put up on your wall because that kind of person is the kind of person you want looking down on you when your laying in bed, if you know what I mean. I think all kinds of people are beautiful, so I draw all kinds of pin-ups. People have always pinned things up on their walls but I think more artists will start drawing these images because people love them.
As a culture we celebrate all kinds of people much more readily than we ever did before, so I think it will naturally evolve just like everything else does.
You work in a digital medium that Gil Elvgren would not comprehend, yet you are painting in that tradition. From what I understand, you have severe allergies to paint and chemicals. Beyond these considerations, what are the "pluses and minuses" of working digitally? How has it affected your technique?
Gil Elvgren would probably call me cheater cause I can erase. I have the CTRL Z powers and he just had to swear a bunch and start over, or try to fix it as best he could. THAT is my plus. That is the big way it has affected my technique. I am not nearly as uptight about my art. *laughs*
My minus, the one that just about kills me, is that I can't touch my own work. I can't hold a brush and make art like I used to. I hate sounding even remotely pitiful really, but I am so severely allergic to the chemicals that I get tonsillitis if I breathe in the fumes from the oil paint solvents. It wasn't always like this but my grandmother developed these same allergies later in her life. They say that people like her and I are the world's canaries. That when we get sick you know the world is too toxic. But eh, this is my world.
I found a way to keep on making art and I do the best with it what I can. Just the same as any other curve ball life throws at you. I love my laptop and my little wacom tablet. I can take them anywhere and make art anytime. I can't do that with a canvas and a big lug of oil paints and chemicals.
I see that you take commissions for stickers and tattoo designs. Do you work from live models, from photo reference or do you draw from imagination?
I almost always have some sort of photo reference, but sometimes not. I have a very firm grasp of the human anatomy so I can draw you just like you look if I know you well enough with no reference at all. That is where my traditional training comes out. I never went to school for any of this but I trained myself to do things without any help from any tool except your media and your medium and your own imagination.
I never use live models, only pictures. I can't stand to make people sit still like that. It seems kind of cruel. *laughs* I like using pictures because it saves me a lot of time. Plus all my friends get hot pictures and hot art so that’s fun!
We have a good time doing photo shoots on occasion. We get out the computer and the girls get dolled up and emulate the pin up poses of the professionals, especially Bettie- everyone loves looking like Bettie, and we go to town taking pictures. It’s a great time!
How did you discover Bettie Page?
Bettie Page was one of the first truly iconic figures in my life. I was a poor lonely goth kid stuck in rural Southern Oregon. This was before internet was common in households, and I was so closed off from the world I was sure all the other goth kids lived in England. *Laughs* I would travel up to one of the bigger cities and go to this gift shop ran by a man who was twisted and hilarious. He stocked poster after poster of Bettie Page and I began slowly collecting them all. I was so poor and I almost never got up there, but I would stash money away in my German text book that I in fact NEVER opened otherwise, and when the opportunity arose, I would go with whatever friends were traveling. It soon became common knowledge that I LOVED BETTIE. Some of my closer friends would pick me up stickers and postcards if they saw them, or treat me to posters - once even a clock on my birthday!
We all know the girls now wear the Bettie bangs but back then, in that small town, no one did. I dyed my blonde hair black and pulled my thick hair down over my forehead and had the shiniest, most rockin' Bettie Do I could muster. I loved it! When I got my first job at 16 one of the first things I bought was a black Crownette open-bottom girdle from a catalog. I had never owned something so sexy or luxurious. I wore that damn thing everyday for two years straight. I wore dresses to work at my job as a cashier and my bosses thought I was so traditional and well kept, if only they knew I just wanted to wear stockings everyday!
Bettie Page was an icon of epic proportions in my youth. I looked at this woman who I thought was gone and only remembered in select subcultures, and I saw something undeniably sexy and so enticing I wanted to emulate it, own it, and flaunt it. She has been in my art over and over again. I probably used her as much as Olivia ever did to learn how to draw women, and how to perfect all the right curves. Every day I wished I was as talented and accomplished as Olivia, and I still hope to be someday. If I ever am you can be sure I will be paying tribute to Bettie just as much as she does. Bettie Page IS the world’s best and most famous Pin-Up.
Finally, any thoughts on Bettie Page as a retro icon?
Oh man do I have thoughts, and most of them are NOT introspective or intelligent. She is sexy!
I think Bettie Page is one of the most accessible and attainable icons because she is a real woman. She was just out there making a living, and she did for a while by looking great for photographers. She was never a movie star, she never had oodles of money for cosmetics, or beauty products, or treatments, surgery, or doctors to augment her natural beauty. She showed up with what she had, she made herself some sexy outfits, and she got it done!
Bettie Page is the godmother of my art. She showed me that women are sexy just like they are, with no airbrushing and no bolt-on plastic parts. I think that even if you don't realize it right away, it's that very genuine nature to her work and image that attracts everyone. It's what inspires droves of women to want to look like her and be like how they interpret her.
Karina sells her pin-ups as decals through her web-based store. She also takes commissions for custom pin-ups.
Reach her at www.karinadale.com.