Alisa Damaso - Graphic Designer and Illustrator
Hailing from the San Fernando Valley and currently living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alisa Damaso is a graphic designer and illustrator with a passion for community, activism, and art for social change. She began her career writing and editing, then transitioned to graphic design (now working at boutique branding agency Creative:MINT) and took off from there. She creates zines, is a singer in the band Vincent Gargiulo National Park, and started the brand VLY GRL. VLY GRL is about representation, Alisa’s identity and what it really is like growing up in The Valley. There will be a VLY GRL pop up at the Valley Girl Redefined art show in Brand Library in Glendale, CA next year and Alisa continues to create in all aspects of her life.
Website/social media links:
When did you begin working in art and creating?
I started designing professionally in 2015. I was pretty disillusioned working in communications, as my background is actually in writing and I wasn't doing much of it anymore. However, I *was* taking on a lot of in-house photography, filming, and graphic design at my job (all of which I already had some past experience in), and that's how I started working extensively with Adobe products. Once I got the hang of Adobe Illustrator, I was hooked. I couldn't move up or grow in my position, but I did see a future in design, so I saved money and quit my job to take the Graphic and Web Design Certificate program at the Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco on a full scholarship. Around the same time I had a short graphics internship at California Nurses Association/National Nurses United and freelanced. I got my certificate in 2016, and the following year, I started working at the branding agency I'm at now. It blows my mind that I get to design for high-profile clients and work on huge media campaigns, when just last year I was working for minimum-wage in retail to make ends meet.
In terms of when I started creating in general, it's always been a part of my life. I can't think of a time when I wasn't drawing, painting, building, writing or making. In school, I'd be the kid going the extra mile for art projects, conceptually and stylistically. My kuya Erick is an artist too; he was basically my art world gateway growing up, and he still continues to be! He made art-making accessible to me, gifting me books and supplies and showing me some basics. I owe a lot to him.
How did the idea of VLY GRL come about?
VLY GRL manifested from my deep desire to be represented on my own terms -- as a person of color, an Asian-American woman, a Filipina, a daughter of immigrants, an artist. I was tired of people making assumptions about me based on where I'm from or what they saw in a stupid 80s movie (or, let's face it, my Valley accent that comes out after a few beers). VLY GRL is about taking charge of our own personal narratives. It's about taking back and redefining the term "Valley Girl" -- because these days it is so much more nuanced and multifaceted, just like we are. Females from the San Fernando Valley are scrappy, hard-working, and fucking badass. The Valley is a dope place to be from: It's diverse AF, gritty, and full of dreamers and doers. There are tons of great products repping LA, but I didn't see enough Valley representation, so I wanted to give something back to my fellow dope-ass Valley Girls and started designing these products myself. The name came from tattoos my bestie Myly and I got together.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Oh man. I'm inspired by so much that it's hard to keep track! There are so many great artists out there whose work spark something in me to create. I've been participating in Lauren Hom's #Homwork lettering challenges this year and it's been helping me create consistently, and I feel like my lettering work has grown a lot since I started. Art prompts and challenges give me the necessary structure to complete projects; otherwise, my ideas just sit in a sketchbook forever!
Elements of my identity and current events inform much of my work. Filipino culture, food, nature, my heroes, social justice, places I love, stuff I grew up nerding out on -- I pull from my experiences and passions and hope it resonates with others. I spent a lot of my youth feeling alone and misunderstood, so it's touching to see art I relate to; it sparks a connection with the greater community it speaks to. I want to create that feeling for others.
How much of the SFV can be seen in your work?
I've made graphics that pay homage to notable Valley establishments and neighborhoods, but in the future I'm focusing more on art geared toward the Valley experience.
What are some of your favorite designs you created?
I'm still really proud of my Smash Fascism and Welcome to the Political Revolution illustrations. I made them at a time when I was still coming into my own as a digital artist, and it was also during the crazy-ass 2016 presidential election. These pieces mean so much to me, and I think they encapsulate my style and passion for social justice really well.
What are you most passionate about?
[See inspiration answer, heh]
Please describe your biggest driving force.
I've never really thought about it! There's always been this reflex impulse to create; it's just something I have to do or I'll go crazy.
Right now, I just want to succeed in my career and make cool shit. I'm slowly working toward my long-term goals, so it's motivating to have my dream future to look forward to.
Also, I hope this doesn't sound cliché, but like many children of immigrants, I want to make my parents proud. They sacrificed a lot to get here, and they did the best they could with whatever resources they had. We have our misunderstandings, but ultimately I'm beyond grateful for the life they were able to give me and my brothers. My parents have seen me struggle through my unconventional creative careers, so it must be a relief for them now that I'm finally in a good place.
What are some of your favorite creative outlets?
Music! I sing in a band called Vincent Gargiulo National Park. I play a little ukulele. And I love jamming with friends -- there's just something so satisfying about being in the moment and improvising and grooving with other folks. It's a special type of energy. I'm also learning to play keys and relearning how to play bass and guitar; it's been a while.
Cooking. I grew up watching and helping my dad cook Filipino dishes, and he taught me almost everything I know about cooking (food shows taught me the rest!). I love when my partner and I are down to our last groceries and we have to get creative with whatever's left in the fridge and pantry. Mexican lasagna? Yes, please!
Zines. Making zines is super cathartic for me. They're DIY, there are no rules, and you have total creative control. I'm working on a bunch of ideas right now, and I'm excited to share them!
It's important to have hobbies that have little or nothing to do with what you do for a living. You need to use other parts of your brain, hone different skills. Exercise that brain, dude!
When do you launch your new designs?
Pretty soon! I've been taking a break from VLY GRL this year to focus more on self-care, but I'm ready to get back to it.
And do you have any events coming up?
VLY GRL will have a pop-up booth at the Valley Girl Redefined art show at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, CA from January 26th-March 22nd. It's a group exhibition curated by 11:11 A Creative Collective, showcasing and honoring contemporary female artists connected to the San Fernando Valley, past and present. It's going to be huge! I also designed exclusive merch for this exhibit, so I'm super excited about it!
Photos and images courtesy of Alisa Damaso