Anyone with a fashionista in her life has likely purchased a Bella Pilar card in a local Papyrus.
From Rye to Greenwich, White Plains to Westport, the upscale card and gift boutiques prominently feature her fashionable work.
While greeting cards have been the mainstay of her association with the company, today Papyrus also features Pilar’s work on everything from tote bags to cosmetic cases, gift wrap to notebooks.
Sometimes that work includes playful animals such as puppies or birds, but most often, it’s her signature “girls” taking center stage in scenes celebrating milestones, holidays, friendship or just a great pair of shoes.
All is decidedly feminine, charmingly whimsical — and wholly recognizable.
So WAG eagerly headed to Manhattan on a recent rainy afternoon, invited to meet the artist at the Papyrus on 42nd Street.
Pilar, a New York City native now based in Los Angeles, was doing a card/art signing for this Artist in Residence event.
And within moments of entering, we were chatting away with the personable Pilar about everything from art to fashion to her family ties to the Hudson Valley.
Pilar, who has been creating exclusive designs for Papyrus for some 10 years, was also showcasing her new line of desk accessories.
“I dreamed about it… of having my art this accessible,” she said. “I always wanted to have my artwork out there in an affordable, accessible way.”
A LIFE IN ART
Art came naturally to Pilar, who grew up on the Upper West Side and studied fashion design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, where she may have had hints about her future.
“My favorite part of designing clothing was drawing it. I just enjoyed drawing the girls.”
Back in New York, Pilar would eventually work as a makeup artist, her fine art taking a back seat.
“For years, it was just what I did for fun. I’d do makeup as a business.”
That was until a clever business card changed that.
“Actually, my first illustration job was because I used an illustration of a girl’s face on a card. Most people had photographs of makeup.”
The image caught the eye of an art director and, Pilar said, “One job slowly led to another.”
Collaborations, she said, suit her.
“I love to paint other people’s visions. I feel like it’s a way of sharing my world with other people.”
Over the years, she has worked with companies ranging from Tiffany & Co. to Target, along with a number of charitable efforts. She has sold her work as prints and on canvas and has had designs grace mugs and jigsaw puzzles, T-shirts and key chains. A particular project does stand out.
“Papyrus started being a sponsor of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week,” she said, which found Pilar creating designs for laminates, schedules and VIP products for the Lincoln Center shows.
“It was amazing. Two and a half years, five seasons… I was definitely in my element.”
It was also a full-circle moment, as Pilar had worked fashion week as a makeup artist years before, when the shows were held in Bryant Park.
IN THE CITY, AGAIN
Though the rain may have curbed the attendance at the Papyrus event, for Pilar, the pace was “nice, because I get to talk to people.”
No matter the venue, it seems one question is a constant.
“It’s always about hair,” she said with a laugh. (And yes, she wishes she could offer every card’s subject in every hair color).
Overall, Pilar welcomes the feedback.
“I take all the comments in and process it,” as she heads back to her studio.
So, how did this diehard New Yorker end up on the West Coast?
“I blame it on my husband,” Pilar said with another laugh, noting he’s in the film industry.
There are, though, frequent family trips back to New York, especially with her sister still living in the city and her parents now based in Grandview-on-Hudson.
“I was just there yesterday,” she said of the riverside community, noting her daughters were there on this day — and that her mom’s a regular at the Papyrus in the Palisades Center in West Nyack.
In recent years, Pilar’s two girls, now ages 11 and 9, have inspired her to reach out to a younger audience leading to book illustrations and licensed products such as lunch boxes and diaries.
For Pilar, inspiration is ever-present.
“It’s kind of endless because it’s fashion. It doesn’t end. It doesn’t go away.”
She might admire a passing woman on the street or, more often, have an idea sparked by a window display.
“Seeing new trends and styles is always on my mind. I just look through my fashion magazines for inspiration.”
Should there be a momentary lapse, this fashionable lady does what ladies have long done — turns to a classic.
“If you run out of ideas, you paint a little black dress,” Pilar said.
No matter the project, her approach is constant.
“I sketch first,” she said. “And I’ll often spend more time sketching than I do with the painting… I’d say every day I sketch. I sketch in coffee shops a lot.”
Sometimes it’s simply for research as, “Most of those ideas never get painted.”
But when they do, it’s all by hand.
“There’s so much digital,” she said, noting she’s old-school all the way, with gouache (an opaque watercolor paint), brush and paper her tools of choice.
“I paint on paper then I scan it,” she said, a computer necessary for getting her designs to her clients.
With a home-based studio, one might imagine Pilar allows herself plenty of “dress-down” days, but that’s far from the truth.
“You’ll never find me in sweats,” Pilar said in no uncertain terms. In fact, she said she’s been known to wear her own LBD and full makeup “to sit in my studio painting.”
That way, she said, “I just feel like I’m ‘ready to go.’”
And go she does, constantly creating what surrounds her on this day. At one point, a customer looked around and broke into a broad smile, saying to Pilar, “Thank you for… all this.”
It’s such moments, when she hears how her “little pieces of art” have connected with someone, that Pilar finds so rewarding.
“If they want to save it, frame it, cherish it… what more could I want?”