Daniella Manini pulls a print from a wooden rack and turns to describe it when a jackhammer whirls to deafening life just outside the window. We’re in her studio, tucked back on the type of industrial side street in Ventura, California that out-of-towners like to tout as “up and coming.” Right now, at least, that just means a cacophony of construction.
Inside, the walls are bright and warm, which is a pretty accurate description of Daniella herself. The Peruvian-born illustrator and graphic artist made a name for herself working for brands like Volcom, DC Shoes, Stance, Reef, and Billabong before launching her own print shop in 2014 after the birth of her first child. Yes Sea Studio (a nod to her native language and her love of the ocean) now offers a collection of more than 100 colorful prints that celebrate iconic surf spots and coastal California towns. Daniella wanted to bring joy into people’s homes through her art, which meant starting with her own.
As told to SeaVees. Photography by Johnie Gall.
“I grew up surrounded by paper in Peru. My mom was an architectural designer and my dad had a company that sold paper products—I can still remember flipping through Pantone color books and smelling the ink my mother would use when she was drafting. My dad called himself a ‘frustrated graphic designer’ because back then, in South America at least, the culture was very machismo and there just weren’t many male designers. They never talked about it when I was growing up, but my parents have told me their dream before they had children was to own one of those little shops that sells pencils and notebooks and art supplies.
“I think the memories that stick out to you from your childhood are your guides and if you pay attention to them, they’ll show you the right path.”
I think the memories that stick out to you from your childhood are your guides and if you pay attention to them, they’ll show you the right path. I was working for an advertising firm after college doing photo touch-ups when one of my coworkers brought in a design magazine from the United States—this was before people were really putting their work on the Internet and I’d never seen anything like it. I borrowed the magazine and stayed up late into the night scanning every poster and illustration in its pages. I felt like that little kid playing with paper samples and water color pens again. I knew I wanted to be an illustrator.
A friend of mine was moving to San Diego and convinced me to move in with her. I sold my crappy car and left for California with $700, a backpack, two bathing suits, some jeans, a CD with my design portfolio on it and some seashells. I only had a tourist visa, so I picked up just enough work to get by, mostly babysitting and other side gigs like assisting a house painter on projects in fancy homes. In my free time, I would borrow my friend’s computer to create fake designs based on what I had seen in that magazine and send my portfolio out to different agencies. I flew to New York for interviews and didn’t land anything. I was hired by a company and they went out of business. The next job I quit. Nothing was working out how I had envisioned it, and became despondent. Everyone in my life kept telling me to give up and go back to Peru, but I was determined to prove them wrong.
Then one day I came across a Craigslist ad: ‘fashion brand needs designer.’ The job was for the legendary surf photographer Aaron Chang, who was starting his own clothing brand. That was the moment everything took off for me. I started picking up freelance work with different surf brands in the area and eventually a full-time job designing T-shirts for Billabong. I was four months in when they fired half the company and I found myself in charge of all the graphic T-shirt designs for women and kids categories. It was so hard, but I loved it so I worked even harder and I was really good at my job. Billabong is where I met many of the people I’m still connected to—the sales rep I work with now used to be the global sales director at Billabong. Just like when my dad introduced me to color swatches or pencils, some encounters will become paths in your life if you choose to follow them.
I was finally feeling content with my career at Billabong and my little home in San Diego when my then-boyfriend (now husband) got a job at Patagonia. I was like, ‘I’m not going to Ventura. I’m not leaving, this is where I’m living forever.’ I’d worked so hard to create roots and a community after moving there from Peru. We were incredibly stressed out about what to do and just dated long distance for about five months. And then I got pregnant.
“Some encounters will become paths in your life if you choose to follow them.”
On the first day of my maternity leave, my husband came back down to my apartment to help me pack my things. We went to a reggae concert that night and I ended up not feeling very well, so we decided to go home and sleep, figuring we’d pack up the rest of the apartment the next day. I woke up in the middle of the night as my water broke—my son was born the next day, five weeks early. I got an infection, so my husband had to pack everything alone and we had this new tiny baby who couldn’t nurse, meaning we had to also figure out syringe feeding. I put the baby in my car and followed my husband in his U-Haul truck to unpack our things in a home I’d never seen before in a town I didn’t want to live in. I had this new beautiful baby, but I was so heartbroken.
Three months passed and I spent them in intense survival mode. My husband didn’t have paternity leave because he’d just started his job, so to stay busy I began decorating the baby’s nursery. My son was my little buddy and I wanted to give him a beautiful space, to nest, to feel at home in this place that felt like anything but. We had Etsy at that time but there just weren’t many options for good art prints so I played around with designing a few posters myself. The first one I ever made was of a beach in Encinitas, my old town, and then posters for other places that were special to me, Moonlight and Seaside. When Aaron Chang had closed up his shop, they’d given me one of the giant printers in their office. I’d been lugging boxes of printer paper and ink around with me ever since, printing off little gifts for friends and random posters over the years. I printed the three posters and hung them in the baby’s room and didn’t think much more about it.
“I heard this voice in the back of my head saying, ‘use what you have, use what you have.’”
Around this time, a brand called Vouri reached out to me and asked if I would like to do a collaboration to help launch their women’s line, so I created three prints for their lounge clothing collection and debuted them in a little art show. I’d done group shows before, but this was my first solo effort. It was so intimidating to put something so intimate out there in front of others because it was never meant for them and I didn’t know how the response would be. I sold everything on display—it was crazy! I went home and cobbled together a website on Squarespace. I realized that having this printer for all those years, my experience at Billabong, even this life change, had all given me the tools I needed to create my own business. I heard this voice in the back of my head saying, ‘use what you have, use what you have.’
These days I work full time for Patagonia as a textile designer and run my business on the side. There are certainly aspects of the job I’m not great at, like marketing my work and copywriting for my website. Then there are my kids, who need me to take them to classes or help them with their homework. It can be hard to find that magical moment to give myself over to creativity. But when I do, I sometimes feel like I leave myself and connect to something else, some other realm. I think that is what saved me when I was experiencing post-traumatic stress when my son was an infant —I could be a vessel for art. I feel the most powerful when I look at a piece I created and think, ‘I can’t believe I did this.’
“It’s hard to even understand what your dreams are, to give them names. But you’ll always recognize the feeling when you’re on the right path.”
From the moment I left Peru, I was guided less by a plan and more by the tingle in my heart that I’d first discovered as a child.My dream for others is that they are fortunate enough to remember what first gave them that high—being in the ocean, painting, surfing, building Legos—and to make that part of their every day. Because to pursue a dream, you have to be obsessed with it. There is passion required to research how to price your work or write a proposal or keep track of inventory and without it, your dream will fade away the moment it starts to feel overwhelming. It’s hard to even understand what your dreams are, to give them names. But you’ll always recognize the feeling when you’re on the right path.”