Cover of mona lisa reimagines

Erik Maell’s career has taken him from Victoria’s Secret to Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and other clients. But for the last few years, the Mona Lisa has inspired a passion project.

Maell (Illustration and Fine Arts, 1994) became fascinated with Mona Lisa and its outsize status in the art world. No other painting in history has been reinterpreted as often as Mona Lisa, and Maell sifted through five centuries' worth of Mona Lisa-inspired recreations for his art anthology, Mona Lisa Reimagined.

Maell, writing from Cyprus, where he lives with girlfriend and fellow CCAD grad Tatiana Soteropoulos, talked with us recently about Mona Lisa Reimagined, lessons learned at CCAD, and a few words of wisdom for art students.

What did you learn about book publishing with Mona Lisa Reimagined?

The whole endeavor took about three years, during which time I had sent my proposal to just about every literary agent, acquisitions editor, and publisher in the world. Everyone I met with or spoke to was fascinated by the concept, and utterly enthralled by the images I'd assembled, but no one was willing to put up the necessary financial commitment to publish it. A friend and fellow Lucasfilm artist, Matt Busch, had been going through a similar ordeal, and he eventually mounted a Kickstarter campaign and raised the money he needed to self-publish his book, albeit on a small scale. I was about to go that route, but then I received a response from publisher Goff Books, and everything finally started to fall into place.

Mona Lisa - Water by Russian Painter Victor Molev


What advice do you have for CCAD students who see your career and think they might like to do something similar?

The best advice I can think of is to work hard, and never give up. It seems corny, but I really think the key to success in any endeavor is perseverance. You have to find the will to keep moving forward no matter what difficulties or stumbling blocks you encounter, and you'll eventually arrive where you want to be.

Mona Lisa Artwork by Invader
Mona Lisa by British artist Invader


Everyone takes their education with them through life in some form or another. How has that been the case for you?

One of my favorite classes at CCAD was Illustration Techniques, because every week was an opportunity to try out a new medium and work in a different style. I still approach my artwork with the same philosophy today, and I'll combine any and all media necessary to create one of my paintings, and not allow myself to be limited by whatever materials are available. I still remember [emeritus professor Dennis] Drummond’s words: “If all you have is a piece of bark for a paintbrush, and some mud for paint, you should still be able to create art.

Spongebob Squarepants as Mona Lisa by French artist Marek Dolata


Read more in our series CCAD Means Success.


Learn more about CCAD or apply here.