Illustration February 29, 2016
by Lauren Festa
ADC’s Illustration Month — along with the month itself — is drawing to a close, but not without us showcasing a few more ADC Members who happen to make a living from their drawing talents! This has been a fabulous theme, and we hope you have been as wowed by work (and the people behind the work) as we have been.
Giuseppe Castellano is an award-winning designer, illustrator, and senior art director at Penguin Random House, overseeing the art and design of over two-hundred fifty children’s books a year for the imprints of Grosset & Dunlap, Price Stern Sloan, Frederick Warne and Co., the Penguin Young Readers, and Cartoon Network Books. He continues to be a guest speaker, critic, and teacher at art schools including Art Center College of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design (his alma mater), Maryland Institute College of Art, and Pratt Institute. He is also the founder of The Illustration Department, an online school for illustrators. Learn more about the practice and business of illustration by visiting Giuseppe’s popular #arttips blog at www.gcastellano.com and by following his #arttips on Twitter at @pinocastellano.
When did you kind of ‘discover’ your own talent and then later, turn it into a viable working gig?
That’s a tough one. As a designer, I discovered that I liked children’s book design while working as a design assistant at Simon and Schuster. As an illustrator, I don’t know if I ever truly discovered my talent. It was something I was interested in halfway through my undergraduate education at the Rhode Island School of Design. Frankly, I’m still discovering who I am as an illustrator. Life as an illustrator —in my mind— consists of an on-going series of small discoveries. As an art director, I found out early on at Simon and Schuster, as an assistant, that I enjoyed working with illustrators, editors, and other groups within publishing to create a book. It is as creatively fulfilling now as it was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
How long have you been an illustrator?
I’ve been calling myself an “illustrator” since 1998. But it wasn’t until 2008 that I started working as one in earnest with my first two illustrated children’s books, Mister Doodle, C is for City, and Mister Doodle, A Color for Sketch. Of late, I’ve dedicated more time and energy to my editorial work, garnering invitations to exhibit at the Society of Illustrators “Illustrators 58” show, and Communication Arts 2016 Annual.
Self taught? School?
I attended the Rhode Island School of Design, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Illustration. I earned a Master’s degree in Illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2016.
Was a career in the arts encouraged from a young age?
Yes and no. As a teenager, my Italian immigrant parents knew I liked drawing, so they encouraged me to become an architect. My two choices were architect or engineer, according to my father. I went to RISD with the intention of entering the architecture program, but I decided to focus more on drawing and painting classically—and the illustration department was a perfect fit.
Take us through your creative process.
In so many words… whether it’s with book design, illustration, art direction, (and even teaching illustration), the process is always the same: I try to start with the largest picture. What is it that I or we are trying to accomplish? Focus on the broadest strokes, the biggest shapes, the main points. Then, as if it’s some sort of journey to a destination, I walk toward that goal, honing in on the most important points (whether it’s with figure drawing or planning a publishing program). Somewhere along this journey, there will be ups and downs, successes and failures. There will also be deviations and circuitous routes. But, ultimately, I will arrive at the intended goal. And without fail, it will always be something I never originally planned.
In illustrating, what are the tools you can’t live without?
Ah, an easy one! There aren’t any. I worry that illustrators are too beholden to tools. Charles Schultz used a number 2 pencil and a yellow, striped, legal pad to sketch out his comics. I try to remember that when I feel like I can’t draw because I don’t have that special pen or nifty sketchbook.
What is one of the most exciting projects or a favorite one you’ve worked on or are working on?
I have three children, so I’ll answer like any good parent should answer when talking about their kids: They’re all exciting, and all my favorite, in different ways. I will say that I worked on A Celebration of Beatrix Potter, a compilation of stories and illustrations from over 30 of today’s most esteemed illustrators, including Betsy Lewin to Jan Brett to Peggy Rathmann to David Wiesner and Dan Santat, and on and on, I had the opportunity to work with, meet, and art direct the absolute leaders in Illustration. It is a fitting tribute to the wonderful Beatrix Potter.
How do you describe your aesthetic?
In book design and art direction, I was say it’s “supportive of the illustration” and “direct” while keeping a balance between mass appeal and high-level design. In illustration, I’d say my work is displays a tonal quality, with emphasis on color, loose brushwork, and an abstraction of form. It relies on being emotive rather than descriptive.
What is the biggest challenge about being an illustrator?
This is a question that would need more than a few lines to answer! The biggest challenge in my mind is finding a way to wake up in the morning and not feel that pressure we all feel in our chests that the decisions we make as illustrators ultimately won’t work out for us. Also, the waiting. So often we send our babies out into the world in the form of emails, and book dummies, and query letters, and postcards, and nary a sound is made. It’s like clean-and-jerk-lifting a mack truck full of beautifully illustrated bricks, and dropping it all into a bottomless void.
What do you love most about it?
I love being able to tell a story or convey a feeling through drawing and painting. Illustration is a powerful tool for communication. Illustration can teach us, heal us, challenge us, challenge them. It’s an old and noble profession, and we should be proud to call ourselves illustrators.
Any dream collaborations or brands you’d like to work with?
I think it’s best to keep a wider view. Honing in on a specific collaboration or brand can cause us to not see opportunities of which we were not previously aware.
Where is your favorite place to go/thing to do to get inspired?
It shouldn’t work that way. We shouldn’t need to rely on something, some place, or someone to be inspired. If we need those things, then perhaps we shouldn’t be an artist. Chuck Close was quoted as saying, “Inspiration is for amateurs.” I agree.
Any contemporary artists on your radar? (illustrators or other)
Too many to mention. I will say this, artists that pop up on my radar are those who have something to say —have ideas— with their work, and an exceptional way with which they convey those ideas.
For anyone considering illustration as a career or just something to try for curiosity, do you have any advice?
Study the industry. Not just what illustration is today, but what it has been over the past century, or two. Or three. Above all else, find ways to be a better artist. Don’t think about “getting published”. You won’t find anything down that road but disappointment and anger. Draw from life. Study color theory. Practice painting. Avoid using a watercolor Photoshop brush if you’ve never tried actual watercolor! Be who you are. Don’t be a derivative (or exact copy) of someone else’s ways and ideas. And above all else, have some fun with it.