A while back, it seemed like an interesting idea to conduct some interviews with SVS artists on this forum to learn from, and be inspired by, the stories and valuable insights we all have to share. So far, I've gleaned a ton from the process. Today's interview is with someone who has tremendous drive in pursuing his illustration and children's literature career, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see his future books make it big. Today's spotlight shines on Eric Castleman as we hear about his take on art, life, and even a forthcoming secret project.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I grew up in Southern California, in a small city in Los Angeles county. I am very happily married, and we have a five year old son named Gregory.
How long ago did you become "an artist"? And what does that mean to you - to be an artist?
Well, I have always been labeled an artist ever since I can remember. I’ve always seen the world in a romantic way I guess, which lends to that label being placed on me at a young age. I spent most of my years in school just drawing at every free moment I could find. I even spent all my time drawing in daycare. I still remember those brown pieces of paper and oversized red pencils I used there. Between the moments I was flipping through Jumanji and Where the Wild Things Are, I was trying to draw what I saw in those books.
For me being an artist is basically someone who constantly has to reinterpret the world, or change the perspective on the world around them. I think in tangents all the time, and basically cannot stop myself from doing it. This has led me to being quite annoying to adults throughout my younger years, but it has become a positive quality in my illustration pursuits. All my reports cards as a child spoke about me not being able to stay on topic, or when they would call on me to ask a question, my question was very random. Now I look back at that and just see that aspect of me was my creative side, and not really interested in the line of thought being presented. Art fulfills these desires of mine, so I guess that is how I understand what the label means for me.
It seems like you've been really putting in the hours over the last year or two to build your illustration portfolio. I personally think it looks awesome and showcases your really amazing textured digital style. What goals are you working towards, and how close are you to reaching them?
Thank you very much! Yea, these last couple of years I really turned on the jets when it came to put in the hours that I needed to. I knew when started at SVS I was going to have to hold myself accountable and make sure I was drawing every day. One way I did this was to reach out to other SVS students, which helped me feel part of the circle.
My goals for the future are to get a literary agent, and hopefully be able to both write and illustrate. Last year I was fortunate enough to get a featured interview over at Kidlit411, which got me some good attention, and a couple literary agents interested in me. Just today I finished my book dummy and submitted it a couple days ago and hope to land an agent this year.
Beyond that, I have been working towards a secret project with people I met here, which we are just about to announce on social media. SVS has truly been a godsend.
What has been your biggest ah-ha moment in regards to your art or art career?
When I first started at SVS I thought my only limitation was perspective, and then I quickly realized I was bad at just about everything. I remember that being a real kick in the butt moment, but I decided to treat my time at SVS as though I was just learning to draw and paint, and so even if I thought I knew something, I went through the courses, and did the exercises.
My other big ah-ha moment was letting go of trying to find my own style, and just drawing and painting the way I liked. I have always drawn characters like Nickelodeon cartoon characters, and have painted like a gallery painter, because my brother was a realist painter, so that trickled down to me. I just stopped trying to change what I like, and only changed what I wasn't good at.
Could you share three pieces of your art that mean something to you (even if it's just because finishing them marked a particular point in your life or the development of your work)?
This is a hard one for me, because each piece I feel I learn something new, so looking back all I see are all the things I would change. However, each of these pieces were big parts of the last two or so years here at SVS, and so they mean something to me more than just what is seen by the viewer.
(giraffe painting) This one was the first image that I felt I could use my art as a conduit to express emotion without it being in your face with character reactions, or zanny perspective. It was a drawing I did early on at SVS but didn't think much of it so I put it in my drawings vault, and forgot about it. For some reason I found it sometime later and decided to paint it. I was very overwhelmed at the time, and that really comes through in the way I didn't use a ton of color I guess. I can look at this image and remember exactly what was going on in my life at the time. It was the first piece that felt not designed, or thought out, just painted.
(Lake Monster) All I remember about doing this one, was for a good few days I wasn't enjoying myself. I remember telling my wife as I painted "I really am not enjoying myself". I don't know what it was, but the weird thing is that I look back on it with fond memories. I tried a very different color scheme here, and in the end I wish I paid better attention to how I chose these colors because they worked out so well. Because I felt so detached while painting this one, it doesn't feel like my own work, so in some ways, I can appreciate it without being critical of myself. Good job Eric!
(Mouse Knight) Now the total opposite happened with this one. I really loved every minute of this. It is also the most comfortable I have felt with what I am doing artistically since I started getting serious about my art work. I really felt when doing this one that I had control over what I saw in my mind and being able to transfer that on the screen. Mind you, I tend to feel this about my most recent pieces, so maybe in a few months I won’t like this one as much, but for now, I like it.
What advice do you have for other artists who have the intention of finding work as an illustrator?
Put your art up in places where art directors are trying to fish for illustrators. I landed a full page in Highlights last December by simply participating in the Thursday (I think it’s Thursday) #kidlit trend. Art directors know about these little parties, and you should want to be at the party and be cutting a rug in the middle of the dance floor.
Enter contests! It doesn’t always matter if you win. Runner ups gets their art pushed as well, and agents and art directors are not committed to liking the person in first place. I was a runner up in the Kidlit411 banner competition last year, and it shifted my year by having a couple literary agents interested in me and getting to work on manuscripts right after that. I didn’t win, but the agents got to see my work.
You should also be sending out postcards, because after getting to meet some Highlight vets, it was very rare for anyone to get asked to be in Highlights, it usually is a job you get by asking them via their submission process which is laid out in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book which show who is looking for illustrators or not in that calendar year. Get that book and start submitting to different magazines.
Finally, don’t quit!
At this point, in a few words, what's your ultimate dream as an artist? Is there anything the others on this forum can do to be of assistance to you as you walk this path?
My ultimate dream as an artist is to make work that is valuable to me, and to others who I have made it for. I see my art as a gift, just like if I was broke and Christmas was coming, and so I decide to dedicate my time crafting something for those I care about, which most likely has elements of things they love and I love, and that gift becomes a valuable sentiment, and they keep it with them forever. I want my illustrations, and hopefully one day my books to have that sort of living spirit in them, and if I can accomplish that, I will be fulfilled.
As for what other on this forum can do for me: I don’t want to see anyone give up. Nothing bothers me more than seeing fellow artists in this pursuit with me lose faith in themselves. My vision for the future is that we were all here in this secret special place, and one day we will look back and see that we were pioneers as the first SVS artists. I will always be an SVS rabbit, and I want everyone else to pursue this common dream together with fire for it. Make sure that you are helping each other at every turn, and remember that you are not competing against each other, but with professionals, so you might as well win together.
Thanks a bunch, Eric, for taking the time for these questions!
Thanks for having me do this!
More of Eric's work can be found at his website: https://www.ericcastleman.com/
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts about what @Eric-Castleman has shared with us!