Illustrator Spotlight: Eric Castleman
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
Authologie illustrator Eric Castleman, lives in Helena, Montana. He describes Montana as being one of the most beautiful states in the US, with many wild rivers, mountains and wildlife all around. We agree that it sounds like the perfect place to work on his art and to experience escapism from the rest of the world. Eric works primarily in mixed media, he loves to integrate various textures and light into his stunning artwork. He gives his illustrations a traditional, nostalgic feel, each illustration evokes emotion and intrigue.
Describe your illustration style in 5 words.
Minimalistic design, complex rendering…. fishing?
How would your art teacher at school have described you?
“He was really good at art, but not good at school even if it had to do with art.
What a weirdo!”
How did you become an illustrator?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but as most of us know it’s considered a hard path. After having some health issues in my 20’s which made certain career options not viable anymore I decided to go all in and gamble with a skill that was fully in my control. I think I needed to feel like I was in control of something during that time. So, I began focusing on the things I loved as a child. It really felt as though I had found my child self-waiting at a bus stop for me all these years later. I sought out aid from professional illustrators and they kindly helped me along the way, and still do. I was surprised to find that some people liked my art and it’s been going forward ever since.
Can you explain the process you use when developing your characters?
I create scenarios in my head and insert different types of characters with different needs and wants to see how that serves the overall story. What would a medieval knight who suddenly finds himself in a modern-day grocery store look like? Some can interpret this as funny, but I would lean towards interpreting this as lonely. I can see the drama in that scenario, and when I do I run with it. My characters tend to have a good dose of loneliness to them. I think humour can still play a part here, and maybe as his world shatters around him he stumbles across a toy horse that is just a stick with a fluffy horse head at the end of it and immediately feels like he is back home. That illustration might be him flying down isle 9 with a huge smile on his face while innocent bystanders flee for their lives. I can see that character in my head and already tell what they would do in different scenarios. In short, I like throwing opposites at each other and seeing how characters might react so that they tell me more about themselves rather than me telling them who they are.
What’s the strangest thing you have been asked to draw?
Someone asked me to illustrate their entire book about eating lunch at grandma’s house, where literally nothing happens at all. Now, I could have done this my own way and made it interesting I thought. Maybe every time the grandma asked, “How’s the toast?” I could have had the food get bigger and bigger, until the child is swimming in an ocean of Spaghetti O’s, with the grandma’s head taking up the entire sky and then asking, “Soup good?”. The response I got from the self-published author was “Oh but I want to give this to my granddaughter for Christmas”. I suggested a single illustration instead of an entire story. Seems to have been the better option.
What illustration of yours are you most proud of?
I’m the proudest of my most recent piece usually. I tend to try new things in each painting, so with each new illustration I feel the proudest. My most recent piece is called Dreams of flight, and I’m very happy with it.
Which techniques do you prefer to use when illustrating children’s books?
I love mixing in textures with my work in the very beginning. I tend to want a lot of noise and then try to lift out the scene from that.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I love designing the image. It’s always a good feeling when you come up with a design you really like and feel good about it potentially turning out well in the end.
Do you have a favourite illustrator?
Chris Van Allsburg. His work influenced me the most as a child. (This question got me to start watching an hour-long Chris Van Allsburg interview)
Do you have any rituals or routines which help you to think creatively and perhaps help you to overcome periods of creative block?
I usually listen to music and scribble without worry. If I overthink it, I will never come up with anything. I used to struggle with creative block a lot, but at some point, I gave myself permission to make bad art. I’ll quickly throw an idea on paper, and in my mind paint without worry of what people will think. This usually results in some of my best pieces.
Any tips for first time authors looking to hire an illustrator for their children’s book?
Get them interested in your story. Most of the time it’s hard for an illustrator to justify devoting so much time to a project they do not believe in. Think like an illustrator: What would be something fun to paint or draw in your story? Also, consider that an illustrator is a storytelling partner, not a paid worker. What the text says may not be what the illustration shows. If you can say it, it doesn’t need to be shown. So, the illustrator is very much your co-storyteller. When reaching out, treat it as a pitch to work on a project together.
If you could illustrate for anyone, who would you choose and what are your ambitions for the future?
I would love to illustrate a book for Neil Gaiman. I think we’d be a good fit. My ambitions for the future are to have a few stories under my belt of my own, and to establish myself as a writer/illustrator. My big dream for the future is to start my own boutique art studio that focuses on storytelling for children through books and short films.