Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in Sacramento. I decided to become an artist at fourteen, when I stumbled across a book called The Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Hercules. I had never seen preproduction art before. It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about art and stories. Looking at the character and production design, something in me screamed “That! I need to do that!” From that point on, I devoted myself to visual art and storytelling.
Did you go to an art school or are you self-taught? How did you develop your skills?
I went to many different schools, piecing together the kind of education I thought I would need in order to do the work before me. However, I also learned so, so much from books. I lived at the library and worked at the bookstore. Books were helpful teachers because they were infinitely patient. I could come back to them again and again until I’d mastered a skill. Of course, there’s nothing quite like learning by doing. I think I learned the most when I spent half a year in Florence, Italy, enrolled in nothing but drawing, painting, sculpture and illustration classes.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
My family and friends have always been very supportive of me. My mom was an author and a painter, and my dad a singer and dancer. They understood what it was to have a calling. My dad was worried that I might not be tough enough to take the hard knocks of the industry, but I’ve developed my own brand of strength. It helps that every time I fall, there are many people in my life who will lift me up.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Oh, so many. The Little Mermaid left a huge mark on me. We wore through three VHS copies of that movie, and to this day my highest ambition is to be a real mermaid. Apart from Mermaid, I was heavily influenced by the writings of C.S. Lewis. Narnia was my first fantasy world, and I still hope to find it someday. There was this show I used to watch on Nickelodeon that I’ve only just rediscovered. It’s called “Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.” It was just straight-up tellings of various obscure Grimm’s fairy tales, with an anime vibe to the designs and surprisingly nice animation. Watching it again, I’m shocked how much of my current aesthetic was formed by that show. It settled into my subconscious and stuck. My Granny Edith also used to tell fairy stories with a folksy charm to them. I particularly remember her version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” because it scared me. Oh! and Labyrinth was fascinating to me as a child. It frightened and confused me, but I kept coming back for more. A lot of the Froud designs formed my tastes in fantasy art. Later, I learned to love the work of John Bauer. Basically, I gobbled up everything magical I could get my hands on and years later it came spilling out in my art.
Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
Mermaids! Always and forever mermaids. I love them because they are so close to us, and yet so alien. They can be cute and spunky, or elusive and eerie, and they have a world all their own. For as much as I love Ariel, I think that real mermaids would be more feral than that. I sometimes think they might be beautiful monsters. But that vision of mermaids doesn’t sell very well, so I keep that sort of thing to my sketchbook for now. Someday I might make a story about it.
What is your process in coloring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
When I was at Disney, I colored everything in Photoshop. These days, I’m enjoying my freedom and coloring by hand. For my illustrations, I start with an underdrawing in red and blue Col-Erase pencil. From there, I layer on simple colors in thin washes of acrylic. I don’t go in for elaborate mixed colors often; I prefer to mix by layering. A little gold here, a flush of rose there, and so on. I go opaque with my paints right at the end, strengthening the impact of key areas and adding a few little highlights and accents. For more of an Old World storybook style, I work with a pen dipped in transparent burnt umber ink. Then I bring in watercolor washes, being careful not to overwork or “scrub” the illustration board. When coloring digitally, I carve out simple shapes in Photoshop, then layer details on top of them till I’m happy with my design.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
Gathering reference and doing research is such a joy. It’s like paid daydreaming. That’s where my thoughts tend to be the most open and free: at the earliest “imagining” stages. The hardest part is just forcing myself to finish. It’s easy to noodle on something for too long, or to put off finishing because you aren’t confident in your design.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
It varies depending on what kind of project I’m on. On my most “usual” days my routine is something like this: Wake up and eat breakfast. Check my email and do a few businessy things like replying to clients or managing Etsy orders. I tend to have a creative boost in the late morning, so I like to draw or paint around this time. Usually, I work for too long and take a late lunch. I tend to be sleepy after lunch, so I reserve this time for simple tasks like running errands or packing Etsy orders: things that I can do while in a daze. I get a second spurt of energy in the late afternoon, so if I’m working on a picture I’ll use this time to draw or paint. Then I usually take a walk and have dinner, then more work. I typically end my day by doing something for myself. Lately, I’ve been very interested in customizing dolls, so that might be my cool-down at the end of a day. I try to take Sundays off, to go to church, see friends, and replenish my strength.
As for who I collaborate with, it’s a healthy mix of fellow artists, clients, and agents. I recently signed with Ben Grange at JABberwocky, and we’re working on bringing a very exciting project to the market.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Well, there’s a lot I can’t talk about, but I’ll share some of the upcoming things that I’m most excited for. I’m pleased as punch to be designing some Steampunk pirates for James Lopez’s fantastic Hullabaloo series. We’re just in the blue sky stages on them now, so it’s a fun project with a ton of freedom. I’ve also been asked to create a line of dresses for Pinup Girl Clothing. I can’t wait to swirl around in a dress with my art on it! Later this summer, I may be attending the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball as the official artist to a fantastic real-live merman. Most exciting of all, I am shopping my illustrated novel series to publishers this summer. It’s a retelling of the myth of Medusa. The story has been growing in me for about five years now and I am so excited at the prospect of bringing it to the public.
What is your long-term career goal and what would your dream project be?
I’m in the process of redefining my long-term goals. For the longest time it was just “help make Disney movies.” I would still love to do that, but these days I find myself wanting to write books as well. Eventually, I would like to craft something that does for the reader what Narnia did for me: open the door to a fantasy world full of intriguing characters and fascinating ideas. Whether that will take the form of a book, a movie, or even a stage play, I can’t say yet. I know that I want to craft emotional, visceral experiences through stories and images, and share them with the world. I want to make a positive impact on culture.
Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
Going through school, I always imagined myself working at a studio, dying at my desk at the age of 99 surrounded by plaques and posters of my past films. Certainly, studio life is very exciting. Disney really knew how to keep us intellectually stimulated. They had classes and lectures on every topic imaginable, from economics to neon sign art. Beyond that, there was the daily thrill of seeing what amazing new things the other departments were doing, the kinetic excitement of collaboration. Lately, however, I’ve come to appreciate the joys of freelancing. Being able to choose my own projects and shape my own career is deeply, intensely gratifying. Freelancing also allows me to tailor my environment and schedule to perfectly suit my workflow. I work surrounded by books and lovely, big-eyed Pullip dolls. Often, I wrap myself in a blanket for comfort, especially if I’m at a scary part of the creation process. I take long walks through the hills in the middle of the day, when my creative forces are at their lowest ebb. It was so scary to embrace freelancing at first, but I’ve really come to love it. Of course, I’d be open to the possibility of returning to studio life in the future, but for now I appreciate what a good thing I have going.
What advice would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
In Kiki’s Delivery Service, there’s this passage where Kiki starts to lose her witching powers. She freaks out and tries harder and harder to fly, failing each time, before spiraling into depression. Her artist friend then gives her some very solid advice: when dry spells come it is better to take a breather and allow inspiration to return to you than to continually drive yourself into the ground. I seldom find myself lacking inspiration, but I am guilty of working myself to exhaustion. When my creative powers start to wane, I know it’s time to fill up my well again. I might go to a museum, read half a dozen books, take a trip, or indulge in my hobby (doll collecting and customization.) I have to be careful to be kind to myself when I’m at my weakest, so that my spirit can grow strong again.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I guess you really have to get to know yourself. Beyond what you are able to do, get to know what you really love to do. Then get to know the industry. Which fields are making the kinds of stories you feel most drawn to? Which have an aesthetic that lines up with your own? And perhaps most important: which industries need the thing that you do. The animation industry is very saturated at the moment, and there’s a heavy emphasis on digital and 3D. That’s part of the reason I’ve been working more in book illustration lately. I love to paint by hand, and I have a delicate, Old World sensibility that lends itself well to storybooks. The other thing to keep in mind when choosing a path is that you can always change your mind. Better to try things, gain experience, and find out what you really like than to stay stuck in indecision.
Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
It’s good to have a “face” for yourself. For example, my “Casey Robin” brand is cute, whimsical, and feminine. My business cards, website, and social media all reflect this. That said, I also have a couple of styles under my belt, to use for different types of projects. If a client needs me to draw Spongebob for a picture book, I approach that very differently than if they’ve asked me to paint a fairy for their home. I send appropriate samples and make sure that I understand exactly what they want from me. It might be wise to have one “house” style, something that is popular, well-defined, and easy enough to pull off every time. Then you might also develop one or two additional styles. You will also need to adapt to changing tastes and shifts in the industry, so your work doesn’t fall out of fashion. It all depends on the demands of your career, really.
If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
I would recommend If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. The title is a little misleading; it’s not just for writers. Rather, it is a book about how to approach your creative endeavors with courage and heart. It offers encouragement for those who are just starting out and wisdom for those who have been doing this for a while.
What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
In a way we are very lucky, because the market is more diverse than ever. There are many different studios producing quality animated films, television animation is blossoming, and crowdfunding has made it possible to produce passion projects of all sorts. The downside of this vibrant market is that it can be overwhelming. Where should you put your efforts? How do you even start? If you want to go the studio route, I would recommend working on a high-quality personal project and using that to get an internship. A good internship will be paid. Watch out for startups that don’t want to pay you. If you want to take a freelance approach, put together a portfolio website, business card, and social media presence. Network and promote yourself as often as possible, meeting new people all the time. It will take a while to build a solid client base, so in the first three years or so you may need to have a side job that provides reliable income. A lot of people like to complain about what’s wrong with the industry (and certainly, I have my own complaints) but it’s never going to be perfect. What counts is what you make of it.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Oh, there are too many to name! I’ll list a few, rapid-fire, in no particular order: Arthur Rackham, Glen Keane, Man Arenas, Marina Bychkova, Taryn Knight, James Lopez, Brian Froud, Lisbeth Zwerger, Fred Moore, Miyazaki, Ronnie Del Carmen, Claire Keane, Chrystin “Lady” Garland, Lianna Hee, Griz and Norm, Brittney Lee, Eyvind Earle, Gustaf Tenggren, Charles Vess, John Bauer, Guillermo Del Toro, Mucha, Klimt. Whew! There are more. Honestly, inspirations come at me from everywhere.
As for my favorite designs: Sleeping Beauty. Just all of Sleeping Beauty. That movie is a gorgeous piece of design work, characters and backgrounds alike. Same goes for Lilo and Stitch. It’s a very different style, but I could look at Chris Sanders’ drawings all day. They’ve got this brilliant mix of structure and appeal, with just enough oddness to keep me interested. Song of the Sea is another film that is absolutely gorgeous as a whole, with some of the most original design work that I’ve seen in a long time.
Now for individual character designs, here are some of my favorites:
Captain Amelia from Treasure Planet. Her design is so beautifully proportioned, and has some highly expressive cat features. I love the cuts and contrasts of the coat, the stylized curls of the hair, and the overall interest this design offers.
Meg from Hercules. Another Ken Duncan character, and again, she’s beautifully proportioned with expressive features and some very striking graphic elements. I love the incorporation of Greek vase and column forms.
The giant from The Iron Giant. He seems plausible as a machine, and yet there is something so expressive and adorable about him. A little lift of the lower eyelid and he’s got a smile that melts my heart. The hidden arsenal and self-repairing features also add a lot of fun story possibilities.
Macha, the Owl Witch, from Song of the Sea. She is by turns, creepy, cute, funny, and downright terrifying. The designer picked just the right owl elements to emphasize to give her an appearance that is at once familiar and otherworldly.
The entire cast of The Incredibles. To me, this is the finest example of the “pushed shapes” approach to character design. It’s exaggerated, it’s expressive, it’s sculptural and graphic, and it just works. The Incredibles was the first CG film with human characters that didn’t creep me out, probably because they are so well designed.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
Right now, really excellent hand drawn animation is a rarity. There are a few places still producing it. People like James Lopez, Ken Duncan, and Sergio Pablos are carrying the torch for the time being. Cartoon Saloon is doing beautiful work. But certainly, hand drawn is in danger of becoming a rare art form. The general opinion in the industry is that hand drawn doesn’t sell to the general public. Personally, I find this kind of thinking very short-sighted. If there was some breakaway hand drawn success, suddenly all the studios would be opening new hand drawn departments. These kinds of things go in waves. Currently, the market favors CG animation, but I don’t think that it will remain dominant forever. I imagine a future where the market offers a healthy mix of hand drawn, CG, and stop motion. What really matters is the art of the story; the rest is just aesthetics. The important thing now is to pass on the art to the next generation. That’s what really worries me: that a lot of knowledge may be lost. You can help by supporting projects like Hullabaloo and Klaus. And if you’re an artist, don’t let your sketchbook die.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
Generally, I think that new media is wonderful. It gives so much power back to the creator, and connects us directly with our audience. My Etsy and Instagram have become vitally important to my business. There are two major pitfalls an artist may encounter when dealing with new media. 1) Trying to do all the things. Updating eight different blogs every day can waste valuable creation time and turn you into a frazzled mess. Select a few platforms and develop those diligently, rather than running yourself ragged all over the internet. 2) Using social media to define your success. Social media can be a great networking and marketing tool, but your sense of worth should not be dependent on how many followers you have. Rather than treating this as a popularity contest, look at it as a way to share your art with people. Better to devote your energy to developing a strong skill set and contributing to the world than to worry over who has the most followers.
Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I have a site at ( caseyrobin.com ), but honestly I’m more in love with my Instagram these days. You can find my most recent endeavors on Instagram ( @caseyrobin ). I do my best to reply to all the comments there. If you’d like to support my work, consider buying some cards or a print from my Etsy ( etsy.com/shop/CaseyRobinArt ). I love custom orders and commissions, too! For anything else, feel free to shoot me an email at ( email@example.com )