Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Illustration Department: A Three Week Workshop with Giuseppe Castellano

© Sylvia Liu

As a children's illustrator, I've had the good fortune of having excellent mentors, teachers, and friends who have helped me develop and grow as an artist (sometimes kicking and screaming). One of these people is Giuseppe Castellano, Executive Art Director at Penguin Random House.

I've blogged about the two previous times I've learned from him in group settings, when he gave Mark Mitchell's online class an assignment to re-envision a Nancy Drew cover and critiqued us (2014), and when he led a group of illustrators working on picture book dummies in the MidSouth SCBWI Creating Your Best Dummy Workshop (2015).

Last year, my picture book (as an author), A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, illustrated by the talented Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books 2016) came out, so I spent more time marketing and writing than illustrating. This spring, I signed up for The Illustration Department's Three Week One-On-One Workshop course with Giuseppe to regain some focus and direction.

The Three-Week Workshop

The workshop consisted of three sessions:

(1) Week 1: In a one-hour video hangout, Giuseppe reviewed my portfolio and a few illustrations I was working on. He gave me pointers and critiques on specific pieces in my portfolio. By the end of the call, he gave me an assignment to redo one of the illustrations he critiqued.

(2) Week 2: A week after the first call, I emailed Giuseppe my revised illustration and a sketch for another one. A couple days later, he gave me constructive feedback and comments via email.

(3) Week 3: I sent him my revised illustration and we had a final one-hour consultation by video hangout. He gave feedback on my assignment and we discussed my general career trajectory and things I should work on.

My Takeaways

I summed up what I got out of the experience in my testimonial about the workshop:
With a wealth of experience and knowledge about illustration and the industry, Giuseppe gave me great advice about how to improve my illustrations and portfolio as well as helpful guidance on my career in general. Giuseppe was particularly good at pointing out specific ways to improve my art, with concrete tips that I could apply to all my work. He is always supportive and encouraging, no matter what stage of development an artist is in.
Specifically, I got:

1. Concrete Actionable Advice.  For example, Giuseppe pointed out that I should pay more attention to my line quality, instead of just using it as an outline for an illustration. (He had told me the same thing in a portfolio review in 2015 during the MidSouth conference, but I guess I had to hear it again before it stuck). As a result of that insight, I reworked several pieces in my portfolio, including my kite flyers:

© Sylvia Liu

2. A Portfolio Critique. Giuseppe shared his thoughts on my portfolio, including which pieces he thought were stronger, which ones were weaker and could be edited out, and other comments. He encouraged me to continue to explore the moodier pieces I've been working on recently, like these:

© Sylvia Liu
© Sylvia Liu

and applying some of that feeling to kid-friendlier images, like the kite flyers (above) or this one:

© Sylvia Liu

3 An llustration-specific critique. He critiqued a couple of my illustrations in progress and provided good tips. For example, I had drawn a sea lion that he felt was not based in reality:

He pulled some reference images from the web and showed me how he'd do what he called a "Sylvia" version of the character:

Giuseppe's draw over on the left

I ended up redoing the sea lion like this:

4. Advice for next steps. We discussed where I wanted to go with my illustration and what to focus on. He encouraged me to set deadlines to complete goals like developing a new dummy by a certain date. All of this was extremely motivating.

All in all, the workshop was completely worth it. I highly recommend illustrators of any level take this workshop, or any of the other ones offered by The Illustration Department, such as the One Hour Portfolio Consultation or his 5-week online small group workshop (Fall Session starts October 12).

Future Opportunity

I recently received notice that the Highlights Foundation is hosting an Illustrator Intensive September 7-10, 2017 with a stellar line up of illustrators, an agent (Adriana Dominguez), and Giuseppe Castellano. The agenda includes dummy preparation, story boarding, character development, portfolio expectations, and more.  Here's the faculty line up:

I would love to go to this workshop, but at this point, I know what I need to do -- put the pedal to the proverbial metal and get to work.

Who are some of your illustration mentors/teachers/pals who have taught and inspired you?

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  1. This was so interesting! I love the transformative techniques you have adopted. Amazing process - thank you for sharing!

  2. Those are seriously awesome re-dos based on GC's advice! I, too, have learned much from him and wouldn't hesitate to take any other class or workshop from him in the future.

    (Commenting isn't working right for me on the phone so please delete any duplicate comments that might have ensued!)

    1. Thanks for recommending the workshop to me!

  3. I loved reading about your feedback and process for taking the suggestions and applying them to your work. Beautiful!

  4. I love seeing your development under one-on-one tutelage! While the "before" images are evocative and promising, the "afters" are significantly more accessible and engaging. Excellent work, Sylvia!

    1. Thank you, Megan. So glad to see you recently!


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