Sod house

One-on-one with Carolyn Arcabascio

Boneshaker is proud to introduce you to Carolyn Arcabascio currently situated in New Hampshire. You can find Carolyn’s portfolio here.

What’s your background?

I was always interested in writing and illustrating, starting when I was very young. After earning a BFA from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, I went on to intern for a Boston-based magazine before landing in educational textbook publishing. I spent several years in that field, mostly doing image research and licensing, but I also had the opportunity to work on academic illustration and visual development for several titles. I left the industry in 2015 and have been freelancing for various magazine and book publishers ever since.

I’m also one-fourth of the creative team over at Morning Noon & Night Productions, a small, international animation studio.

Background for Morning Noon & Night by Carolyn Arcabascio
Background for Morning Noon & Night by Carolyn Arcabascio

What got you interested in the arts to begin with?

I think by nature I’ve always been a very curious person, and art and writing were ways for me to connect to and understand the world around me. Or at least, it was the method that felt the most natural to me.

My earliest influences though were first Shel Silverstein’s poetry anthologies, and then Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?

If I really think about it, it wasn’t much of a decision. Art (and writing) just always made the most sense to me, out of all the possible things I could have pursued. The idea of creating and contributing something in life has always been important to me, and I think I can most effectively contribute through my art.

Do you remember your first piece of art you were really proud of? The one that made you say yes I am an artist!

I remember in the 6th grade, I got a new set of Prismacolor pencils and started drawing portraits of my friends and classmates. Word spread about them and I ended up with a slew of requests for more portraits. It’s the first time I remember noticing the happiness that my art could give to people.

Do you collect anything?

I’m a big collector of books. About once every two weeks I’ll stop by the local library and browse through the “free” stack that’s been weeded out of their collection. And I always love a good thrift store find.


Do you enjoy collaboration work? What qualities do you look for in collaborators?

I do! My collaboration with the Morning Noon & Night team has been a great experience. In our podcast series recently we’ve talked about some of the reasons why our collaboration works, and I’d have to say that one of the biggest ones is diversity of ideas and experiences. My three collaborators and I, being from different parts of the world, all have very different backgrounds. And our different backgrounds as a result have shaped the way we all think and approach problems, so having all our different perspectives applied to a single animation has made for a pretty unique project. At least, I think so. We’ll see if audiences agree!

What sacrifices have you made on behalf of your art career?

Well as I mentioned earlier, I’m a book nerd and reading is a big hobby of mine. So big that, as I realized, it was eating up a lot of free time that I could have been using to better prepare for my career as an independent creator. So in the year leading up to leaving my full time job and launching a freelance business, I resolved to read only materials that would help me improve my skill and further my career. Books like James Gurney’s Color and Light and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit to train myself to have the discipline and focus I needed. But now that that period’s ended I’ve reunited with my beloved fiction. 🙂

Then there are the bigger sacrifices. And actually, I don’t know that I would call them sacrifices. More like changes.

There are of course lots of different paths to becoming a professional. For many people who are interested in working in studios or being in close proximity to other artists and creators, it makes sense to move to places like LA or New York. This wasn’t what I was striving for, so for me it made the most sense to shape my life into one with fewer burdens — both on my finances and my time. So for this reason (and some others), my husband and I ended up moving from a suburb of Boston to a smaller, and really quite peaceful place in New Hampshire. It took a lot of planning and adjusting, but the result is an environment that makes the most sense for me, and my work.

And while we’re on the subject of sacrifices, it has to be said that it’s no picnic being the spouse or significant other of an artist. When we change our lives to accommodate our art, they’re compelled to change right along with it. So I say here for the record how grateful I am to have support in this journey.


How do you measure your level of success/achievement?

For me, success is simply the ability to support myself and my family while doing work that fulfills and sustains me.

What themes/ideas do you pursue?

I’m very interested in themes related to magical realism — which isn’t quite fantasy, but our own reality touched with a sense of mystery or otherworldliness. I remember many years ago at a conference, a fellow attendee described my work as “whimsical but dark.” It was one of the first descriptions of my work that felt truly revelatory and clarifying. At the time, I wasn’t setting out on these kinds of themes deliberately, but I gravitated towards them naturally. And I think stretching our reality just a little helps to exaggerate these different facets of life, both the darkness and the light of it.

What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?

I would have told myself not to accept the limitations that people impose upon you. Work as hard as you’re expected to, and then push further. No one cares about your goals and ambitions as much as you do, so it’s on you to keep the focus and fight for it. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be so concerned about what other people envision for your life.

And, to be grateful for all the support you’ve gotten along the way. Be forever generous in your expressions of gratitude.


How has your practice changed over time?

It’s changed in lots of ways. For one, I worked with traditional media exclusively up until about two years ago. So that’s been a big shift in the way I technically execute my work. But I’ve also changed in that I’ve gotten much more disciplined. I put a lot more time into practicing and preliminary sketches than I used to. But I think that goes hand in hand with transitioning out of a more amateurish mindset in the pursuit of creating more professional work.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Chris Oatley’s advice to push past the shallow technique of a piece in order to get to the spirit of it — the why of it — has been hugely helpful to me, and I think about it often.

What’s your main challenge when beginning a new piece of art?

I always go through a period of intense intimidation before starting a new illustration. It can last a few minutes, it can last a week… Having a client waiting on you always helps with the process of nipping that intimidation period in the bud, but if it’s something like a personal project, it can be harder to get past. And the intimidation always stems I think from a place of self doubt. Those early stages of a painting can be really unwieldy and vague, and there’s this fear that I won’t actually be able to get it to shape up into anything. But keeping in close touch either with collaborators or other artist friends helps. They provide accountability and the encouragement to shake it off, and just go for it.

Lemon man

What is the most vital/indispensable tool in your studio?

Years ago my husband got me a good set of speakers, and I had no idea at the time how much use I’d get out of them or how much I’d come to rely on them. Whenever possible I prefer not to wear headphones while I’m working. Sometimes everything — my eyes, my thoughts, my posture — is so focused on the screen that I feel like the whole world around me has become constricted. But filling the space with music or a podcast helps to open up that space again and reconnect me to the world. So yeah. They’re good speakers.

Would you eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs?

I mean, I’d be a little worried about the repercussions. The tides and nocturnal animals would probably be pretty shaken up. And I’m a vegetarian. Really it just wouldn’t work out…

Sod House

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