One-on-one with Casey Gustafson

Boneshaker Press is proud to introduce you to Casey Gustafson a new Boneshaker artist contributing to the second volume of Encounters with the Imaginary. Check out Casey on her website !

What’s your background?

I grew up on the South Hill of Spokane, Washington with my mom, dad, brother, and our two cats. As an adult I attended college at the University of Washington Bothell Campus and then left to study art at Washington State University. I felt I wasn’t learning what I wanted to learn, so I left there and pursued art practice full-time, attending weekly figure drawing workshops.I started teaching kids’ art classes and applied to the University of Washington’s design program. My fiancé and I currently live in Bellevue, Washington with our two cats, and this year I will graduate from the University of Washington with a Bachelors in Industrial Design.

What got you interested in the arts to begin with?

I was fascinated with making things from a very young age, but I think it was watching animated shows like Pokemon and Gargoyles that got me into drawing in particular. The family always visited art museums when we went on vacations because my parents were interested in arts and culture, so I was exposed to quite a bit of art as a kid.

Center of the forest

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?

When I was 18 I picked up a paintbrush again in college after several years of not doing much painting. It was a shock to find how much I loved it still and how much better it made me feel to just push the paint around and create something. I was really suffering from depression at the time and struggling with the transition to college, so painting eased the pain of those issues a lot and filled the down time. The next quarter I took a class on emotive sketching that changed the way I experienced art; I had to pursue it further. The next year I transferred to Washington State University where they had more art classes and the rest is history.

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

Not really; I have felt like an artist in many ways since I was very small. All of my hobbies as a younger person revolved around making things and it felt really natural. I was into Legos, acrylic and watercolor painting, collage, sewing, sculpting, anything I could get my hands on that allowed me to express my imagination. There have been a few events in my life that have made me feel like less of an artist, and those have been the greatest struggles.

Do you collect anything?

Yes! I have a small collection of rocks and gems, a bunch of house plants, and of course, a collection of Photoshop brushes bordering on the unreasonable.


What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

The most important thing for me is drawing something every day, even if it’s unfocused doodle time. I also make a habit of taking pictures whenever I see something interesting, just to remember the light and the moment. If I’m waiting around, I make a point of looking for interesting forms and lighting to capture; those little moments of intentional creative thinking are immensely helpful to my artistic process.

Do you ever feel like giving up and doing something else? If so, why and how have you overcome that feeling?

I feel like that all the time and have often seen it in my students as well; it’s a very normal feeling. The way I deal with it is to give in to it and do something else for a while. Even if the break is only 20 minutes or an hour, I will come back refreshed and ready to address my frustration with the problem at hand. I do always come back and continue, because at the end of the day, even if it’s sometimes discouraging, the work is immensely rewarding and well worth the momentary frustrations.

Character sketch

How do you measure your level of success/achievement?

At this point in my life, I don’t honestly measure my level of success. I haven’t finished school yet, I’m just learning and failing and learning more.

What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?

I would tell my younger self to do what she thinks is right even when it’s difficult.

How has your practice changed over time?

When I was just starting out with drawing I had a tendency to make a sketch, “finish” it, and move on to the next thing. Today I’m much more open-minded about editing and changing and re-thinking my ideas than I was back then. I’ve seen through practicing design that I can almost never come up with the best solution on the first try; most of the time it takes more thought and exploration to uncover the parts of a concept that are the most appealing. Now I spend most of my time creating and embellishing stories and characters, developing hierarchies within my images, and working out emotive color palettes.

Walk in the forest

How do you keep your creative spark? What keeps you motivated?

I try to experience as much storytelling and design as I can! I read everything from comics to classics to modern novels, and I watch inspiring movies. Some people say TV rots your brain, but I beg to differ! I think another way to stay creative that many artists neglect is basic self-care. I jealously guard my 8 or 9 hours of sleep, try to eat well, make time for friends and learning and traveling, and try not to hole up in my house painting for days on end. By staying healthy I can come to the table refreshed with the kind of ideas that come from just living life.

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

It was not said to me personally, but these are the words I live by:

I used to use words like cerulean because I liked the way it felt in my mouth. Now I just say blue. Why bother saying things you have to explain? That’s who I am now. Someone who doesn’t explain.

-Karen Rivers

I live by this statement because for me it perfectly encompasses the purpose of design: to clarify, not complicate. It’s really beautiful when our actions and our creations tell a clearer, richer, more memorable story than we could have told with any explanation.

Character sketch

What was your first step towards being a professional?

Quitting art school and taking some time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my creativity was the beginning of my career. After I did that I was able to move make goals and move toward them; I started learning figure drawing and got a job teaching a few months after that. Doors started opening, as they say.

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

My brain! I don’t feel that the tools matter too much, but the work you make is always dependent on your ideas, perception, and design sense.

Alone again

Was there a moment or decision that was a big setback? And what did you take away from that?

Absolutely. I was actually rejected from the BFA program at Washington State University when I was 20. In the portfolio review, my teachers —the ones who had been teaching me how to make this work for two years— said to my face that my paintings looked like something they would expect to see on the back of an RV. It was really shocking at the time. Looking back though, I’m glad it happened; hearing that was so unexpected that it released me from any expectations of what other people will think of my work. It taught me to make the work I wanted to make without worrying too much about other people. These days I’m open to suggestions and critique, but I don’t care much if other people confirm or deny the quality of my paintings. Either way, I’m going to make the work.

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