Denise M. Cassano also has a wonderful “Red Riding Hood” illustration. Her work implies adventure and a fun story (like “Fishing for Love” which has so many things going on, and suggests regal qualities (the girl, the kite, the fox), as well as dystopian or steampunk (the tree, the heart).
OCB: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in their lives they’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to Visual Artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
Denise M. Cassano: Whether we like it or not, as writers and illustrators our experiences come through our work, sometimes obviously- other times it’s more subliminal. For many years I painted about the concept of fear (Crossroads, Kraken and Knight Time are examples.) Fear paralyzes you. There is an amazing book, Art and Fear, I recommend to artists and writers- it nails it. I’ve experienced people who don’t lead full lives and miss out on opportunities because they are afraid. I even know someone who, because she was afraid, didn’t get the medical attention she needed and by the time she did go, it was too late.
The themes in my art pose a question- “Is there anything to be afraid of? Or, maybe, is it something we just don’t understand?” Do we have all the information that we need, or are we simply afraid of the unknown? If we look more carefully, can we understand our world or does it just make us more confused? My characters (sometimes they are animals, people or even architecture) are all shown in context of what is around them, which I think changes the story. Setting, to me, is a character. (For an excellent example of this, watch Downton Abby. Highclere Castle itself is just as important as Lady Mary.)
I have a quote from Tim Gunn in my classroom- “Fear never conquered anything.” I love it
OCB: What are you painting or creating art for (as in, what is the deep-down driving force behind your choice to paint/illustrate in the first place)? What is it about the act of drawing or painting or illustrating that speaks to you or resonates with you most?
Denise: What resonates with me when I paint is how it makes me feel, not only when I am in the process of making it but also when I .experience the final image. When composing images I am fascinated by two things: the concept of inside/outside as well as how the slightest detail can change the entire story, sometimes in a surreal way. (Many of my paintings contain a bit of surreal imagery). Most of my images are full bleeds, meaning they have a foreground/main character element, but they also have a background that is just as important and plays another character.
For example, in both “Fishing for Love” and “She Was Not Afraid” there are details in the distance that tell something in addition to the foreground message. In “Fishing” there are tiny kites in the shape of hearts and in “Afraid” there is a futuristic/steampunk type of cityscape- quite different from what we are used to. If you see something new each time you look at a painting of mine, and you feel something, then I consider it a success. I think for any writer or illustrator- our driving force is that you have something to say- and you need to get it out in the only way you know how.
OCB: What technique/medium did you use to create “Fishing For Love” and/or “She Was Not Afraid?”
Denise: I tend to use traditional and digital media- understanding that they both have qualities I am looking for. In “Fishing for Love,” it started out as a water color, then I scanned it into PhotoShop and digitally rendered the background and did some touch ups. The kite in the tree is graphite, digitally colored in. It was quite the experimentation! It is a more current piece, and I am more open to trying new things.
In “She Was Not Afraid,” it is an oil painting on board. I then scanned it into PhotoShop and worked on the mech wolf as well as details of the girl. What I have learned (the hard way) is that no matter how good the painting is, if the composition is off, the whole image is off. Sketching and working out all of those details of placement is key before color and texture can be applied.
Here is a blog post further describing my process.
OCB: Since you illustrate books for young readers, did you have a favorite illustration or illustrator when you were young (or now)? If so, why?
Denise: Some of my favorite illustrators are Chris Van Allsburg, Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier (so excited to meet him at SCBWI this year!), Pamela Zagarenski, and of course Tuesday’s David Wiesner. Tuesday was what got me into illustrating for children. All of these illustrators consider the entire image, foreground and background, and each of their images is a story unto itself. They force you to keep looking, and isn’t that the point?