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Kristy Caldwell is an award-winning illustrator from Louisiana, who lives in New York with her partner Kelly O'Donnell and their sometimes-dog Bachi. She collaborates with New York's theater community, is co-owner of the magazine Carrier Pigeon: Illustrated Fiction and Fine Art, and recently completed an adaptation of Puss in Boots for Korean publisher Tamkoo. Her first picture book for iPad will be available soon from Two Publishers.

01.29.13

Illustrator
Kristy Caldwell

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BA in fine art and an MFA in illustration.

Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? I’ve always done it, although I think my style now has as much to do with my degrading attention span as it does with education. In college I learned to paint with oils, and that changed everything. I found line again in graduate school and Marshall Arisman introduced me to Windsor & Newton sable-pointed round brushes, saying they would change my life. They have. I draw almost everything that way now.

What was your first paid assignment? Depending on your perspective it was either drawings of zombies in elementary school, T-shirt designs for a print shop during high school or hundreds of line-art illustrations for a gift book series as a recent college graduate.

Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? I’m fascinated by artists whose points-of-view overwhelm genre and assignment, who are able to make each experience fully their own. It’s the currency of fine art, but harder when you’re operating by consensus. Serge Bloch, Tomi Ungerer, Tatsuro Kiuchi and Jordan Crane each do a bit of everything, and it’s all cohesive and then there are people like Michael DeForge and Jim Woodring who create things that feel like a new language.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? I’d be a book editor. Or a failed fiction writer. I copyedit short fiction for Carrier Pigeon, which is not as intense and takes the pressure off of me to have someone else telling me the rules of their world.

From where do your best ideas originate? From scraps of fiction, science articles, old essays and collaborative goofing off.

How do you overcome a creative block? I read something fantastical, which takes me out of the endless treadmill of my own brain. Sometimes I take a nap. Sometimes I ask for help.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment. Expansive.

Do you have a personal philosophy? To live as though this is my only shot at life—because it probably is. That reminder emboldens me to take bigger risks and to stand up for myself.

Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? The children’s book for iPad is my first time being published as author/illustrator. That extra responsibility makes for a very personal experience.

What music are you listening to right now? John Cage Complete Piano Music, Vol. 8 (Hommage à Satie), Erik Satie, Skip James.

What's your favorite quote? “Our posture was the new posture and not the old sick posture.” —Restless Leg Syndrome, by James Tate

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Go to business school (I’m only half-kidding). Make sure people can find you. Accessible trumps enigmatic. Also, it can be embarrassing to try to sell yourself, so think of your work as a separate being that you believe in and want to see thrive.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I’d known the basics of marketing myself. Introverts make things harder than they have to be.