Interview with Casey Otremba
1.) How did you decide to pursue art as a career?
When I was in high school. I decided to stop pursuing architecture and decided to become an artist (animator, graphic designer, comic book artist – it flipped every month practically until junior year when I decided on Animation when I started looking at Art College).
2.) Your resume includes a BFA of animation, you’re working towards a MFA in illustration, and work experience in both freelance design and art directing. What influenced you to specialize in so many areas of art? Did your animated work help inspire you to create designs and illustrations? Or have you always been interested in working in multiple mediums of art?
I’ve never been one for linear life paths. The best piece of advice I received was that one should learn by absorbing what people teach you like a sponge. All the art I’ve studied (Animation, Film, Design, and Illustration) is about narrative and communication. All of the various disciplines I’ve studied have honed and helped me understand new variances of Visual Communication.
They all influence the other I believe, and I think all have made me think about my work in a different perspective because I can see my work from not just one but many viewpoints. I also like to learn and tend to see something and want to try it. Photography is something I’ve been learning over the last couple of years. Each different discipline offers me a chance to approach an idea and pick the best way to present the idea to someone else.
3.) What medium do you feel most comfortable using?
Pencil sketching/Illustrator colouring.
4.) Some of your client list for Skaffles LLC, include big company names such as Wal-mart, Urban Outfitters, and Target. Could you describe your typical work process with such large companies?
Work usually comes to me from the Creative Director or the President of the company (Skaffles in this case). They tell we what the client told them, they talk about their ideas and then depending on the time we have to get back to the client (Wal-Mart has a very demanding turnaround time for art while Urban Outfitters lets you take months) they ask me to interpret their ideas and come up with some of my own. Concept work is then made – usually some very rough pencil work and then digital artwork. I sit down with the Creative Director and look over the concept work. Critique, revise, rinse, repeat. This process will continue until we like what we see, we then present it to the head of our company (or the person on the sales team who is in charge of the account). They’ll critique, I revise work, and then when everyone is happy it will get presented to the client. Sometimes I sit in on these meetings, sometimes I don’t. It depends – smaller clients (Miranda Cosgrove, Urban Outfitters, etc.) the Creative Director trusted me to talk with these clients and help develop the concept with them. Wal-Mart had more of a hierarchy, so I’ve never sat down with them.
Basically work flow is I interpret an idea, make the concept and then tweak artwork until everyone is happy. Sometimes I fight to make my concept stay as it, other times the process is very collaborative. As a designer I need to listen to the people whom I’m designing for – often they are not artists and half of my job is to translate what they think they want into something they do want.
5.) Were you ever nervous to work for any of you clients? Were you ever intimidated starting out?
At the first company I worked for, the first time any of my designs were used I was terrified that they wouldn’t sell and that I would get blamed for it! I think it’s natural to feel nervous whenever you get a big project. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I present finalized work to clients. You put so much effort and time into what you do, that you want what you worked on to be liked.
I was extremely intimidated when I began working. There is always so much to learn and it is a very demanding industry to be in. The fact that I often ended up working with non-artists makes my job not only difficult but when giving criticism they tend not to hold back. The first time a Creative Director or an Art Director or a Sales person rips your work apart, it can feel awful! But it isn’t the end of the world. All they do is tell you to redo it. Once you are in the industry for a while, your skills and confidence grow and you get better at your job. You learn not to be too precious about your work and that even harsh criticism has a way of helping you improve your work.
6.) Could you describe the difference in your work process for your personal work against your work process for your professional work?
My personal work process involves sketching, more sketching, and finally getting to a final piece. I think there is a lot less outside input into creating my personal work. I do tend to get feedback from trusted friends, but as a way to get another point of view.
My professional work follows a faster and more intense pace, and outside input is completely needed and given. I am working to achieve clearly defined parameters and always to make sure a product sells.
7.) What has inspired you in your theme of feminism and fashion? How do you incorporate this idea into your professional work?
Strangely enough 3 things continue to inspire me – books, Anna Wintour, and my little ‘feminism is that radical notion that women are people’ pin. My thought process behind my fashion illustration comes from a lot of reading. I have read through a lot of feminist history and books and manifestos.
Fashion brings up immediate and sometimes very visceral imagery. I would like to think that fashion can be used not to define what we are and are not, but a form of artistic expressionism. My work has been looking at not only fashion but how and if it can relate to feminism. As a woman, should I be labeled by what I wear? I wonder if what we wear should define us or if we as a society can see fashion as a form of expression. If we use clothes to define us, are we concealing are actual selves or using them as armor in this day and age?
These concerns and thoughts can come up when I am designing in my professional work. They come up quite often. I do a lot of designing of tween and teen cosmetics, accessory sets, and little girl dress-up items and the choices I make - What girl represents the tween market? A blonde? A brunette? Is she white? Is she Hispanic? Does it always have to be a princess? Why do we always use pink? I sometimes wonder if I perpetuate the pink, blonde, princess mythos with all the design work I do. I wonder if we on the creation side merely fall into the habit of pink, sparkly, and princess, or if that really is all that parents actually buy for their girls. If so, what message is that sending to all those kids?
8.) Can you describe your time interning at B3 and Levitt productions?
Fun, crazy times. The animation department was tiny – 3 guys and me. I was lucky to get an intern with a small company – while my friends were photocopying and coffee fetching at MTV, I got to work on projects, got to sit in on meetings with actual clients of the company, and help pitch artwork. I think this gave me the ability to feel confident after graduation to approach and deal with directors and clients. Having time to work with such a small team, they all look their time helping and mentoring me. I learned a lot. I think that the right internship can teach you skills that cannot be taught in a class room.
9.) What is the biggest mistake that you have made for a client that you have learned from?
Making a massive spelling mistake on a label that had a run of 50,000 pieces. Luckily, it was on the back of the label and I don’t think many people ever realized it, but it has made me super, super, Super cautious and made me double check files more carefully now before they get sent to final production.
10.) What are some of your future goals, and how do you hope to achieve them?
I would like to see my fashion illustration work published in a major fashion publication, and that would be achieved through hard work, determination, and luck.
I would like to write and draw a graphic novel one day. I’m currently working with a published author to help me refine my writing skills. In the meantime, I’m practicing by making kids books, competing in Macmillan Kids Book Competition, and going to the Bologna and London Book Fairs to learn about what are going on out there.
My dream would to one day direct an animated film. I’m not quite sure if it will happen, but if it did, I would be overjoyed.