An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Caryn Cast

When I moved home from New York, I had one friend. I immediately went about the business of making a second friend. That second friend is today's bitch, Caryn Cast. Caryn and I have been friends for thirteen years. When we met, she drove sitting atop a pile of phone books, kept boxes of Cheez-Its in her backseat, and sometimes had a jar of pickles in her purse. I loved her immediately.

Caryn and I blasted through our twenties eating chips and dip, riding in her enormous Chevy Lumina, and dancing at Johny Jackson's Soul Satisfaction. When I started dating John, I was thrilled to realize that John and Caryn knew each other from MTSU, and that Caryn had secretly called him Mr. Gibson all through college. From then on, John became our chauffeur and Caryn became our beloved "backseat critter". Meet today's bitch, my talented friend, Caryn Cast!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I create art: murals, editorial illustrations, paintings, menus (handpainted + graphic design), and sidewalk chalkboards. I also sell art prints and my own line of Star Wars and country romance greeting cards. I am Caryn Cast Art & Design!

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

When I was little, I took art classes from a pastel portrait artist in an old frame shop where I grew up in Florida. That is where I discovered how much I love painting portraits! I spent many summers in that class with older women in their eighties painting still lifes - they were amazing! I was the kid painting portraits and eating snacks in the corner. Not much has changed.

What would you do with two more hours a day? 

Plant a garden and hope to keep it alive, and go to a chiropractor (long hours painting murals on a ladder are a doozy).

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Once my hand discovered pencils, my idea of having fun has always been doodling. I dabbled in some creative something or other for years without taking it seriously until one particular day. I was working in the music business in Nashville and came home one night, went up to my old dusty attic, and started painting a portrait to see if I still “had it.” The first painting: Bon Jovi as a vampire (God, please nobody ever find it, PLEASE). Within a week I had created two portraits and I just couldn't stop - I had so many portrait ideas I needed to paint and not enough time to paint them all! The drive to create was never going to go away; that’s the moment when I realized.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

When I moved to New York City, I began to explore other forms of art outside of painting pastel portraits. I went to Pratt Institute in Manhattan for Illustration/Design, and they would not let me touch a piece of chalk (which was a good thing!). I became obsessed with watercolors, acrylics, printmaking, and graphic design, which opened up so many doors once I graduated.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?  

I have a series of dictator murals and illustrations. The first dictator I created is located in an amazing craft beer and cheese shop named Astoria Bier & Cheese in Queens, NY. They graciously gave me a platform for creating murals, chalkboards, wall drawings, and all kinds of art insanity - they are like family. There are now four dictator murals in their restaurants scattered throughout New York City and Queens! The first mural wound up in a discussion on the front page of Reddit, twice in Timeout NY, and in a fashion magazine in Geneva. Let’s hope Kim Jong Un doesn’t come after me.....

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

Learn how to say no, which is really hard, especially if the project pays well and you're broke. A couple of years ago I turned down a project because it really wasn’t a direction I wanted to go in, and the next day I got a call to paint a mural. Thank you, art gods.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

There are many, but communication is a big one. When I get commissioned, I want to make sure I have a *picture perfect* understanding of what the client wants, all the way down to the nitty gritty details. I used to just dive in without getting the big picture, which can drive both parties crazy. There will always be redo's and edits and corrections, but I really make an effort to get a thorough idea before diving in. In other words, I ask 1,000,000,000 questions before the pencil hits the paper.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work? 

Staying organized/writing everything down is such a simple concept that took me years to get right! I have a lot of different projects to keep up with and it's essential to organize. Don't think I'm a sophisticated digital calendar expert though, because I'm actually a cave man and cannot do the digital calendar. I have to physically write things down with a pencil on a piece of paper on a gigantic list that I carry around in my purse with me everywhere.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made? 

That’s a toss-up between lack of sleep and appearance. I work best if I have a deadline, but when you’re working on three projects at once and they’re all due the next day, goodbye sleep and hello coffee! Also, painting interior murals often means painting after hours when the business is closed. Right now I think my sleep schedule is on Hawaii time. As for appearance, sometimes I wander around covered in paint looking like the swamp thing, but I really don’t mind. Keeps you warm in a New York winter.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 

All of 'em! Then email, then the news. I am obsessed with the Diane Rehm show on NPR. Instagram is also a big one for me!

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

I love going to museums for inspiration. But to be honest, a ride on the New York City subway on the way to the museum can do the trick too. Also, my friends are so talented, hilarious and always inspiring!

How do you decompress at the end of the work day? 

A glass of wine and good tunes. I go through musical phases where I get obsessed with one particular style of music. Right now I'm discovering the world of punk (I know, I'm behind). I can't get enough!

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show/movie and what is your favorite snack?

As for TV, I am officially 100% nerd: I grew up on Star Trek and have had the Star Wars trilogy memorized since I was a kid! Nowadays I watch documentaries on the food industry, anything about aliens (crop circles, what!), whales, wine, documentaries about the planet / Vice, and of course House of Cards. Snacks: I have a severe addiction to crunchy snacks and I had to cut myself off from potato chips (pita chips do not count). But really, my favorite snack = wine.




All photos courtesy of Caryn Cast

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Communications Director, Lauren Stephens Branson!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

An Interview with Hairstylist Courtney Risse

Body Shaming

Body Shaming