An interview with Derrick Castle

By Ed Vinicombe on Oct 15th, 2013

Hi Derrick, for those who are unaware would you care to introduce yourself?

I'm Derrick Castle, I design under the studio name Straw Castle. I'm a Nashville based designer/illustrator that has been in the design industry, professionally speaking for 14 years. Just in the past 5-6 years have I been leaning more into the illustrative side of things.

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What first drew me to your work was your technique with block printing. What is the process from start to finish?

Block printing is definitely taken on more of a focus here as of late. What drew me to the block printing process was the ability to create reproducible artwork in a traditional primitive method. I didn't really need any space or expensive materials to do this, unlike screen printing. Just a block and a few tools.
The process is pretty simple but takes a great deal of patience. I've actually detailed a bit of the process on youtube, releasing a series of process videos as well as live broadcasts while actually working through the process. The first step is to come up with the design, either draw it out on tracing paper or normal paper. The key is, when you transfer the design to your block, the design needs to be reversed to the mirror image seeing as how this is a relief print. I use carbon paper to transfer my image to the block.
This is a video detailing the process of transferring the design to the block as well as inking out the negative areas of the block that I will be carving. I like to spend this time really thinking about the design and thinking through all the areas that I will be carving.This next video details the carving process. This is the process in which I completely zone out and carve out all the negative space.Next is the printing process. I use French cover stock and speedball inks. You'll see the process in the following video and as you can see I have a helper. I've been getting my 9 year old girl into the process as well. She has carved and printed some of her own designs. This pretty much details out the technical aspects of the block printing process. I love it because it is so hands on. It take all the modern technology out of design and gets back to basics... again, I'm creating reproducible artwork, its not really fine art but its also not the commercial art you typically see this day and age.

When creating artwork for bands such as Ozzy Osbourne and Aerosmith how do you approach the design initially? Is it a case of emersing yourself into that band for a week or so or analysing what artwork they have produced in the past?

It's a little bit of both I think. With a lot of the band work that I've been able to pick up, strangely enough, they were bands that I listened to as a kid and teenager. So I was already familiar with their image and a lot of what their fan base would expect from them. Of course, there are exceptions to this.
It was kind of nostalgic for me to get to design artwork for bands like Van Halen, Poison, Def Leppard, Ozzy Ozbourne and others. I'd start the process with a little research, search through old merch that the bands have out there. I didn't want to come up with an idea for something that has already been done. I'd then turn on some Van Halen or what ever the band may be, get in the zone, and start sketching out some ideas.
I think one of the most interesting bands that I got to work with was KISS. And I will tell you, there is a LOT of oversight and management that goes into their brand. I had to read through and work within the guidelines of a 40 page branding document. It was very interesting indeed!

As well as artwork for bands and clothing labels you also dabble in some branding identity such as this. How do these project come about? Is it a nice break from what your use to?

Well, believe it or not, this is really the bulk of what I do on an average work day. I have a full time inHouse Design gig where the majority of my work is branding & brand management — departmental communications — as well as enterprise level web strategies, design and development.
When I was growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, although my parents were supportive in that, I think there was some genuine concern. I had family in the commercial arts field that discouraged me from pursuing that course of action but I knew about nothing else and had interest in nothing else. For me, I think it was important to find a practical application of the things I was interested in. I started working with a web startup company in the late 90's and figured out that the internet was the place to be. It's a far cry from drawing album covers, skulls and dragons from when I was a kid but here I was, a young adult needing to make it on my own.
It wasn't very long ago that I actually started putting more of a focus on my freelance illustration career. But it was the strength and stability of knowing the web/internet space that gave me the freedom to begin focusing on illustration.

A lot of your artwork is very tattoo like. Have you ever been tempted to give this a go? Do you have any tattoos of your own that you have designed?

Totally, tattoo design is a really big influence in my artwork. I love the motifs and the strong emphasis on composition. I never thought to pursue tattooing, mainly because of the "hazing- apprenticeship" aspects of it. I don't want to work within the confines and traditions of having to be underneath someone's wing unable to step out until he or she feels like I'm ready. I want to do my own thing with no one holding me back.
I do have tattoos that I have designed. I have around 10 individual tattoos in the traditional Americana style. I basically come up with the idea of what I want, sketch it out and take it to a tattoo artist to put their spin on it. I don't like to be overly aggressive with what I present to them. I want them to put their spin on it. I feel like in doing that, they are having fun, able to add a bit of themselves into it and you'll end up with a better tattoo.

Designers that have inspired you recently?

Yeah, there's lots of guys out there that have inspired me for a number of different reasons, whether it be the actual design work & business practices — or attitude and temperament. Rarely have a seen an artist that is the whole package.
Jessica Hische - I love her typography work but more than anything she has helped me better understand some of the business aspects of design. The importance of effectively pricing and licensing your artwork.
Aaron Horkey - this guy is a crazy beast. I love his over all composition and immense attention to detail. I just can't imagine the amount of patience you must have to get that level of precise detail and complexity.
Olly Moss is completely on the other end of the spectrum from Aaron Horkey, you have Olly Moss. I love Olly's ability to convey such a powerful message with such a simplistic design. Olly has great composition skills as well. Very powerful works.
Caitlin Hackett & Caitlin is amazing, working in such uber large scale, detailing out some of the most intricate line works in her pieces. She's gotta just be in the zone when working on this stuff. I also enjoy her themes and the mutations of nature. Amazing works.
There's four of my top 10, I could continue to go on and on!

How long have you been an illustrator and what advice would you give to somebody wanting to improve their abilities?

Well, this is an interesting question, I would say that I have always been an illustrator. Since I was a kid, I always drew pictures based on the music I was listening to. Listening to Led Zeppelin — I would draw images of dragons, castles and mystical forests. Listen to Ozzy — I would draw images of demons, evil, and madness. As I grew older, I was getting out of this type of stuff, I actually stopped drawing all together. I focused more on computer-generated imagery; Page layout and web design. Fast forward15 years.... I finally decided to pick up pen and paper again.
I had mentioned earlier about my transition into the web world — designing and developing websites. Well, somewhere around 10 years into my career I felt like there was a whole side of me that was not really being fulfilled with the web design world.
At that point I started drawing again, and at this time the t-shirt contest site model was in its heyday; Sites like Design by Humans & Threadless — Teefury and plenty others. I started getting into that scene, started drawing again, started getting better, started getting visibility, started getting client work.
If I was to give advise, I would say never stop. Always stay active. If you do stop, it's never too late to pick it back up and make a go of it. Like me, you will just hate yourself for not moving forward for so long.

Essential materials for your design process?

All you need is inspiration, and some means of documenting that inspiration. I use life & culture - music & food & mixology. Keep your eyes open and your hearing attuned. Pay attention to every detail in life.

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