Karen Caldicott is from England. She is a sculptor/illustrator, who lives and works in Upstate New York. Once upon a time she would ride her bike over the Williamsburg bridge to Manhattan to deliver illustration assignments that were strapped to her back. Now she is happy that the internet allows her to live in the middle of the woods, miles from any where. When not modeling clay heads for the likes of New York magazine, The New York Times, TIME and many other major US publications, she can be found gardening or gathering wood for her pot belly stove. She's a dab hand with the 2 chain-saws she owns and also with her pool cue, (eight ball being her preferred game). She misses her old pool table from her Brooklyn loft days but instead of riding bikes through the crowded cavernous NY streets, she rides through the corn fields and serene and windy lanes of Columbia County: horse country. She lives with 3 cats and has a nice boyfriend who visits from the big city.
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
From my early childhood, once the realization set in that I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete or pop singer, I knew I’d end up being an artist of some kind. However it wasn’t until I received my first commission, (a book jacket), soon after graduating from the Royal College of Art, that it sunk in, that yes, I could make a living doing this thing I loved. Those days my work was very painterly and loose. I hadn’t much idea how it might be applied in the commercial world, so receiving that call for my first job was pivotal.
This was the late eighties, and obviously before websites etc. I would walk around London with a portfolio that was so large it would barely fit in the elevators. I carried the same book across the Atlantic and walked the streets of New York with it.
Who or what inspires you?
In my early college days I was very easily influenced, Philip Guston and Jean Dubuffet come to mind. My work went through all periods, shamelessly unsure of my own voice..... It took a while, but I got there in the end, I think.
Inspiration or ideas at least, comes from a whole manner of things: for instance, my daily walk through the woods to the top of the hill (I live in a very rustic, rural setting), or my trips to NY City and a ride on the subway.
If I had to name just one illustrator who’s surely an inspiration to a lot of us its Mr Christoph Neiman, his work is just so damn smart.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
On my sixteenth birthday, I left home and began what would become 8 years of stumbling, bumbling and in the end learning... something at least. Luckily, way Back then in the UK, the government paid students to go to college!
The first 2 years of the Loughborough foundation course were the most intense schooling of my life ( I often think how it might be wonderful to redo them) 10 hour days, drawing, drawing, drawing.
Some times drawing in rooms blacked out, the only light source on the subject (a naked body) being a single candle. Other times work would be ripped up and thrown out of windows, humiliation being the order of the day.
After “foundation” I moved to North London's Hornsey school of art, a fine liberal institution who's walls were the historic Alexander Palace, which sat on top a large hill surrounded by park land. Attendance however was not required, you were left to your own resources which was fun for 3 years.
Before moving on to the Royal College of Art in London for my Masters degree I took a year off traveling through-out Europe and Asia, all the time filling sketch book after sketch book.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I’ve gone through numerous reinvention's from simple line drawing to loose painting, it wasn’t until many years after college that I even began to investigate the possibilities of 3 dimensional illustration. Now I continue to keep my self fresh by constantly refining this process. Perhaps this Joey Ramone bust (for Rolling Stone 2000) illustrates how my process has developed over the years.
What are some of your current projects?
For the first time one of my clay busts is being transformed in to a bronze. Its been an exciting process and I’m now looking forward to producing many of my previous celebrity clay busts as limited edition bronzes.
Recently I've also been making clay objects and clay words, it’s not only portraiture that receives the plasticine treatment.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I would say the year long project for New York magazine was up to this date, the best job I ever had, thanks to (then) creative director Luke Hayman, I was commissioned to make a celebrity portrait in clay, weekly for a year.... more than 50 heads, each one in 7 or 8 different poses. A lot of clay! They ran as small spots that accompanied the listings pages at the back of the magazine, the characters would be seen enjoying a night out (dressed in evening ware) dining out (clay food props included) or just hanging out enjoying the city. Making a clay bust under such a tight deadline, pushed me to work very efficiently.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that
you have yet to try?
I'd like to be able to make these characters move and talk, I’ve delved in to stop motion claymation but I would like to take this much further, a short feature would be nice. I’d also love to get in to advertising; my heads would enjoy that!
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Find your voice and then keep at it, never give up, push your self hard and then harder.
What makes an illustration successful?
It should stop you in your tracks, wow you, make you want to rip it out the publication and keep it in your cupboard, or at least provoke a Google search.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
No worries there, the thought of the alternative, a regular job, should keep any one motivated. I'm lucky in that I’ve never had one of those errrr.. 9 till 5 things, but I’ve come close!
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."
soccer player.” If I’d been a child of the 80’s instead of the 1880’s I could have been a contender.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
All things football... English premier league, champions League etc. If I lived in Europe this would be prime time tv viewing, as it is, my prime time occurs over breakfast or lunch.
Photo credit Matt Aarvold
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