Observing the World Firsthand
What made you want to become an illustrator?
CaseyRobin:When I was about two years old I had a hard time sleeping. Hoping to get a good night’s sleep, she, my mom dumped heaps of crayons and paper and armfuls of picture books into my crib. I devoured them, then called out, “More colors! More books!” I’ve been in pursuit of illustration ever since…
How do you define your style and what do you consider its distinct characteristics?
Casey Robin: An episode of Japanese Ninja Warrior provided my ethos: “Her secret weapon is cuteness.” While my style encompasses a wide range of looks, it is most often described as cute, pretty, whimsical, and other pleasant words. I design my art to feel like a hug because there are a lot of people out there who need a hug. There is also a more elegant side to my work, drawn from thoughtful observation of nature. I tend to favor simple forms and flowing linework over fussy detail. I keep my colors pure, airy, and vibrant.
What is the process like when drawing from other mediums life films, books, toys, etc?
Casey Robin: I tend to draw from imagination, observation, and photographic reference. I may look at books or movies for inspiration, but I seldom draw from them. More often, I take a walk and observe the world firsthand. I may take pictures for future reference or I may just let it all wash over me. If I need to draw something I don’t have access to, I turn to photography as a reference. I always try to see the gesture first, then the big shapes, light, and shadow. Detail usually comes last. I often inject flourishes drawn from pure imagination.
How do you ensure and practically achieve the balance between your vision of a project and the client’s brief?
Casey Robin: When reading a brief, I note the client’s needs. What do they need to communicate, and to whom? I then try to imagine I am a member of the client’s key demographic, coming upon this art as part of my interaction with the client’s messaging. What do I expect to see? What do I want or need? What colors and shape language will speak to me on a subconscious level and entice me to keep looking? From there, I plan my design.
What do you look for when choosing clients to work with?
Casey Robin: I hope for interesting clients with an open imagination and deep respect for their audience. If they are also whimsical and childlike, all the better. I, myself, am quite whimsical and childlike. It is important to note the distinction, in this case, between being childlike and being childish. A childlike person is able to tap into their deepest, earliest experience and see the world with fresh eyes. They retain their adult sense of reason but pair it with youthful wonder. A childish person, on the other hand, lacks emotional maturity. The childlike artist will paint you a fresh and lovely picture. The childish artist will wail and throw her paint at the wall.
Art helps us set a new vision for the future which can motivate, calm, and encourage us in the midst of uncertain times. It also sparks joy, stirs emotion, and helps us better connect with our fellow humans.
What was it like working with Disney?
Casey Robin: Working with Disney has been a tremendous growth experience. I have been fortunate to have worked with them in a number of different roles and capacities. Some fit me like a glove and others like a pinching 4-inch stiletto heel. I learned to honor my natural rhythm as an artist, and that Story and the Story Room are not the same things. I learned that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to them all. Ultimately, my experiences with Disney taught me to value myself as an artist and work to develop my unique voice.
“Art can help us set a new vision for the future. It can motivate, calm, and encourage us in the midst of uncertain times. It can spark joy, stir emotion, and help us better connect with our fellow humans.”
What kind of projects excite you the most and why?
Casey Robin: I am most excited by visual development for animated features because of these light-up parts of my brain don’t always get to come out to play. The animated feature is – among other things – a marriage of many art forms. It incorporates visual art, naturally, but also writing, acting, sound and music, dance, pantomime, and improvisation. It marries abstraction, color theory, observation, and imagination in a way that makes my neurons dance. I also enjoy storybook illustration because it is deeply satisfying to develop charming visuals with which to relay a simple story.
What would you say are your strongest skills and most vital lessons you’ve learned?
Casey Robin: I am particularly skilled at observing the natural world and translating it into simple shapes and colors. I excel in gesture drawing, which gives all of my work dynamic rhythm. I also have a keen sense of color, developed over many years of digital and traditional painting. Still, the most vital lessons I’ve learned have been intangible: things like how to build and maintain a professional network and how to use social media without destroying my mental health. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to take a walk.
What do you consider to be the most significant achievements as an artist?
Casey Robin: Truthfully, I am still young in my career. My most beautiful achievements are just around the bend. To date, though, I am proud of developing and co-directing the animated short “Chalk” during my time at Disney feature. I am proud of my output of personal work – pinup girls and mermaids and fairies – and the community that has gathered around that work. I’m still tickled that I got to design a Pinup Girl dress for ladies to flounce around in.
Most recently, I’ve been excited to develop animated characters in collaboration with Goldie Hawn and also to help with character designs for Breyer’s new preschool IP, Piper’s Pony Tales. Additionally, I am pleased to have originated the drawing challenge #MarchOfTheFairies, which has become a bit of a thing on Instagram.
What do you do to keep growing and evolving in your craft?
Casey Robin: I draw and paint almost every day. Lately, I have enjoyed drawing live for my audience on Instagram. These little warm-ups keep my pencil moving and help me clarify my thought process as I narrate the thoughts running through my head as I make the picture. I also take in a lot of excellent art and keep setting myself new projects and challenges. There is no shortage of wonder and challenge in the world. I will run out of time on this earth before I run out of inspiration.