The Ladderworks Creators’ Academy (LWCA) is at the core of our mission. By training illustrators to co-create picture books along with our editorial board, we aim to provide publishing opportunities to talented creators from all sections of society. As part of the first cohort of LWCA, we are delighted to announce that NYC-based illustrator Chase Bluestone (he/they) has illustrated our second picture book TICKLE TROUBLE! We sat down with Chase for this interview to hear about their fascinating journey.
What inspired you to become an illustrator?
Chase: Drawing was always the easiest way for me to express and enjoy myself when I was a kid. I was kinda sheltered, didn’t talk much, and my mom always encouraged creativity; so I spent my childhood drawing things from my imaginary worlds (mostly dinosaurs of course). I always knew I wanted to be some kind of artist, but I didn’t learn what an illustrator is until I was older. I was going to a lot of concerts in the city at the time, and I realized that all around me were illustrations. They were on the album covers, the merch, the posters, and they all helped to create the musical experience we were having. I really wanted to participate in that. The ability to create an emotional experience with art is like magic to me, and most of my meaningful relationships were forged through art in some way or another. Being an illustrator is just a win-win for me. I get to connect with people through something I’m good at, and then if we’re really lucky, we’ll get something cool to look at/experience out of it. Who wouldn’t want that?
Can we get a little peek into your artistic process?
Chase: I feel like my process is fairly standard. I usually start in a sketchbook with super scribbly notes and doodles. Then, depending on the project, I’ll look for inspiration or do research, and then do another scribbly doodle page. My sources vary depending on the project but I almost always take inspiration from nature or natural forms. I might repeat this several times if it’s a big project. Then I’ll take my favorite doodles from those pages and turn them into thumbnails. After this, I go digital. I use Clip Studio Paint (with the Frenden Brush Set) and an X-Pen Artist Display tablet (I used Photoshop and Wacom for years before this). My biggest problem with digital art is how sterile it can appear, so I apply traditional painting techniques and philosophy wherever possible to give the piece more life and interest. The brush pack I’m using does a great job of mimicking traditional media, but sometimes I will import found textures if I think I need them.
Could you share a recent milestone in your artistic journey?
Chase: Honestly my latest milestone is the TICKLE TROUBLE project I’m doing with y'all at Ladderworks right now! Back in 2017, I graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology Associates program at the top of my class, and I had the opportunity to make a speech. I have the worst sort of stage fright and almost didn’t do it, but I felt like I had to. Transmasculine people are particularly invisible, and I’ve wanted to amend that. Naturally, I came out to the audience and told them about how I am a 3rd generation FIT student (both my father and his mother got their professional education there). Jonathan Vatner, a campus journalist, thought my story would make for a nice article in Hue, the campus alumni magazine. I even did a one-page auto-biographical comic for that issue, it was an amazing experience. Anyway, a year later Jonathan recommended me for work, and now I’m here!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Chase: I would be remiss if I didn't talk about how my identity as a trans-non-binary person has shaped my path. Honestly, I could write a book about it, so I'll just say this: I struggled with how to balance my identity with my work. I had so many questions, should I include "identity pieces" in my portfolio? Will I pigeon-hole myself if I do too much transition-related art? Will publishing this work put me in danger, professionally or otherwise? People like me are incredibly invisible, and it pains me to think of them growing up feeling alone like they don't belong anywhere, like I did. I want to change that, and I can't do that if I'm not as visible as possible. If I wasn't brave and honest in that speech I gave, I might not be here right now getting interviewed. So I'd say it's working out far. Thank you again for this opportunity!