The Wide-Eyed Characters of Opal Unicorn’s Laura Castellanos

I was first drawn into the highly imaginative world of wide-eyed, deliciously coloured, crazily exaggerated and stylised characters of Laura Castellanos (also known as opal unicorn on instagram) during Mab Graves’ Drawlloween in October of 2016. I was beguiled by her little creatures and the detail in her drawings and have been a follower since. I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Laura and get to know this talented creator a little better so that I can reveal to you a little of what makes her tick as an artist.

Laura was recently part of the Hide and Seek exhibition that I curated at Weswal Gallery, Australia. The show remains on view through Nov 12, 2017.

Tell us a little about yourself.  How old are you?  Do you have a background in art?  Artistic family?  Art training?  Are you a full-time artist?  What interests do you have outside of art?

I was born in Los Angeles, and have spent most of my life there.  I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child.  Growing up, the only present I ever wanted was art supplies.  Pencils, paints, anything that would let me create.  Later in life, I went to art school, and worked as a toy designer, and I think that experience has had a strong impact on me.  These days, I’m lucky enough to work as a full time artist.

Outside of art, I’m a huge reader.  I love fairy tales, myths, mysteries and stories of the unknown. Anything that takes me to another world.   I’m also just a little TOO into American Horror Story right now.

Define Laura Castellanos, as a person for us.

I like to think of myself as dedicated.  Dedicated to my art, dedicated to working hard, dedicated to exploring and discovering new things, and, mostly, dedicated to my overgrown chihuahua Pablo.  He’s the best!  I love beauty.  I’m drawn to beautiful things, from colors, to fashion, textiles, crystals, and dolls.

How would you define yourself as an artist?

I consider myself a storyteller.  Like I said, I love stories and so, for me, every painting tells a tale or (hopefully) takes the person looking at it to another world. Because, I really think that that’s what art does: it transports you.

Why art?  How did you get involved in art?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m incredibly fortunate to be living my dream.  I loved playing with dolls when I was younger—I mean, I was obsessed.  And now, in a lot of my art, I try and paint dolls in my own way.  The way I always wanted them to be.  I can finally take these images out of my head, and put them down on paper, or canvas. It’s my favorite thing.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

There are two parts to “being creative” for me.  The first is the process of discovery of sketching, or thinking, or meditating, or dreaming to get that perfect image in your head.  That amazing painting.  The next part, is sitting down and digging in and getting that image on paper, or canvas.  Of doing the hard work to get things just right… even if it means working late, or getting frustrated, or whatever.  “Being creative” isn’t always easy, or always fun… but it’s always worth it.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?  What do you see as the strengths of your pieces, visually or conceptually?  What themes do you pursue?

With my work, I guess I’m really trying to communicate… me.  How I see the world. My ideas.  Every work is a little piece of my imagination, or my soul, on paper.  It’s always a little weird to give yourself compliments, but I’d say my strength is in composition, and I’d like to think I have a good eye for color schemes that are at once striking and inviting.  I don’t know if I have one consistent theme, most of my work is about how I wish the world was.  Nice, and bright and colorful.  Or darker and more emotional.  A lot of times it’s about whatever mood I’m in at the moment, or whatever idea my brain is on fire about.

What inspires you?

To inspire me, I’ll try and get out and look at other people’s art (we have great museums in LA), meditate, or go for a walk.  Anything to clear my head, and fire up my mind.

Describe your studio/art space.

I’ve converted a bedroom in my house to a workspace, it’s not the biggest room, but it’s got great light (especially later in the day), and linoleum floors (great for resin spills!).  I’ve also tried to fill it with art from people I love, which is great inspiration.  So many people are doing such amazing things right now.

Can we talk a bit about your process at the beginning of an artwork?  How do ideas come to you?  How do you develop your ideas?  At what point in the process do you start making?

When I sit down to paint, I try and clear my head, put whatever daily stress I have behind me, and let the creative part of my brain run wild.  Sometimes, it’s almost like I can see these strange, otherworldly creatures, laughing and dancing in front of me, as I race to draw them.  Or they tell me their stories.  As a result, when I sit down to draw, I’m never sure what will come out.  Every day is a new discovery, and a pleasant (or, sometimes, not-so-pleasant) surprise.  I never sketch before I start painting, because the image is so clear in my mind.  Or because I want to discover the image as I work on it.

What are your favorite media/materials to paint with?

I’ve worked with everything, but right now I do mostly oils.  I’ve also become addicted to resin.  I really think that putting resin over a piece gives it a whole other layer, and can really make colors pop and come alive.

What famous artists have influenced you, and how?  Which current artists do you most admire and why?

Among the old masters, I love Monet, van Gogh, Dali and Picasso.  For more recent artists, Margaret Keane (for her figures, and those famous big eyes) and Mark Ryden (for his endless imagination) are huge influences.

What’s the best advice you ever had about being an artist?  Have you followed it?

Don’t wait for inspiration.  If you sit around waiting for the perfect idea, you’ll spend all your time sitting, and not much time creating.  I really find that being at the easel every day, and working—even if the work isn’t great—is the most important thing. Because eventually that work WILL become great.  It’ll just take time and effort.  That being said, sometimes inspiration does strike, and you get the perfect idea, and it all flows beautifully onto the canvas.  And that’s the most amazing feeling in the world.

What has been a high point or turning point in your artistic career thus far?

After spending some time on the corporate hamster wheel, I’ve finally carved out the space to make art my full time job.  I’m so lucky to be able to do what I love, and I just want to keep doing it.

What are your artistic goals for the future?

My goal for the future is to keep getting better and better– to keep working, and drawing, and telling my stories until I become the best version of myself.  Isn’t that what we’re all striving for?


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