Santiago Casares – Illustrator Interview

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SantiI have know Santi for a while online through our wonderful 12×12 community and I was very fortunate to meet him finally at the fabulous 12×12 5th anniversary party in New York last month. We bonded over literary cocktails, as one does!

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures? 

[SC] Hi Joanna, I am an author/illustrator. And answering the second part of the question, I tackle each part of the process on its own.

What I mean by this is that I write the story until it works on its own merits, and then I go on and approach my own text and adapt it into illustrations. Although most of the time I’m sketching the characters while I’m writing. Does that make any sense?

[JM] Sure! So, where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[SC] Well Joanna, I am originally from Mexico City. And since moving to the US I’ve lived in San Francisco and the DC Metro Area.

Latino American literature and art educated me while growing up, although mostly in a subconscious level I think. So, I do believe that my home country has had an influence on how I do both my writing and my drawing.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[SC] I went to art school back in Mexico for my undergraduate degree, where unfortunately illustration was considered a “second tier” kind of art. So I concentrated my efforts there more into the conceptual art scene. After graduating I realized very quickly that school had not prepared me for the so-called real world, and ventured into graphic design. At the same time I began to serialize a webcomic called Chili’s World.

Eenie Meenie

Eenie Meenie

But the turning page for me was winning a National picture book writing competition, where my story Quisiera Ser Un León (I’d Like To Be A Lion) got to be published with someone else’s illustrations. That’s when I decided to take the prize money and invest it in an art education here in the US, specialized in illustration.


And ever since, I’ve been trying to break into the US picture book market (which is a tough nut to crack!).

[JM] What a great way to use your prize money! What is your preferred medium to work in?

[SC] Now I work mostly in digital, using either Photoshop or ArtRage, using a Wacom tablet (and recently a Cintiq), as nothing beats an “Undo” or being able to save different approaches to the same file.

Julia Reddish Monster


[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[SC] Yes I do! Both, actually.

On one hand, thanks to my webcomic I have an attachment to penguins (so even though it’s not the same character, the main character of one of my picture book proposals stars a plush penguin) and to a crazy cat (I’ve made a spin-off called Lunatic Tales, starring such a feline).

And I believe my upbringing of a mix of magical realism with sci-fi and fantasy has impacted the kind of stories I like to tell.



[JM] I love that little penguin character. Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[SC] Sure. Here’s the process of creating an illustration based on a story that’s actually being critiqued right this minute over at 12×12!


[JM] How does being part of the 12×12 community help your creativity?

[SC] I believe that being a part of the 12×12 community does not help my creativity per se. What it does is to push me to do the work. Do you know what I mean?

I’ve read that Picasso once said that he didn’t know if inspiration existed, but that if it did, it’d better catch him in front of an easel. I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s what 12×12 does. It pushes you to write, so that the moment that creativity strikes, you’re already doing the work.

And also the critiques I’ve received there have helped me to push my work into better shape.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? Workspace

[JM] How does children’s book publishing differ in Mexico and the USA?

[SC] In Mexico it’s more of a “club”, where you have to be a part of or know someone who is in order to break into it… but at the same time there’s not so many people trying to break into the children’s book market!

So, both are hard to get into but in different ways.

Then, in Mexico I’d say that 70% of the published picture books are Spanish editions of books from the US, Europe and Asia. Whereas in the US, I’d say that percentage would be closer to 10% or less. 

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                  [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[SC] Golden Gate Park, back in San Francisco. It’s not only a beautiful park in its own right, but it also has the Academy of Sciences, the deYoung Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden. It has all the flavors!

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[SC] Woof? (Cats are conspiring against us!)

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[SC] Shhhh. That’s supposed to be a secret, don’t you think?

Oh, well, okay. I can cook some killer huevos rancheros! Ay, ay ay!

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[SC] Resilient. I’m still trying to break in into the American market!

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[SC] Coffee. Coffee. And more coffee. I’m such a caffeine zombie, I even made a T-shirt out of it!


[JM] Where can we find you?

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Santi. I especially looked the GIF of your process. I wish you success in breaking into the industry here in the US!

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4 Responses to Santiago Casares – Illustrator Interview

  1. Jess Townes says:

    Great interview! Santiago, I love your illustrations and the touch of magical realism you bring to your work. It’s been fun getting to know you in 12 x 12 this year!

  2. I remember Santiago’s art from one of the Tomie Awards but didn’t make the leap that he’s the same Santiago in 12×12. Duh, I’m slow. 🙂 What a talented guy! And we have so many of the same interests, I wish I could have gone to the 5th anniversary party, too.

    Here’s to Santiago’s success in breaking into the US market!

  3. Great interview, Joanna and Santiago! I love your art – very cool seeing that one illustration go from sketch to full color! And I’m totally with you on cats and coffee 🙂 Good luck with your work in the US market!

  4. I really enjoyed the interview and getting to know you and your work, Santiago! I like how you approach both writing and illustrating. The example of your sketch morphing into full color was so cool. You have a lot of talent and I wish you the best in the U.S. market!

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