I grew up in a little blue house near the water, on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. Living around the corner from the beach, I am told I learned to swim well before I began to walk. Most days were spent outdoors, and most weekends spent visiting my relatives that all lived nearby. Raised in an Armenian-Italian, Spanish-Irish family, I was exposed to a potpourri of cultural traditions. We celebrated a patchwork of holidays, foods, and music. I was surrounded by Spanish paintings, patterned walls and tapestries, old Armenian textiles, ornate furniture, beautiful ceramics, and, of course, lots and lots and lots of books—so many rich visuals that helped to expand and mold my visual vocabulary. I looked forward to weekend trips to my grandparents’ houses. Those trips always meant storytelling—storytelling, which stretched my imagination toward the entire world.
When I was five, my parents packed up my younger brother and me and we said goodbye to our little blue house, our beach, and our grandparents, as we headed south to make our new home in the faraway countryside of Maryland. Moving away from the family was hard, but my brother and I found plenty to entertain us. We had big imaginations and were always creating—games, plays, stories, pictures, and settings, we did it all. We discovered a local pool to replace our old beach, and spent the rest of our time exploring, hiking, fishing, photographing, and drawing. My parents encouraged my love for drawing, and kept a stock of sketchbooks to hold my daily doodles and stories.
By the time I entered middle school, drawing was my biggest pasttime. I drew on just about everything—even corners of test papers and handouts, which sometimes got me in trouble with teachers! And it was my high school art teacher, also a freelance illustrator, who introduced me to the world of illustration. He challenged and encouraged my talents, and helped me prepare my application for the Maryland Institute College of Art. Accepted and thrilled, I packed my bags for Baltimore in the fall of 1999.
As an illustration major I studied many different aspects of the field, but it was a children’s book class during my junior year that made very clear which path I would take. The following summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Southern Italy – an invaluable experience that opened my eyes to the world of visual journalism. I spent the entire trip exploring, recording my encounters and locations through drawings in my sketchbook. And I used my final college year to create a children’s book based on my summer abroad. It was that trip and that book which inspired me to apply to the master’s program in Illustration as Visual Essay at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
I moved back to my New York roots in fall 2003, attending the School of Visual Arts while persistently bothering many editors and art directors with portfolio drop-offs and meetings. I graduated in spring 2005 and was offered an internship with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, where I learned a great deal about the publishing industry. Shortly thereafter, I received my first children’s book deal!
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with wonderful, talented editors who have paired me with equally wonderful, talented authors I’ve admired over the years. It is important for me to be able to relate the stories I illustrate to my own life experiences. I have the most fun incorporating bits and pieces of my own world into my illustrations—an occasional pattern from my grandparents’ wall, an old lamp from my parents’ living room, or a hilarious canine family member. I’ve even had the opportunity to travel back to that little blue house on Long Island, exploring and sketching for a story that takes place by the water!
I am currently illustrating full-time for children’s literature in Brooklyn, New York, and continue to collect inspiration through a visual journal of my own responses to the ethnicities of New York City.Lauren Castillo is the author-illustrator of many books for young children, including the Caldecott Honor–winning Nana in the City, Melvin and the Boy and The Reader, written by Amy Hest.
City Cat by Kate Banks; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
City Cat by Kate Banks; illustrated by Lauren CastilloShare This
Barbara Herkert; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
A lyrical biography of E. B. White, beloved author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo.
by Kate Banks; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
FSG Books for Young Readers
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
A plucky stray cat takes a Grand Tour in Kate Banks' story of a family on a European vacation. As the family travels from one city to the next, the cat finds its own means--by bus, boat, train, truck,...