In this week’s episode of the UCF podcast, Knights Do That, we speak with Reina Castellanos ’16MFA, a Venezuelan artist featured in Target’s Latino Heritage Month line this year. They shares how her culture and experiences as an immigrant influence their work, the joys and struggles of being an artist and the importance of staying authentic in your work.
Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.
Reina Castellanos: I think authenticity goes a long way. This is my point of view but I think that translated to Target and what they wanted to do.
So I think people or artists, designers, they’re putting work out there that is authentic.
Alex Cumming: Launching into Hispanic Heritage Month, I got to speak with a pretty outstanding alum, Reina Castellanos. Reina is currently featured in Target’s — yes, the Target — Latino Heritage Month as one of their creators. As a Venezuelan artist, Reina shares how her culture and experiences as an immigrant influence [their] work, the joys and the struggles of being an artist and the importance of staying authentic in your work. Now let’s get to it.
Reina Castellanos: I’m almost living a weirdly parallel life of, I don’t know, people reaching out to me very much, in my cave, in my mind, doing my thing. People getting to know me, not used to cameras pointing at me or microphones, but listen, I am open to experiences and yeah, just so I’ve just been getting to know people and I guess living a weird dream.
What a dream, nonetheless.
Alex Cumming: A weird dream. Well, a weird dream can be, I guess that could be taken either positive or negative. I think almost feel, say nightmare.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah, no. I was it’s dream. And I embraced the weird. So it’s not a bad thing.
Alex Cumming: I like that you embrace the weird. I’ve had dreams too, where I’m like, what was that? It was cool though.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. Yeah. You gotta go with the ride, don’t tense up, so it’s not going to hurt.
Alex Cumming: What part of the ride are you on? Do you think you’ve gone past the — are you at the top or have you gone and your stomach does that fluff thing? You know what I’m talking about.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah, I am at, and this is like hyper specific, just Florida things, on the Hulk where you go up and then there’s the part that all the scientists are freaking out. And then you feel almost like the ride just it goes a little bit back before, like proposes forward. Oh yeah. I am in that kind of freak out yeah.
Alex Cumming: I was just on the Hulk on Sunday. Very relevant analogy. I like it. Yeah. That part where it stops. And then that
Reina Castellanos: You cannot go back. They’re not going to stop the ride for you to get off
Alex Cumming: That’s way too late.
Reina Castellanos You just signed up for it. And it’s yeah. I think so.
Alex Cumming: No, the part where it shoots out and then it has a little like woo. And then goes down. Are you anticipating that because that’s what makes that weight so scary. Cause it’s you’re sitting there and you’re like, when are they going to shoot us off?
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. I think that’s coming up soon and I’m excited for it.
And I’m like already been bracing for it, for the last year. Because I think that’s the weird thing about what I’ve been doing lately that I’ve been working on it for almost a year now. So I’ve just been sitting on a secret and I’m just like, I swear I have something cool coming. I swear. I’m not ignoring you.
Alex Cumming: I’m an acting major, so I’m also in the College of Arts and Humanities as you were, I understand that feeling a lot where it’s oh man, I’m want to tell somebody to so bad. But I’ve got to keep my mouth shut for 16 days — that sort of thing. Yeah. So when you realize that and I’ll jump into our questions in a moment here, when you realize that you were like, oh, this is big. It was that to go back to the Hulk analogy. Was that like, when you you’re walking up and you look up and you’re like, oh, that’s what that is?
Then you have to decide. You’re like, yeah, I’ll get in line. Yeah. I’ll sit down on the ride.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah, it’s one of those things that you almost can’t overthink it because you’re not going to get on it. I think I’m the kind of person that, again, in my cave, in my mind, huge over-thinker. Sometimes it’s just listen, just like a once in a lifetime, like it’s, I am in no position to say no. And that’s such an awesome place to be, in this circumstance that, being “sought out” to do something like this, I am glad that I was able to compartmentalize it in the last year. Because otherwise I’m going to be like, yeah, I want to do that. Yeah, I’ll be in a commercial.
So to me, I in my own head, I was like, okay, worry about that later. Focus on the thing that you know how to do and the thing that they want from you, which is my artwork. And I’m the one that knows about that best. I’m like, let me just focus my effort on that.
And then I’ll freak out later. But now it’s later. So I’m gearing up to that freak out.
Alex Cumming: Well you’ve found yourself in a situation where it’s like do you take the jump into the deep waters? Do you jump off the edge into the water, knowing that it’s going to be scary on the way down? Or do you regret not doing it? Do you look back and you say, “God what would my life had been like, what would my, who would my art have reached? Who would I have met? Who would it have helped if I hadn’t done it?”
Reina Castellanos: Exactly.
Alex Cumming: A little moment ago, you said you’ve been being sought out. You’ve been reached out. I’m starting to get a lot of messages. People you probably never thought you’d hear from. Stories you probably thought you’d never hear. And in your situation to know that your art has been reaching so many people and has been such a positive source and being seen and being enjoyed by the masses.
Reina Castellanos: The only way that I can explain it is like it’s wild. I think when the campaign was finally launched and I was getting kinda like a few messages, even people just say, “Hey, is this you? Are you this person?” I’m like, “yeah, that’s — surprise.” I think the best part wasn’t about, so far, it wasn’t about getting messages, but seen how deep people were going.
I’m a complete stranger. And they were just telling me things about their child is taking the same classes in high school and they’re like, oh, I can wait until they aspire to be, or to do something like what you’re doing. And I’m like, holy, that’s intense.
I don’t have children, so I can’t relate to it specifically. I think my favorite part has been people just kind of like wanting to connect or, it’s weird, but just a perfect stranger saying, “we’re so proud of you. And we’re so proud that you’re representing Venezuela, or Venezuelan creatives” or things like that, that I’m was just little, solemn tear running down my face. But it’s, yeah it’s wild.
Alex Cumming: In the arts world as I find that a lot of creatives, and it sounds like you’re similar, is that you’d never know — I’ve sat in many audiences and somebody has just inspired the life out of me, or I’ve said, “I want to do that so bad,” or this movie, show, play, this actor, what they just did means a lot to me. And that actor will never know. They’ll never know that what they did touched me in such a way. And it sounds like you are that person on the stage at this point, and you don’t know how far the roots of what you’ve created will inspire and will go down. You might touch people you’ll never even fathom, never even think of somewhere across the world. And like you were saying, representing Venezuela. You’re representing a whole group that you are showcasing.
Reina Castellanos: I think it’s terrifying and of course I hope I have done my best with everything that’s been happening with the campaign and having to just talk about yourself in almost like this, especially in Reina versus Reina the brand. And it’s okay, I wasn’t prepared of that pitch. But it’s been such a pleasant surprise. For the campaign, they were very much interested in the story or where I come from or the things that inspire me or things like that, kind of like much about Reyna the person that, again, in the cave of my mind that I’m just like sitting there drawing, sitting there making stuff up. It’s very special when people are interested in that level. It’s amazing when people like the thing that you created, the object or the piece or the flat piece of paper or whatever when they want to know more because you see something and you connect. I feel with my work because it’s not something that is necessarily super representational, I’m not drawing a narrative or a comic that has a storyline. It’s something very, abstract and somewhere in the ether that I love when people recognize something in what I did that it’s maybe I wasn’t even conscious that I was doing.
Alex Cumming: There’s this odd spot that creatives are put in where somebody enjoys your work so much that they get drawn, that they have to know who’s behind it.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: They have to know I think it happens a lot with like musicians, actors, definitely artists, just in all creatives types, but that the work means so much to somebody that you say, I just, I can’t have just this work. I need to know who’s behind it.
And what you said about something in your art, connecting to people they might not even realize. And then they find you and then they’re like, oh my gosh, I see myself in this.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. I think there’s definitely something that I don’t know, in the weird alchemy of life that it’s just like an emotional connection.
And obviously it’s, sometimes it gets to be more, it’s more loaded than just what it is, what it looks like. And I think that’s importance of the story. Seeing, the people that are reaching out to me for the most part are Venezuelans in the States that have seen the campaign getting messages from people in Texas in South Florida, New York. And it’s like we know we’re here. But it’s nice creating that connection that could be as simple as a DM or something like that as a comment, or as “Hey, I want to see more of your stuff.” Or I got a lot, which is funny and cringy at least for me in one of the social media spots I guess I will say like I translated the name of the neighborhood I’m from and a lot of people were like, oh my God, that is so funny that you say it in English, but I’m like, oh, but it was like part of the thing that we were talking.
It’s just like what is funny, like a lot of people from the same neighborhood, they’re like, oh, I’m also from there. And it’s Hey, I’m a designer. And I’m from El Paraíso, which is the neighborhood. And I’m like, what are the chances like I would have never met you. And it’s just, I don’t know, to me, it’s fun to see those coincidences. Or, having those little moments, it’s very special.
Alex Cumming: And I want to elaborate here that this is the Target Latino Heritage Month line that we’ve been speaking of with the art that you’ve been presenting on the website and on their feed that has been drawing people into your art into your creative works. So now,
Reyna, I want to transition. I want to say that you’re from Venezuela. And how does your culture and your experiences as a Hispanic/Latinx individual, and an immigrant play a role in the art that you create?
Reina Castellanos: It’s very loaded. But I think it’s one of those things that it’s not — they cannot exist separately. I think one fits the other. I always use this word. I think it makes me sound smart. I always think about the art continuum where I’m in.
So I’m always looking into the people that came before me and then see where people are going to come after me. Not in a way of trend-setting or things like that, but it’s just having similar backgrounds, similar upbringings growing up around the same kind of stuff.
I was super lucky to grow up in a home where my parents collected paintings of popular art or in Spanish it’s called Arte Ingenuo, which is like naive. Yeah. And it’s just beautiful, colorful, super busy pattern, written paintings to hot, I was lucky to have down the hallway of my house or whatever. ‘
And growing up around that I was very much raised in an environment that it’s if you’re a book nerd and you’re just at a party and you just want to go to a bedroom and read your book, by all means do it. So I was very much, I don’t know, raised to be very much introspective.
So I love to get deep into things and, create mental problems or puzzles for myself. And so with that kind of mentality, I’m always trying to figure out, that where I don’t know the — what’s the word for it? It the little placard that they put in museums, it’s ooh Reina Castellanos, Venezuelan artist.
It’s what do the other “Venezuelan” artists before me did and what will they do in the future? So I love to see how things are connected in that way.
Alex Cumming: So much of art is perspective combined with heritage. Long ago, art was used to represent the pinpoint a time in history and where the person who was drawing it was coming from was painting.
It was coming from cave drawings. We want to go even that far back. So your perspective and what you bring to the table from your history, do you think that a lot of that is what makes the art come out of yourself?
Reina Castellanos: I think it’s one of those things we’re trying to make something that is emotional. And that could be because of your circumstances, because of your family and then things that are supposed to be more like pragmatic or like regimented or scheduled that it would be like your career.
You’re supposed to have a path laid out your one year, five year, 10 year goals and you take those two things apart. I cannot do my work without my emotion, and I don’t think I can be, a good family member or a friend or whatever without bringing the art side of me or like that kind of abstract kind of thinking into that.
But it creates riffs. But it’s also like those firsts are everywhere.
Alex Cumming: So I think you’re getting at some of the ideas of art and artist, separating the art from the artist. But when the artist is who you are, how do you separate those two things? If you work at a 9-to-5, sometimes, you can turn that off. It’s Friday evening. It’s Saturday, Sunday. I don’t think about it. But the artist that’s, you’re living with that, that is all day, every day, seven days a week. And when art is so much of your life, you can’t leave it. You’re always, looking at things creatively, taking in ideas, taking in concepts.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. It’s always going to affect you. And I think, and I’m not, I’m never going to be that artist that is suffering. That’s like too much, seek some professional help to help you through it. What I think I, if it doesn’t affect you how do you think it will then exist outside of yourself?
How will it affect others? I’m not, it’s just like a thing to play with, or ponder. And again, it’s not black and white. I know artists that are able to do that whole 9-to-5, disconnect, and then they just they can just do their like golf playing or bird watching thing.
And that’s amazing. But for me, it’s different because it’s almost ingrained in me that there shouldn’t be a difference. This is who I am. And I think I hope that translates. Cause I think even simpler things or things that are more innocuous or sort of day to day, I hope that I am able to translate whatever that emotion is or like that passion is within me.
Cause honestly, I am lazy, so I feel like. If I’m going to do something I need to put the 100% on it. Cause otherwise, I’m not going to do it. I’m just gonna go read a book or something.
Alex Cumming: So with that, then I want to ask you who inspires you or what inspires you?
Reina Castellanos: I think specifically I’m thinking back to, I mentioned earlier living in my house, having art around me. Very much music. That’s like the top answer. I love I am both like an introvert and an extrovert, so when I’m extroverted, I go hard, but when I’m introverted, I also go hard into it.
Yeah. So I’m very much like book nerd. I love reading. That’s my one hobby that I have that is not art related or visual art related. But I do try to surround myself with people that are creative. I think most, if not all of my friends, my close friends are designers, illustrators musicians that to me it’s always a conversation — whether it is a conversation that you have with yourself or with others or with art, that kind of interaction that feedback that you get from that I think that’s where creativity and that exploration—
Alex Cumming: it sounds like iron sharpening iron.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. Ooh. Yeah. I don’t want to be the, I guess like with that metaphor, like the dullest, so I think with my group of friends and the people around me, we were definitely pushing each other and it’s yo, you should do this. I found this vendor that does this awesome product. I think you should do it. And there’s not a lot of back and forth.
Alex Cumming: That iron sharpens iron metaphor. Use it or lose it if you’re not pushing yourself, if you’re not growing, what’s the opposite of growing? It’s receding.
Reina Castellanos: But at the same time, I want to say that I also think that just because of my personal experience, burnout is real. And I think that’s when you gotta know what are the things that, that fuel you and make sure that you have the, a metaphorical protein bar in your backpack kind of thing that it’s like you can always go back to do the things that are going to recharge you.
And to me, it just so happens to people that inspire me are also the people that recharge me. I have friends that I feel like they should be on a payroll, at this point they’re like my therapist and they’re my business advisers. And I am just very happy that I have been able to cultivate an environment around me that those two things, that’s a mouthful for me, that it’s like it can recharge, but it can also kick in the butt.
Alex Cumming: How would you describe your art style?
Reina Castellanos: Oh I think chunky is a word I like. But with an o
Oh, like chonki. Yeah. Just bold and fat, stout. I think those words sound like my art visually. Let me see. Definitely I am not afraid of color. But I am very selective of color.
So sometimes I do fall into my comfort zone. I love a bright colored Winnie the Pooh yellow. That’s like the inside of my brain most of the time. I think there’s again — I know two sides of things. I think there’s a friendliness and approachability, of the word, because, it’s bold and bright and in your face.
But because I do work in a lot of like abstractions on things of that I don’t even talk about. I think there’s also people have said, mysterious. And I’m like, Ooh, thank you. That is it’s sometimes like unreachable but I love that about it — that it’s open to interpretation that I don’t have to say exactly what I was thinking or what I was doing.
I’m open to any people ask me specifically, but I feel that, and this is just goes with all of art, once it’s out there, it’s we can sit here for hours and debate whether the art belongs to you anymore or not.
Alex Cumming: Yes. I was just thinking that I’ve I love that debate of once the article is out into the world, it’s not yours fully anymore.
It belongs to, whomever has enjoyed it. Whomever has taken something away from it and, some artists prefer, they say, no, this is what I meant. And then some artists, yeah. If you found something. Yeah. That’s what it was.
Reina Castellanos: I think that’s what personally, definitely like inspires me a lot — the open to interpretation or, you know, even seeing things that, that I didn’t see before. I like to, where I can I get people’s reaction. I think that’s always fun. It’s always scary also. I’m like, I really hope people like it and I dunno like me or something. But yeah, I think again, let’s go back to the roller coaster metaphor that it’s you let it go. You have to let it go at one point and if you’re going to be stiff in your chair, you’re going to get hurt or you’re not going to enjoy yourself. So might as well, enjoy it. And don’t add unnecessary stress to yourself.
Alex Cumming: Is there something that you do hope that people take away from your artwork? Do you make art that has the intent of representing something specifically that you’d like people to gain from having seen it?
Reina Castellanos: It really depends on what I’m doing. I think it, even the way that I describe my work and in an official artist’s statement or whatever, it’s very much about mental, of quiet contemplation. Even if it’s surrounded by chaos of color and layers and texture or whatever. So to me, it’s if I can give someone moment of pause that’s always good.
If I’m talking about specific emotions, I’m a simple person. Sometimes I just want people to be like happy, feel happy. I think that’s where the use of those colors come from. And especially in the last couple of years and now with the Target line I had been designing objects like little things. So I have I’ve designed coin pouches. I have some pins so just little things. I love the idea of, you wake up in the morning and you’re, I don’t know, putting stuff in your bag, but you’re always going to reach out for that one thing. Or you’re, you have a tiny backpack and you can only carry three things.
And if people choose to carry my product, because it’s the thing that I dunno, they find comforting or is the thing that has their favorite color, to me that’s very special. I like the idea of curating — the things around your space, the things that you carry. So I think that’s a not really a goal, but it’s, a thing that, for me special when I see randomly people that have my products, it’s oh, that’s awesome. That’s the thing that you chose. That’s cool. And with the Target campaign some of the products are coffee mugs and then like a set of notebooks. And honestly, there couldn’t be two more perfect products for me.
Because in the morning you’re still waking up. And it’s someone reaching out to the mug that has my illustration. That’s a moment I’m never going to experience bceause I’m not going to be in your house as you’re making your morning coffee. But to me, that potential that it could happen. It’s mind blowing, that’s the good stuff.
Alex Cumming: that’s the cool part about being an artist, the things you don’t see.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in art?
Reina Castellanos: It’s a random path, but I definitely was very artistically inclined when I was growing up. Funnily enough I was actually more into music in my teen years. I was part of this singing group when I was in Venezuela with my last couple of years.
Then when I moved to the States in high school, I was I think also for a couple of years, I was in the choir I had this, you very short lived idea of I want to be in a band. I was playing the bass and I’m like, yeah, I’m going to be — it was the height of emo and that kind of stuff.
I’m like, yeah, I want to be those people with my hair on my face. Life happened and, I had to change school for my senior year. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t want to deal with people. So I’m like, I’m not going to join the choir.
But when I was doing my classes, it’s oh, you can take a couple of art classes and I’m like, sure, whatever. So I took a painting class. And photography class. So it was just again, emo at heart, always. Yyeah, I’m going to be a photographer. I want to do all this deep black and white images. I would skip my, I feel so bad, but I was skipped my physics class, bless that professor that would allow me to sometimes skip class. And I would like just hang out at the photography classroom.
It was like, okay, I could see myself doing this. At that point I was given the, choice or, come to the point of the decision of do I go back to Venezuela or do I stay here and kinda like pursue getting my student visa?
I decided to go by that row. So I stayed here, studied graphic design. Then I’m like a career student. I started graphic design, then I studied illustration. And then I got my MFA in emerging media.
Alex Cumming: Just being in creative environments, having it around you is inspiring.
Reina Castellanos: A hundred percent
Alex Cumming: Being in a place that creatively revitalizes you, I find keeps me on my toes with that. You received your master’s in fine arts, as you just said back in 2016. Why did you choose UCF?
Reina Castellanos: That’s multi-layered, like much everything in my life. Multi-layered. So I have family that have attended UCF. Orlando has definitely been kinda a home base for a lot of my family.
Even though, a lot of us are everywhere living, west coast, east coast, back in Venezuela. I have family in Trinidad, family in Spain, but it always happened to be that Orlando was our hub and having family that started here. My mom studied here at UCF.
So did my brother, my godfather, my cousin. So I have a connection. I came to the UCF sometimes as a, little kid just oh, we’re going to show you the campus around and hang out things like that.
So UCF was always a thing I guess, in my family. And at the time that I was deciding what MFA program I wanted to attend I was in between UCF and another school and the ultimate factor for me was the freedom that the program I did here would give me because the other one was an MFA in illustration, and I’m like, okay, I don’t know if I want to just continue, make an extra long BFA.
Cause that’s, to me, that’s what it seemed like. It’s just an extended of illustration. And I think, you know, talking about my past before I am very much I like the jumping, music a little bit, then photography, then design, illustration, fine art. The program I did was studio on the computer and I’m like, okay, yeah. I want to get my hands into more, gallery stuff or more fine art things like that — break a little bit away from illustration and like representational or commercial art, all of that debate of commercial versus fine art.
Alex Cumming: The eternal debate will never end
Reina Castellanos: Listen. It’s yeah. That’s never going to happen. It’s just we can argue for both sides until the end of time. But yeah, so I guess it’s flexibility of because I was ready to pursue a different kind of work. if you find that anywhere, but if you see the work that I did for my MFA, it looks completely different from the work that I do now, but that body of work was kind of like a catalyst of the things that I wanted to delve in.
I did a lot of work about my experience as an immigrant, and of being bilingual, language in general. So it was definitely I was talking with someone the other day and it’s kinda like how artists have like their blue period. That was kinda my intense period working on my thesis body of work. But it was awesome. I am so proud of the work that I was able to do here.
Alex Cumming: Reina, what was your experience like in the College of Arts and Humanities?
Reina Castellanos: I don’t know if there’s a sentence that could encompass, that it was definitely challenging. But at the same time, I just think there’s some weird magic that happens when people are put into MFA programs or like graduate school in general.
Because it becomes almost like think-tank or a very isolating experience, but with your cohort. So in that sense it was interesting because having to deal with the bureaucracy that comes with school in general and being at that level of even the language that is used, that it’s oh, you’re not a student, you’re a candidate.
I’m like, this is too fancy for me. But I was definitely super lucky with the cohort that I had. There was for the studio arts on the computer there was just three of us. And then from the other track that runs parallel, there was another student. So it was just a very small amount of us. It’s quite literally like The Real World, it’s just like eight perfect strangers splitting a house together, blah, blah, blah. It was like that but with art.
So in that sense it was a great experience being able to have a dedicated space, a playground, if you will of exploring different things. And I think particularly for me a lot of my thinking of, that we were talking about earlier of separating the person and the art I think I became much more aware of that and how much that didn’t make sense to me.
So I explore with those ideas that it’s let me make art that is of me about me. Sometimes even just for me, the idea of making art with just one person minus an audience. And what if it’s just for me>? So in that sense, he became very I wouldn’t say like therapeutic, because sometimes I would just delve into things that were like traumatizing and it’s still like, oh my God, why am I doing this to myself? But it’s one of those things that it, an experience that it changes you and it’s always going to be a big part of why I do the things that I do and my reasoning behind them.
I think a lot of that happened in my time here.
Alex Cumming: You’re around a cohort, you’re around people who have different perspectives than you do different ideas than you do different art styles and new things that look nothing like potentially what you’ve ever done before. And then being around that, you can take that in and you can say, “oh, I like what that person did. How can I take that?”
My own experience as an actor, I look at my own group of people in my class. I’m like, dang, I didn’t even think about that in the same sense that me and any number of people in my class could do the exact same monologue, zero guarantee that we’re going to emphasize the same words, same actions, same ideas — we could get totally different meanings out of the monologue.
That’s the beauty of the art is that it’s subjective to the person.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. And I think also something that I bear in mind a lot is that especially when seeing art work, whether it’ a mural on the street or a student reached out, cause Hey, can you take a look at my portfolio?
You know, whatever it might be like you mentioned, there’s a cohort around me doing all these different kinds of work I can confidently talk about any type of visual work that it’s not, it’s almost not about the work anymore.
Yeah, I will tell you if those colors are horrible. I do not have a filter in that way. But also it’s not about the colors and it’s what if they really want it to mess with me or mess with the viewer? And maybe that’s the point of the thing. So to me a lot of that over analyzing I’ve always done in my life, it made itself be a fundamental part of my way of interacting with art or appreciating art, talking about art that it’s to me it changed the way I think. And the way that I approach art that, to me, it’s very important if I am of the, I guess of the school of thought that I cannot separate myself from the art, then I need to be able to appreciate it or act around it accordingly.
Alex Cumming: It sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s good to step outside of yourself to take a neutral perspective on a piece of art and then reflect on how you can bring that into yourself.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. There’s a lot of inherently we’re always going to bring our own biases and that’s fine. Again, we can separate that.
But I think, and I don’t want it to sound too grad schooly, too out of reach. But I think ultimately it’s a lot of like empathy that it’s not, I shouldn’t talk about this from my point of view. But it’s let me try to think about it and wrap my head around something from that artist’s point of view or from that, or from their audience’s point of view.
I think being able to allow yourself to approach something in a more vulnerable way, or honestly, at some point, know that it’s I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. So don’t take my position or my stance. I said I’m not the authority what, being able to play those different roles, I think that’s super important because you’re never going to know where the next person you collaborate with or the next client that reaches out or the next whatever you don’t know what their point of view is. So align yourself to be very sure of what you do and knowledgeable of what you do, but also being able to be flexible and understanding of those different points of view, go such a long way
Alex Cumming: In there you made a great point that is another debate amongst artists is to enjoy art using empathy. Can you enjoy art if you’re not empathetic to the actor on stage to the artist’s perspective, it’s another great debate that will never have an answer.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah, we’ll be here for hours.
Alex Cumming: Yeah. We’ll have a debate show, is what we’re going to do as our next podcast.
Now at, you were an adjunct facility member at UCF for a brief period of time. What was that like for yourself going from art student art teacher?
Reina Castellanos: I don’t think I have ever felt the imposter syndrome as much as I did around that time because, I started teaching, I wanna say it was my last year of graduate school.
So I’m like, okay, there’s a room of impressionable young minds that are cooler than me. They know the things that are like happening right now, more than I do. I’ve been living on this silo focusing on my art. But I think that’s where that vulnerability we’re talking about comes into play because I knew I didn’t have the answers.
I was never really taught how to teach. And I was just like, okay. I just got to take it one day at a time and really see what these like kids are about. And kids because I’m an old lady in my head. So the experience was definitely eye-opening in the sense of I love being around a group of creative people that are just exploring and they want to learn and they don’t know what they want to learn, and they’re dubious about things or choices. And they’re too in their head and I’m like, dude, I’ve been there. Trust the process.
So in that sense, it was really fun because I definitely learned a lot from them. I think it took a little bit of the edge off. I think I spent my last year of my graduate program because I was working on my thesis and writing this paper and being in that kind of that black hole of art theory.
But then I was able to connect with these kids. I was teaching an illustration class. And I’m like, yeah, this is my thing. And it was awesome. Being able to share with them and be, I myself, be vulnerable with them. I particularly loved critique day. I would just come in with my giant cup of coffee and it’s just let’s put all the artwork on the wall and let’s just talk about it. There’s no right or wrong. There’s inappropriate, but there’s no, no wrong way of appreciating art. And we’re all gonna stumble along the way, even I stumblr to this day. So to me that definitely was a special part of teaching in general.
I haven’t taught in a while. But I think that’s the most impactful part. It’s just being able to, for little, window of two and a half hours of critique time. Let’s not worry about assignments or due dates or whatever. Let’s see if whatever we’ve been talking about makes sense ultimately. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Or I had students that were very much about this is what I want to do. And like their pathway and there being something completely different and I’m like, good. I don’t think we should know what do we want to do in there for the rest of our lives when we’re 19 on our brains are still cooking.
Alex Cumming: You’re right. You’re right. It can be tough for artists, especially young artists to be okay with failure, be okay with critique, but there’s going to be a lot of it along the way. That’s just the nature of art.
Reina Castellanos: Oh yeah. I don’t think that people should prepare to be like, oh, you should have tough skin. And it’s I think there’s a lot of power in that vulnerability and being softer and wanting to create genuine connections.
But yeah, criticism, listen, people are going to talk about you regardless. So it’s do your thing, and I think as long as you’re not harming anyone, as long as you’re within this context of academia, as long as you’re turning in your stuff on time, you should be fine, but I think yeah, it’s, they gotta be prepared for getting that feedback and being able to, take it and learn from it.
Alex Cumming: Very true. Now Reina I want to move into the big news, the big fun stuff. So get excited. Get ready. Let’s go. You were recently featured in Target’s new Latino Heritage Month line. And how does that feel for yourself and what was that process like?
Reina Castellanos: It feels surreal. Definitely such a personal, full circle moment for me.
When I was studying design and even when I was working in design sometimes I’m like stuck, I’m too in my head. I need a little breather. My go-to recharge moment was, let me get an iced coffee and just walk around Target and gain some inspiration and just go down the Candle aisle or go down the kitchenware or the best sheets aisle and see what are the things that are happening? Or the things that are people are doing or what’s in trend or what’s not whatever. So to me that was my holy crap moment, that it’s like Target’s reaching out to me.
To me it was, it’s just funny. I’m just going to preface this by apologizing to all my professors throughout my career. But for the longest time I didn’t have a portfolio website. I just had my Instagram. And even then I updated my Instagram not often at all.
And they reached out to me by sending me a DM on Instagram. That’s how my relationship with Target started.
Alex Cumming: That shows the power of social media. And for artists in the modern era, you gotta be reachable.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. Listen, I think that’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest set of eyes, it’s if there certain kind of work that you want to do, you gotta be playing around their field.
They gotta be seeing you around the field. And I’m not going to talk down about like portfolio websites or I don’t know, LinkedIn, cause everything has its merits. But it just happened that in my case they just reached out to me via DMs. And I was freaking out, obviously, it’s like my first verified account reaching out to me. I’m like, Ooh, it’s so fancy. But yeah, that, I don’t remember what the question was.
Alex Cumming: I was just going to ask you that you mentioned the process, you said about it. How that process went for you. Do you have any, do you have any other tips or advice for artists and creators who are interested in working with big companies, or who are currently working with big companies?
Reina Castellanos: I think they’re currently working with big companies, they did the thing, so they, I don’t know how much advice I could give them. But I think authenticity goes a long way. This is my point of view that I think that translated to Target and what they wanted to do.
So I think if people or artists, designers, whatever they’re putting work out there that is authentic. And that doesn’t mean that you have to go down this like, traumatic past story, or you have to be oh, it’s me kind of thing. It can be the work that you want to do if you want to do some cool stuff or video games, whatever go for it.
You’ve got to get to a place where you’re feeling comfortable in that vulnerability being able to receive and translate feedback into your work and grow from it. Definitely like I said earlier, be in the spaces where your audience is and what your future clients or collaborators are.
I think for a lot of us, obviously it’s social media and being truthful to the work that you want to do and the work that you do because at least, obviously for my case is like very specific but that’s what got me that job.
If I do work that I don’t believe in like, I promise you, I’m not going to post it, or if there’s work that I do that I am proud of, but it’s not really the work that I want to continue doing, I’m not going to post it. I’m not gonna share it. Being honest with that, that it’s yeah, sometimes you got to do stuff because you got to get a paycheck and all of that, there’s, obviously nothing wrong with that.
But yeah, allowing yourself to show things that are maybe not maybe they’re a little bit rough around the edges, but that show your thinking, show your way of approaching a problem or we get to create things that did not exist before — that’s pretty freaking awesome. And I just want to know what’s in people’s brain and if people are able to translate that into a visual that I could somehow comprehend through the magic of how eyeballs work, that’s so cool.
So I hope, it’s, it sounds so cheesy, but it’s I hope that’s an inspiration, that if they see something that really speaks to them, that they in turn reciprocate that energy into the world, or maybe that thing that they think it’s oh, maybe it’s too weird. Maybe doesn’t fit with what people would like to do, but it’s they’re not going to be doing the work for you, bro. You’re going to be the one doing the work. So if you hate drawing, like I hate drawing anatomically correct anything. I’m not going to pretend that, to put that in my portfolio and say yeah, I can draw medical illustrations for you.
But then I adjust that so I knew illustration the teacher in school, that’s you need to know how to draw people because when people see an image, they’re always going to go their eyes, going to go immediately to the person, because they’re going to, recognize that it’s a human or a face.
So in my head, I’m like, I hate anatomy. I hate realistic anything or me doing it, creating it. So I’m like, okay, I need to figure out a way that I can be still flowy and abstract, but show that there’s a person there or have some sort of human connection. So I think figuring out what works for you, what makes, again, we can get like philosophical with this, but what makes a person an artist to me it’s not the art, it’s the thought that got them there.
So the, what are the mechanics that you use? What is your special formula? What is the thing that cannot be replicated? Because right now I can tell you, Hey, you want to draw this thing. This is what I did. You grabbed the thing, you do to the curve this way. And then you erase the thing and it’s that’s fine.
But it’s is it going to be the same thing, what I do that you do? So to me, it’s a lot about the thinking process. So I think my advice would be: Figure out and even put it into words if you want to, but figure out what’s your thinking process. What are the steps that you take to solve a problem? What does that combination look like? And how does that make you different from anybody else? That is what makes you an artist to me.
Alex Cumming: Yeah, that’s good. I like that. I like to hear that.
That is a good clap. It is that it’s a lot of the, your mind, your perspective, your mind, plus your perspective equals art.
Reina Castellanos: Listen, we’ve solved the problem.
Alex Cumming: We have. No more debates. None of that. That’s literally just that equate. Art is now math.
Reina Castellanos: Exactly. How messed up is that?. It’s like those professors, like my math teacher in high school, he was right that I guess that math is everything.
Alex Cumming: We have wasted — yeah.
Reina Castellanos: I’m glad I wear glasses. I look like I could do math. That’s about it.
Alex Cumming: I wear contacts. I’ll put the glasses on. Now I want to move to this question. Artistic fields are very often seen as difficult industries to be successful in. Do you think that’s a true statement?
Reina Castellanos: Yeah, it’s difficult. There’s no, I don’t think there’s a way of softening that one. It’s difficult if you don’t put the work in whether it is, the actual making of the work, the actual knowing where you want to be or what the kind of work that you want to do and all of that — you’re not going to succeed. Because again it’s that whole how can we distill something that is very much us and then make it into a career path?
Alex Cumming: Those things that you just mentioned, do you think that those are the reasons that you’ve been successful in your field?
Reina Castellanos: Honestly, it’s like probably, but it’s I don’t know. Cause it’s just it’s the thing it’s success is such a mixed bag of luck and chance and privilege. And it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of pain and it’s a lot of different things. I think for me, I don’t know, and this is a very, I don’t know if it’s like too intimate, but it’s I don’t know what success for me looks like.
I think once I define that, I don’t know if it’s then something I want
Alex Cumming: The moving target of success that once you get to the point you think you want it, and then it’s oh, I’m here now. You look around and you’re like what’s after this, what’s next? There is no — and as an artist it’s, if you’re passionate about, it’s a lifelong thing, you never like I’m done. I did it.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. And I think, that can come in such different ways that I’m not saying don’t have goals or things like that, because I literally have on the wall by my desk, I have a list of clients that I would love to work with. I think now it’s down to nine clients, I was able to cross one off.
I have the things in my mind that it’s very specific and things that I would love to illustrate for in the future or design. So I think, having those goals is obviously important. Having that control the things that you can control to steer your way towards whatever that goal is.
But success is such an abstract thing that, what works for me doesn’t work for you. And it shouldn’t, I think it’s malleable. And I think at least for art if we were, I don’t know, like soccer players, going to the World Cup, sure. I think that’s a success. But to me, it’s I made a goal, that’s success. I could end my career now.
Alex Cumming: But the terrific things that you’ve been able to achieve at this point in your career, is there any pieces of advice you would give to somebody who wants to, get to a level that you’ve achieved?
Reina Castellanos: Oh, I think flexibility goes a long way. I think especially starting out, I think we are confident, we think we know everything and we don’t, we never will. So I think that having flexibility of trying to approach things in a different way — let me preface this by saying that in working with a client or on a collaboration, that flexibility, it can open up a lot of doors because I think people see that it’s not about one-way relationship or I ask you to do this, I’m paying you to do this, and then you do the thing and then that’s it.
But if you’re flexible and you’re able to collaborate and you’re able to bring something to the “next level” or whatever. I think that flexibility goes a long way. And I also think the understanding of fields that might apply to what you’re doing. So for instance, I’m not a web designer person. I don’t know anything about animation, but I think having a working understanding of the applications that you work can be used for, it’s definitely going to give you a leg up.
I know it’s with the arts it comes and goes, that it’s oh, you gotta be the Jack of all trades, but then 10 years pass. And then people are very much into specializations. And I think I, definitely have fallen into that; that category of I’m very specialized. What I think having my way of thinking of gotta be flexible that kind gives me a leg up that I not only do this cute little thing. I not only do coin purses, that’s not, it’s not about that application. The work that I do cannot be applied from that little coin purse into an ad or into a website or into whatever, so be aware of the fields that kind of overlap with what you want to do.
Alex Cumming: Flexibility, as you said, and then being open to change, it sounds like being able to, because that is more flex, like malleability, and how you want to adjust your artwork for, what it is your art can be used on. And now you’d mentioned that you still have these goals of companies you’d like to work with. With your career ahead of you, what are some things that you’re still excited to do?
Reina Castellanos: I’m in a position that the kind of things that attract me are very varied in terms of actual applications, like products or spaces, it could be applied in, but also in scale of something being local versus something international. So things that in my bucket list of projects, it has definitely like a range and just kinda put it in out there into the universe.
I am very much community oriented person. I love the creative community, the design community here in Orlando. And something I would love to do is paint a mural. That’s something I would love to do. I love the idea of art work interacting with spaces and especially, spaces within the city. Something outside that, again, that same idea of the coffee, mark, something that becomes part of their routine. You’re giving your friends directions. It’s yeah, on that mural with the thing, make a left. So that’s something I would love to do.
This is very specific and I think I have found the pathway. I’m not going to reveal my secrets. But I would love to design the end credits of a movie or a TV show. So end credits, beginning credits, something like that. That’s something I would love to do. And I think my, of my more like sentimental goals, I would love to have an art show in Caracas where I’m from. That’s definitely high up there. Maybe some retrospective when I’m an old lady.
Yeah, I think, how I treat goals is something that it needs to be yes, aspirational, but then you also need to be able to know how to get there. I think dividing it into things. Like I said earlier, local or international or things that I’m like, oh, I know someone that does this. I think kind of making those, dividing in a way that it’s achievable because yeah, my goal is to, I don’t know, win an Oscar — that’s too abstract for me, yeah, maybe I could work for a music company, and then at one point design the album of the soundtrack of a movie. Having the ability to break into things and understand how one project can give you a leg up for the next. But even then like real it back in. I’m very much realistic.
It’s maybe it won’t give you a leg up into what you want to do next. Maybe you find out that’s what you don’t want to do. I think that’s as important. The winning or the succeeding, I think, it’s drawing those boundaries of yeah, this did not work for me, or I did this and sure the work is good, but that’s not where I want my career to be.
Alex Cumming: I like what you’re saying a lot about the trial and error and the growth that can come from making mistakes and learning from your mistakes and developing, knowing what you don’t want to do, as important as knowing what you do want to do. And with that right now, I want to say, thank you so much for speaking with me.
Congratulations on all the success you’ve had so far. I’m so excited to see what you continue to do with your art and it’s been such a pleasure to get to talk with you about all the various debates that will be never ending in the art world.
Reina Castellanos: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me and inviting me. It’s been awesome. A little way of connecting back and giving back and hope that it inspires someone or like we just said, maybe they’re like, yeah, I don’t want to do that. I’m like that’s awesome. If they realize this is not the path for them, it’s as important to me. So thank you for the opportunity.
Alex Cumming: Congratulations again. You’re an inspiring member of the UCF community.
Our lawyers are on standby or anything for legal reasons. I’ve never had an orange before. I do not know. I don’t own any socks or pillowcases or yeah, water bottles. What are they? These are all hypotheticals.
Hey, thanks for listening. I’ll see you, you, on the next episode of the Knights Do That podcast where I’ll speak with Cyndia Muñiz about her impactful work in supporting and elevating Latino student success at UCF, which is one of 29 colleges in Florida federally recognized as an Hispanic serving institution.
Cyndia Muñiz: I represent this large community it’s important that I speak up in support of that community that is very large in size, but often, unfortunately I feel is still overlooked in many spaces. And so I want to continue doing what I can professionally and personally to represent the excellence that is within Hispanic, Latino people. We contribute in so many ways to this country, whether it be through military, economics, here at UCF, as our faculty, as everyone here, there’s so much that we contribute. And so we want to continue opening doors, providing resources and maintaining that cultural pride.
Alex Cumming: If you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere, you took UCF that we should know about. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights and Charge On!