By Leo Cabral
Riverside City College’s Art Club had the pleasure of hosting artist Ako Castuera on Nov. 1 in the Digital Library Auditorium to present her work and discuss her creative career and process.
Castuera is best known for her storyboard animations and character design in popular shows like “Adventure Time and “Metalocalypse.”
From the moment she began to speak about her inspirations and how she interacts with her materials, Castuera captivated the audience and took them to a different world. Her words painted a perspective that made the Earth come to life in a way similar to how “Adventure Time” brings its atmosphere and objects to life.
“Growing up in Southern California, my mom lived in Claremont, my dad lived in Hollywood… so I spent a lot of time on the freeway,” Castuera said. “Passing by the hills and the natural features of Southern California’s landscape … I wouldn’t really get bored because I would come up with a fantasy realm.
“In my fantasy realm there were giant creatures who went to sleep on the Earth and they would get covered with these green blankets. And then people started building on top of the green blankets… I always imagined that dinosaur bodies were laying down, or big labradors. So it’s always been my sense that the Earth is a living place that we’re kind of just riding the crust of.”
Castuera uses clay from the Sierra Madre Foothills in many of her ceramic pieces.
“Materials are a gift,” Castuera said. “And everything we use to make art has its origins in the Earth. There’s nothing that we could do that doesn’t come from the ground at some point… everything has its origins in the soil. I deal with that very closely because I’m actually digging soil out and making sculptures with it. And I have to think about that when I gather, it’s not like I’m going to the store.”
Castuera began her career in illustration in 2006 when artist Songgu Kwon hired her as a character designer for “Metalocalypse.” She was chosen for the job when she demonstrated that she could draw in Kwon’s style about a year prior. She had made a birthday card with Kwon’s main character from his comic “Blanche the Baby Killer.”
While working with Kwon, Castuera created a comic called Cactus Girl, which got her recognized by “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward. From there, she began storyboard work.
Castuera shared her struggles of balancing her Cartoon Network career, her personal projects and her mental health. She eventually quit “Adventure Time” after several seasons to could focus on her personal art.
“Art can be a very solitary practice,” Castuera said. “And if it’s the thing that you do all the time it can mean that you’re alone pretty much all the time. Sometimes that’s great and you learn a lot and level up a lot, but there come times where you also really need people and you need something in your life besides a results driven craft… I find that having more things to do besides art really helps me as an artist.”
Castuera continues to search for the perfect balance between her work, art and health.
Art Club Adviser Jeff Soto hopes to invite more professional local artists to RCC to show students what the professional art world is like.
“We bring artists out like this hopefully to inspire the students and to give them insight into what a professional artist does and how a professional artist works,” Soto said. “This artist in particular, Ako, I brought her out because she has a lot of experience in fine art and ceramics.”
Art Club President Heidi Dye learned a lot from Castuera’s presentation and hopes that students see that anything is possible.
“I hope (students) kinda see that it is possible to become an artist,” Dye said. “You don’t have to be just an animator, you can do anything with your art career. It’s also important to take a break from art and to also do your own creative processes even though you are working with your dream job, like an animator, you do need your own creative outlet because you’re going to be forced into a society where you’re going to have to go to a strict schedule.”