Featured Artist Interview: Celeste Pille, Illustrator
One lovely afternoon while self-entertaining, I had the pleasure of stumbling upon a tumblr that jolted me awake from my hazy internet perusal. Celeste Pille is a talented young 20-something based out of Omaha (that’s right I said Omaha), Nebraska, that refuses to let memories of childhood dwindle as the years progress. With the perfect balance of nostalgia and talent, Celeste manages to captivate all who tumble into her illustrated world.
CC: I noticed that you're motto is "Nothing is doodle proof". Was there a specific moment that you decided this particular fact or is this kind of a general attitude that you've always had about what you illustrate, or about the kind of illustrator you consider yourself?
CP: That comes from a moment in Yellow Submarine where The Beatles have to break through a large glass bubble and Paul claims it’s Beatle-proof, to which Jon replies “Nothing is Beatle proof!” and it’s a little bit of silliness that always stuck with me. It’s especially applicable to me because no surface is safe from a pen/pencil in my hand. My coffee table is covered and any sheet of paper has a full gallery going on in the margins. I think the “Nothing is doodle proof”, is definitely reflective of my eagerness to encourage anyone who has any inkling of making art to go ahead and do it.
CC: Would you say that your style has been directly influenced by any of the original illustrators of characters you’ve parodied?
CP: The original character designs absolutely inform my styling of the characters but not so much the style. For the sake of quickly putting out an animated show, cartoon characters have their one outfit and it becomes pretty iconic because it’s what you see all the time. I know a big part of the fun of doing these drawings for me is reinterpreting these iconic outfits into something you’d see in real life and something you’d see a young adult wearing. I really enjoy drawing clothes and that’s a primary feature of my blog’s content. As for the styles of the drawings themselves, I’ve got my own way of drawing people, and I tend to draw people as you’d see them in real life (or at least I try) so it’s fun and interesting to translate the really fun and outrageous character designs you see in Hey Arnold or the Rugrats into a realistically drawn person. The original character designs are perfect for the animated world where you can be exaggerated and whimsical in the design to add to the character and keep kids drawn in and engaged week after week. Mine are about pretending for a moment our favorite characters are real and grew up along with us.
CC: Being very openly liberal in your topics of discussion and in illustrating characters that are iconically gay or represent potentially racially stirring themes, how do you handle backlash from fans?
CP: I definitely don’t want my blog to become a place where just one type of person is represented. I’ve received a lot of positive messages about that element of my blog and even the positivity is a little tricky to deal with. Mostly because it feels weird accepting praise for doing something that is really a basic step towards drawing people. On the other hand I know a lot of our favorite media is not at all good about being inclusive so if my blog is a little safe space from that then I’m really happy to provide it. With that said, I don’t like at all when people reblog my stuff with offensive comments. Someone reblogged Dorothy Ann asking if “she was still a little bitch?” and no no no I am not here for that. I respond. You can bet that if you leave any kind of misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, racist garbage on any piece of mine I’m not going to leave it unanswered. My drawing of Quevanzhané Wallis as Annie has brought out some real ugliness from a handful of people who can’t/won’t see how their “protection” of a White Annie is actively practicing White Supremacy. I never have and never will experience the kind of disgusting attitude that actresses like Quevanzhané face, so I’m definitely not The Voice that should be heard on the issue but no way am I letting that ignorance fly unchecked on a drawing of mine.
CC: What was your favorite moment of Jinkx Monsoon’s (featured image) this season on Rupaul’s Drag Race??
CP: Oh man, how to choose?! I might have to give it to her Little Edie at Snatch Game because even before this season aired, I squealed when I caught a glimpse of someone doing Little Edie in the promos. Even before I knew who she was I was a fan! Her amazing facial expressions as Mimi Imfurst are also a top moment of glory.
CC: Of all the Nickelodeon shows that you’ve revived for us fans, if you could, what show would you animate yourself into as part of the cast?
CP: Hey Arnold for sure. It’s reflective of my admiration for groups of weird and wonderful people. I did, however, as a wee child draw myself as a character on Rugrats. I suppose I’d be a baby on Rugrats and a kid on Hey Arnold.
CC: Craig Bartlett, creator of Hey Arnold! mentioned you during an interview in recognition of the great work that you did in recreating and modernizing all of our favorite Hey Arnold! characters. Tell us about that experience.
CP: That was an incredibly cool moment. To just be acknowledged by him was enough to send me over the moon, but hearing him talk about how much he liked them and made him wonder what his characters would be up to in their 20s sent me to the outer reaches of the universe. He created a show that was silly and fun and at the same time was incredibly reverent to the intelligence of its viewers. I always admire people who do that with media for children, so getting such glowing remarks from him was thrilling beyond what I can say. And the fact that he sent me a message himself and told me it was Matt Groening who linked him to my stuff just blows my mind. Like, at one point Matt Groening and Craig Bartlett were scrolling through my blog?!
CC: I am personally a huge American Girl fan, and I admire how you stay true to historical eras and their relevancy to each character in regards to wardrobe, career and other details. Tell us how you went about reappropriating the features and details of these historical characters.
CP: It started from a few requests I’d received asking for some American Girl art. I had Addy and one of the Today Girls and a Bitty Baby. I had a full house, so the love was there. I definitely didn’t do academic paper levels of research on their outfits and stories for what they’d be up to, but it was certainly way more than I’m used to for this blog. I wanted to get a right balance between what the characters were interested in as children, what opportunities they’d have as young women in their lifetime, and what was going on in terms of clothing and how could I relate that to the outfit in which we first met them. Addy loved school and loved helping her mom and other students learn so I thought she’d continue with that passion. She would be at a prestigious and historically black university so then it became research about what would be possible for Addy and the first two thoughts I had were Spelman and Howard. Given the year it was founded, Spelman(then Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary) was just out of the realm of possibility (though she could certainly have gone on to teach there!) but Howard was a perfect fit and knowing the great minds that have gone through Howard, I’m really happy to think Addy could have gone there. I had a similar research journey with Molly and how her childhood tap dancing could turn into a real passion for her and that led me to put her in with Martha Graham and modern dance. It’s been a good opportunity to educate myself on institutions and women I was only somewhat knowledgeable. I’m not done with them yet, it’s just the history research makes that series a little slow-going.
CC: Do you have any long-term plans for your career in illustration?
CP: It’s funny to be answering this question because up until recently I wouldn’t have had much of an answer for you. I majored in English and only got a minor in Art, so I definitely didn’t go to school for illustration. I work full time in marketing and social media management, so it’s not even what I do to pay the big bills, but starting this blog has definitely shifted my own perception of myself and my future. Writing and illustrating children’s books was a “maybe someday I’ll do that” idea, but it’s becoming much more tangible.
CC: What should we be looking out for from you in the near future??
CP: In terms of my blog, I’m working on a project that is a little time consuming just because I can’t post individual pieces of it as I go. It needs to get posted as one cohesive thing. The project I’ve assigned myself is to come up with a Starfleet apparel catalog (yep, Trek fan) so the designs are what I image you’d see Starfleet personnel wearing on and off duty (stuff like field jackets, athletic gear, lounge wear etc.) and I also want it to represent what I hope the presentation of clothing is like hundreds of years in the future. Meaning, there is no supposed gender binary in the language about the clothing or in the modeling of the clothing. There are also no set amount of sizes, because this is the future and in the future clothes will be made to fit any body (not bodies being expected to be 1 of 5 size options). I’m really excited about that one.
As for other things, I’ve received a lot of attention from people who make that children’s book writing/illustrating a genuine possibility and that’s exciting. Certainly not what I expected when I started this blog!
To get a closer look at Celeste's incredible creations visit her tumblr here.