5 Questions for Giuseppe Castellano [INTERVIEW]

Giuseppe Castellano

In the run up to BookMachine New York, we’re running a set of interviews with publishing professionals connected to the City, with an interesting story to tell.

Giuseppe Castellano is an Art Director at Penguin Group USA and has over 13 years experience in book publishing. He oversees the imprints of Grosset & Dunlap, PSS!, Warne, PYR, and Poptropica, and was recently awarded first place in the New York Book Show for his work in art direction and illustration.


1)  How has the nature of art and design changed over the past few years?

I’m not so sure that it has changed. For us, the purpose of both art and design remains the same, simply: to provide a visual interpretation of a product. In our case, that product is the content we deliver in the form of books, digital media, and merchandise. What has changed are the methods with which we provide that product and the time it takes to deliver it.

Not so many years ago, we would thumb through inches-thick stacks of printouts looking for the right font. We would flip through illustration books, ripping out the artists we liked (I still do that, but not often). I personally would deliver physical artwork to a licensor for approval, or to an artist for revisions. Jazz disks which held 1G of information would be used for archiving. Burned CD’s would be shipped overseas for printing. With improvements in technology (blogs, file sharing, digital asset banks, etc.) the font search, the archiving, the delivery of art, the pre-production, can all be done in a fraction of the time. All of this greatly improves our productivity.

That being said, there’s an adage in carpentry that my grandfather-in-law used to say: “Measure twice, cut once.” I invoke it often as a check against allowing speed to hinder quality.


2)  Working across different imprints must be interesting; what has this taught you?

Working across five distinct imprints offers a variety that is important for my growth and the growth of my designers. It certainly teaches us to expand our design palette. The initial questions are the same: “What feeling are we trying to convey? How can we best convey it? The processes begin to diverge when you consider your intended audience. That’s where you begin designing and art directing in very different ways.

All five imprints, G&D, PSS!, the Penguin Young Readers, Warne, and Poptropica require different skill sets at different times. We need to be able to work quickly in one imprint, please a licensor in another imprint, foster a legacy in another. It provides us, as artists, the opportunity to design almost every possible format and solve very unique assignments.

It also affords us the opportunity to work with illustrators from a wider range of disciplines. Recently, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Steve Simpson on a Day of the Dead Activity Book; Joyce Wan on a series of board books; Pascal Campion on a PYR; Aaron Blecha on our George Brown series; Patrick Spaziante on Adventure Time and Skylanders, Anna Dewdney on a Llama Llama sticker book; David Soman on Ladybug Girl projects; and the wonderful Eric Carle. It’s a working and learning environment for which I am very grateful.


3)  What advice would you give to anyone looking to break into publishing?

Of course, the first suggestion will always be to focus on your craft—so that you can consistently create visuals that best represent who you are.

Consistency and individuality are key factors. When I look for artists, I ask (myself) whether they will help us convey a feeling for a particular project, and if so, can they do it consistently.

Be sure to have a web presence. It can be in the form of a personal site or blog. Or in an established online service through which one can display their portfolio. The latter option can cost hundreds of dollars a year, so it’s important to weigh the cost vs. the amount of exposure.

Send postcards. It’s still a very important tool. Be sure to tailor your mailings to reach the proper recipients. Make sure the style and subject matter of the postcard is in line with the type of product that the recipient creates.

Through social media, societies, and organizations, find ways to participate in the publishing community.

These are all contributing factors to building and maintaining your brand.


4)  In your experience, what can publishers do more of in the creative space?

There’s always room for any publisher to be more creative. The question is, for what purpose?

The base goal for a publisher, in my view, is to tell stories that connect with an audience, thereby cultivating a love of reading. There are more ways to do that now than in years past. It’s important to be creative, to push the boundaries of what a book could be, but not at the expense of the story. The bells and whistles should be part of the music, not a distraction from it.

A great sculpture teacher of mine at RISD, Ken Horii, would say: “Integrate. Do not decorate.” I would like to see publishers continue to think that way with books.


5)  Any personal predictions for future changes to the nature of publishing?

Only that it will continue to evolve. And that although strong arguments are made for and against traditional and non-traditional methods of book making, the path of success for the industry will lie somewhere in the center.

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