A few weeks back we featured the adorable and enchanting illustrations of one Rachel Katstaller and found her story intriguing – how does a girl end up relocating half a cross the globe with her cat in tow from El Salvador to Austria? Well, we tracked her down (not an easy task, this girl is as busy as a bee) and talked to her about her journey, where she comes from and where she’s heading, her love of houses, especially the ones of her picturesque hometown and the beauty that comes in various shapes and sizes.
Design&Paper: To start off, would you introduce yourself to our readers?
Rachel Katstaller: My name is Rachel Katstaller, I’m an illustrator and strategic designer from a teeny tiny country in the tropics that you might have never heard of. I recently moved to the Austrian Alps with my cat Hemingway, to continue pursuing a career as a freelance illustrator. I spend my days working off a beautifully bright shared studio space in the heart of the capital of the Alps. My work is mainly focused on children’s book illustration and narratives, but I also love to explore topics around women in my work, taking this along a range of different products and applications.
D&P: You moved across the globe from El Salvador to Austria – there must be a story behind this?
R.K: I’ve always wanted to live in Europe and this moment in my life seemed like the right one to do so. I was finally getting comfortable with the idea of pursuing a lifelong career as a freelance illustrator so I decided to take the jump and risk a move with my cat a few days before my 28th birthday. My family is originally from Austria, so I already spoke german and choosing the city to start off wasn’t too hard either: we spent many family holidays here in Innsbruck so I was pretty comfortable with the idea of starting from scratch over here. I was mainly looking for a change in lifestyle and I got everything I was looking for (and more!).
D&P: Traveling seems to be an essential part of your life. How does it affect your work and where are you heading next?
R.K: Ah, yes. Sometimes I feel like I might be overdoing the traveling but I just can’t miss a chance to discover a new city or place whenever the opportunity arises! But with traveling often you also have to be very disciplined and strict with yourself. Sometimes I can work while traveling, some other trips don’t allow for that space. Whenever I have a new client and a trip already planned I try to make the deadline a few days before I’m headed out, just to have enough time for any required revisions. When flying back from a trip I already start planning out the days ahead, so that the moment I arrive I can jump back into full work mode.I still have two trips left this year and one is to Prague, which is a city I have never been to and am definitely looking forward to see. The other trip takes me back across the ocean to spend a tropical Christmas.
D&P: How would you describe your illustration style?
R.K: I always struggle with this question, it’s super hard to describe my work because I don’t see it in any particular way: to me it’s just the way I draw. I try to create work that is clean but yet detailed, and even if I have a very hard time choosing colors I like to use bold combinations that might not look like a normal or usual palette. I would say my work is rather edgy and I have trouble finding it fitting into any real category which is something that I worry about a lot!
D&P: And where do you find your inspiration?
R.K: I find inspiration in daily life: whenever I leave the house to head to my studio I try to watch out for interesting things that might happen around me. Sometimes it can be a particular house in Glasgow that sparks an idea about what a character that lives in there might be like. Or it can also be a girl I saw crossing the street in Rome. I try to keep a mental journal of stories I’ve heard from strangers and friends, and I also have a knack for spotting people during uncomfortable situations which is always something that puts me in a good mood (and not in a bad way!). Those moments form stories and eventual narratives that I consider for future illustrations.
D&P: What do you like to spend your time doing, when not working?R.K: Does drawing just for fun count? Workaholic tendencies aside, I love reading and spend a lot of my spare time comfortably sitting in the park or on the sofa at home together with my cat. I’m also currently learning how to skateboard which is something I’ve been wanting to learn for ages. I’m very very bad at it, but it’s still lots of fun and keeps me challenged in different ways. I struggle a lot with doing embarrassing things in public, and skateboarding usually involves lots of silly falls and mistakes which helps build confidence or at least has taught me to brush off the embarrassment quickly and start over again. Plus when I get back to my sketchbook I feel that even if I did really badly on the board I at least can draw better than skate!
D&P: That is such a lovely way of thinking about it! Your work often centers around a female character, is this you?
R.K: Funny enough, I had never though of this and I find it a very curious remark! I don’t really think I draw myself, but I do draw from my own life experiences so in a way it is all part of a personal narrative. I really enjoy drawing women and it’s mainly because that’s how I challenge myself to improve my drawing skills and become better at drawing human figure. I like to represent different body shapes and faces, different hairstyles and colors to show that beauty is found in variety.
D&P: And what brand and/or client would you like to work with in the future?
R.K: Wow, well that’s a tricky question, what if someone from that brand reads this? (I do hope I ever get a gig with them!) One of my recent dreams is to collaborate with a skateboarding company applying illustrations on apparel, I think it would be such a cool project! And I would obviously also love to publish and work on children’s books, with publishers such as Flying Eye Books and Scholastic (I always think back to Mary Grandprés Harry Potter illustrations), as well as book covers for Penguin. Those would be such dream clients for me!
D&P: And besides those, what are your plans and hopes for the future?
R.K: Publishing a book of my own is definitely on my list! I have several ideas that I have to focus on and finalize eventually. I’m also about to start working on another children’s book pitch for an author who recently contacted me regarding his project and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it finished. So a lot of exciting projects are headed this way and also a couple of trips involving exhibitions early next year. I’m nervous but mainly excited about what’s to come!
D&P: I have to ask, what role does paper play in your work?
R.K: A really big one! Even though my past work has been mostly done digitally, I’ve been recently shifting to more hand drawn projects which I used to shy away from because it’s really hard to delete mistakes. I love sketching on smooth paper and I’m still very happy with my Moleskines. For end drawings I like using cold pressed watercolor paper because of the smooth surface and thickness of the paper which holds with whatever medium I’m currently experimenting with.
D&P: First time visiting Innsbruck – where would you take a fellow illustrator?
R.K: This is by far the hardest question! Since I spend a lot of my time just moving from my house to the studio, I have barely discovered the city (I know, shame on me). But I do have certain favorite haunts, so a visit would definitely involve getting a gelato in old town, strolling through the narrow alleys and heading towards the Hofgarten. Enjoying a bit of sun on a bench and then head with a sketchbook in hand towards Saggen, which is one of the most picturesque areas of Innsbruck and I find the quirky architecture incredibly inspiring for my drawings (I am after all obsessed with houses!). I’m also crazy about the beautiful mountains surrounding the city so a visit would probably end up on a rooftop bar to enjoy a colorful sunset.
D&P: That sounds absolutely lovely, we just might have to make that day happen some time. Thank you Rachel for taking the time and energy to talk to us, we’re looking forward to seeing where your work and future endeavours takes you!