Shy Custis: Illustrator

17 Jan

I had the amazing opportunity to stumble upon Shy Custis, an illustrator printed here at 48Hr Books. Like many self-published authors, she started her own publishing company, 13 crowns. I decided to check out her blog after seeing so many of her illustrations and was blown away. Her blog struck a chord with me. Being an artist and a writer, I am familiar with the life of a creative. As you know, I am always eager to create dialogue that orbits around pursuing and maintaining a creative life. Shy speaks eloquently and honestly about her daily struggles and triumphs at her attempt at an artists life. She agreed to share a piece of her mind.

Your blog is amazing. It is raw and honest- it really takes you in your head to see what the art process is like for  you.
When you finally decided to pursue art as a career, what did other people think? Did this matter? Did it affect you? How?
Well, I never really “decided”. I always drew a lot as a kid. I stopped for a few years, lost interest, but when I got back into drawing, it just never went away. It never lost it’s appeal, but got more and more interesting for me. Doing it for a living just sort of happened. I started putting stuff together on online galleries, printing prints for my own personal folder, and people began to seem interested. The big kick-starter was when my [at the time friend] fiance took me to my first convention and made me sell prints of my art. After a few of these, my stuff really started making a profit as I got better at art.
I’m not sure what others thought of it. My parents were always pretty supportive of my art, but I never really asked if it was a “concern” to them or not. I think as long as I was doing something healthy and productive, they didn’t care much. Even if they had discouraged it, I’m self-righteous enough that it might have just propelled me more.

Do you have any advice for budding writers/illustrators who are beginning their career?
Try not to make it a career. Make things that you’re interested in, make things that you want to. That’s what really matters. And that’s what make the best work. If the work is solid, then the possibility of it being monetarily profitable will come from that. But what should matter most is your own self-fulfillment, your own satisfaction with your work.

You have published quite a few books with other artists as well as yourself. Can you talk a little bit about  13 crowns publishing?
13crowns is the studio that Coey and I built up years ago, long before we even had the possibility to start publishing books. Back then, we played around with making collaborative stories, comics, everything, anything. We figured if we were ever going to actually do something with all this, we should have something to represent it as a group effort. So 13crowns Studio came out of that. Today, 13crowns has expanded to include three of our closest friends; Rachel and Renee Britton, two great and unique artists, and Rah Metts, an insanely brilliant writer.

Under the studio’s name, we wanted to start putting these books together, not only with us 5, but others that we feel should be featured. Quite a few of the people we’ve featured are already rather well-known, and it was an honour to have them participate. Many others are lesser known, but people we feel deserve recognition regardless.
That’s by no means trying to say that we think we’re some popular wide spread “thing” that artists can get famous through. It’s more just we feel these people are worth printing, and when we have the money scraped together, we want them in our books because we appreciate them.

What is it like combining your writing with illustrations?
Typically, art is how my stories get out of my head. I do write, but It’s my big passion, and it’s not something I usually feel like sharing. So typically I draw scenes or characters from my stories, but don’t share much of the writing behind them. And most the time there’s no real literature behind it anyway, just plot lines in my head.
In the case of Little White and Little Dark, it sort of just exploded into this whole storybook, and since I had the book and illustrations already done, I didn’t see a reason to NOT publish them. So it was almost an accident, I guess.

When I am able to release something “cohesive”, it is rewarding. Like I wasn’t just being a crazed hermit in my little office working away on nothing-in-particular. But just creating at all is rewarding for me.

Have you done any commissions? If,so what is it like from an illustrators perspective to work with an author?
I’ve done a lot of small-time commissions, but nothing really large or on-going. I do like the collaborative aspect of helping authors get a visual likeness of what’s in their head, though it can be a real challenge all the same.

What advice/tips do you have for an author seeking an illustrator?
BE SPECIFIC. Give photo reference or examples of things that you think help communicate what you have in your head.
Find an artist that seem reliable, professional and has a good turn around time. One of the reasons that I don’t do a lot of work for authors is because I draw so, sooo slowly, it takes forever to do anything. Try to find someone that’s good, fairly fast and responsible.

Do you plan on pursuing 13 Crowns publishing? A writing career?
We so plan on publishing as long as we can keep up the funds and the sales! Coey and I do have a story that we’re writing [500 pages already, oh dear], but the possibility of it becoming a published work is very slim. But we will definitely continue to publish artbooks, and I’d really like to many have a collection of short stories from Rah, myself and other authors that we find inspirational. We’ll see!

Don’t stop here. Check out more by Shy at

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