Castonguay is a visual artist whose primary medium is woodblock printmaking. His body of work includes depictions of animals in nature. These subjects are in compositions that insinuate a story that the viewer is left to interpret. Most recently, Castonguay has been employing human-made elements in his prints including, airplanes, helicopters, and submarines. These works explore the relationship between ecological and technological systems and how humans continue to shape the planet in their image.
Castonguay’s depictions of avian subjects began when he adopted two society finches. Being fascinated with the lives of animals, an avid consumer of natural history literature and films, the artist found himself the ethologist. He recognized his own bird’s distinct personalities and observed them communicating with each other.
“Birds take on a larger than life presence in my work. As a long-time bird owner, I see my subjects up close every day. I’ve learned to appreciate their personality as much as their beautiful colors, shapes, and patterns. Birds always remain their own master, and my art is about capturing their indomitable spirit.”
Castonguay was inspired by the grandiose compositions of Audubon early on. That is not to say his intent was documentation through scientific illustration. He was more interested in how Audubon related the peculiar behavior, appearance, and perceived personality of his subjects. As a result, the lens of personification often skews Castonguay’s work towards the fantastical.
Lyell Castonguay received his BFA from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2010. He is represented by Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts, Brattleboro, VT, and Brumfield Gallery, in Astoria, OR. His work is part of national and international collections including, the Archille Bertarelli Collection, Milan, Italy, and the New York Public Library, New York, NY. In addition to creating his own work Castonguay also teaches woodblock printmaking as the Owner/Director of BIG INK.
Lyell Castonguay was introduced to woodblock printmaking while in college. He is drawn to the step-by-step nature of the technique. It is a slow, rewarding process that requires planning and technical foresight.
“Woodcut is all about decision-making. Once a mark is carved into the plywood’s surface, it cannot be erased. I appreciate this finality”
The artist’s favorite piece of equipment in the studio is his mammoth press, which he affectionately calls “The Big Tuna”. Traditional wooddblock techniques are often based around hand printing, but access to a large press has enabled Castonguay to create large-scale, multi-layered color works.
“I start a project by making painterly marks with ink onto plywood, establishing general forms. Then a finer rendering using sharpies and pencils balances the immediacy of the ink painting. This is in preparation for the hours I will spend hand carving around each drawn line with small chisels. Once the carving is complete, the woodblock is ready to print! A thin coat of oil-based ink is applied to a rubber roller. The roller distributes ink across the surface of the carved image. Ink sticks to all the raised areas of the plywood. The carved areas don’t catch the ink and remain white on the printed paper. Paper is placed on top of the inked surface and the woodblock is run through a press. The press applies even pressure thereby pushing the paper into the woodblock’s sticky inked surface. Finally, the paper is peeled away from the woodblock, resulting in a finished print.”