Tools, soot

Tools, soot

James Castle’s ingenuity extended beyond his practice to his tools and materials. He made his primary set of tools out of repurposed objects he found, including sharpened sticks, apricot pits, swabs of cotton, and broken pen tips he dipped into an ink Show More of soot and spit. Castle collected soot by banging out the stovepipe attached to the wood-burning stove. When the stove was upgraded to electric, family members began to collect soot from the Boise Veterans Administration Hospital to continue providing this important material to Castle.

James Castle Inventory Number CAS15-0105


Without instruction, Castle taught himself how to create perspective in his drawings and he did so masterfully. It appears he learned through endless practice, repetition and experimentation, faithfully copying images and then manipulating them.Show More In many of his landscape drawings, Castle used roads, trees, fences and power lines to emphasize depth of field.

Draw me


Castle collected and faithfully copied photographs from the newspaper, product packaging, and marketing materials, some of which were from the Minneapolis-based Art Instruction Schools. The school’s “Draw Me” advertisements Show Moreinvited readers to assess their artistic prowess by copying an image (pirates, dogs, deer, people) and mailing in the finished drawing for review by “art professionals.” Castle often tested his hand by drawing nearly exact copies of such ephemera.

Castle at desk


This photograph is believed to date from the early 1950s, when Castle was in his early fifties. He typically worked at a modest wooden desk, hunched over, inches from the drawing at hand, working quickly and assuredly. He was fiercely protective Show Moreof his studio space and tried to maintain privacy. However, his nieces and nephews launched many attempts to spy on Castle and catch a glimpse of him drawing. Sometimes they even slipped notes under his door, asking if they could watch him work. To monitor trespassers, he placed a feather in between the top of the door and the doorframe as an ersatz security system.



Castle’s bundles and boxes are testaments to his layered approach to making his work. The artist meticulously sewed together pieces of cardboard and other recycled materials to create boxes to house his drawings for safekeeping. Show MoreThe bundles were gathered with myriad types of stock—Sears, Roebuck and Company packaging makes a few appearances—and cinched with bits of string, twine, or strips of denim or fabric cut from discarded clothes. Castle often hid his bundles, sometimes high up on rafters, beneath building foundations, and inside walls.