Mariano Santillan is an illustrator based in North Carolina. He studied illustration at the Columbus College of Art & Design where he got his BFA degree in Visual Communication. He began his career as an illustrator and designer for advertising and marketing agencies. Recently, Mariano has entered the editorial world as staff illustrator for The Fayetteville Observer. He resides in Fayetteville, North Carolina with wife, Rachael, son Adrian, and daughter Lucia.

Published on: 7-29-2003, The Middletown Journal

Local artist Mariano Santillan, 27, credits a lunch break during a comic book signing with propelling him into the world of illustration. "Life really changed when I met Barry Windsor Smith," Santillan said. Santillan was a teen when he joined thousands of others in line at the Springfield Mall to meet the X-men artist. As the throng of fans slowly dwindled, Smith decided to take a break. A disappointed Santillan was near the front of the line at the time holding a portfolio of drawings he had created. Smith took notice of Santillan and his work, and offered words of encouragement to the budding artist. In the years since, Santillan's tastes have changed and his skills with pen and brush have been refined. But one thing that has remained the same is his love of art.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santillan discovered his talent for art when he was very young. "I've always drawn. One of my earliest memories is drawing cows on my grandmother's windows," he said. Santillan and his family left Argentina when he was 9 due to financial reasons, settling first in Miami, Fla. He said the heavy Spanish-speaking population made the transition easier. But the stress of relocating tore apart his parents, and the two separated. The events were reflected in some of his early works, Santillan said, and also with his fascination with werewolves.

Santillan spent his first several years in the United States with his father in Miami. As he grew older and started looking at schools, he headed to Virginia to live with his mother. Santillan said he knew he wanted to do something with his drawing talents, probably in the comic book industry or in the area of animation. He applied to and was accepted by the renowned Columbus College of Art and Design.

One of the things that attracted him to the school was its internship program with the Walt Disney Corporation, he said. During his freshman year, Disney held a large banquet for prospective interns and employees, complete with dinners, speakers and fanfare.

In his second year, Santillan noticed the banquet was scaled way back. By his junior year of college, and the time when he thought he might get a chance to animate for Disney, the internship program was gone. Santillan said that at the start of one class, Payne was working on a sketch to demonstrate various techniques. "I kid you not, a week later it was on the cover of Time Magazine," Santillan said. "I knew I could make a living doing that." Santillan perfected his craft and then starting landing freelance work. His clients have included the Ohio State University's alumni magazine, the childrens' periodical "Cricket" and a corporate trade magazine "Inside Business." His works have covered everything from children singing to iguanas in business suits. It is a Santillan work that will be seen on the posters being sold at the 2003 Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival this weekend in Middletown.

Santillan now splits his time between his job as a graphic artist for the Dayton Daily News and his freelance work, which he starts in the evenings. "I like to work at night. There are no distractions," he said. He has a studio set up at the farmhouse he shares with wife, Rachael, children Adrian, 2, and Lucia, 3 months, and Rachael's parents.

The studio looks like an artist's retreat - a drafting desk, shelves full of brushes, paints and pens, and artwork from those he admires. A blank canvass rests atop a cabinet, a project Santillan said he has been working on for months. "I keep starting and stopping. Maybe I'll finish it someday," he said, having no idea what will cover the white cloth when he's finished. "It juices me up," Santillan said. Santillan said listening to the stories alone in his studio at night allows his mind to wander and his natural ability to come out.

Mariano Santillan
Phone: (910) 322-5467