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SVP’s new graphic designer, Michael Castle connects a visual mind to an entrepreneurial spirit

Posted by Cecilia Garza

Michael Castle seals up the front of a custom built kiln in renowned sculptor Kusakabe Masakazu’s 300-year-old farmhouse turned workshop. 

Michael Castle’s need to bridge his creative mind with his inner problem solver pulled him onto several different career paths, from a three-year stint in Japan as an apprentice to a renowned sculptor to founding his own B2B business in Chinese Medicine. Fortunately for us, it’s these traits that brought Michael to SVP’s doorstep.

A native of Tennessee, Michael traveled north to earn his degree in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he specialized in sculpture, printmaking and design. While he enjoyed his studies, one of his best artistic experiences came later – 6,000 miles away.

“For a fine artist there’s not a lot of promise,” explains Michael, “especially when you’re doing the kind of stuff that I was doing: going into a gallery, covering the walls with material and then the thing gets deconstructed. In the end, all you really get to do is capture the evidence in photographs.”

Seeking something more, Michael signed on to work as an English teacher in Fukushima, leaving the States with his fingers crossed for an opportunity to take his art to the next level. Within the first week of his arrival, his prayers were answered. He received an unexpected phone call from famed sculptor and author, Kusakabe Masakazu.

After visiting the sculptor’s 300-year-old farmhouse converted to kiln workshop and sharing his own stack of photos – the “evidence” of his work as an artist – Michael was offered an apprenticeship.

“I spent the next three years on this studio with [Kusakabe], firing kilns, learning how to build them, learning traditional Japanese ceramic and sculpture techniques,” Michael explains. “It was just a miracle situation and led to so many other things in the arts there that I loved.”

One of those ‘arts’ for Michael was Chinese medicine. In an encounter with a clinician in a Japanese art gallery, Michael’s entire health history was laid out by just a quick, seconds-long examination of his tongue.

“I’m a deconstructionist, Western-minded person,” Michael says. “It’s like, ‘Okay, how do you know that? You’re going to have to show me why this works.’”

herb-fields-hebei-china-2010Michael quickly began to see unexpected similarities between his existing and developing passions.

“For me, doing the kiln work, there was such a parallel with taking care of the body, regulating the body systems,” he explains.

Upon returning to the States, Michael decided to study formally. He received his Master’s in Oriental Medicine in Colorado and soon thereafter founded his own B2B company offering Chinese medicinal herbs to Western physicians.

He spent the next six years pushing the limits of the alternative medicine industry. His company, Great Wave, brought the ancient practice of herbal prescribing into the digital age – creating an effective tool to communicate with physicians about patient conditions and remedies.

As with all things in life, though, exploring new paths has a way of funneling you to the work you’re meant to be doing.

“I had to return to a place where I was being creative every single day, visually if possible, and having a great social impact in that work,” Michael explains.

While his business had become moderately successful, Boulder seemed to be getting smaller. Michael was ready to return to visual art full time, and he and his wife, Emily knew that to grow professionally they had to move. As fate would have it, right around the same time they fixed their sights on Seattle, someone made an offer to purchase Great Wave from Michael.

A year later, Michael found himself volunteering his design skills to create a poster for SVP’s Fast Pitch Finals. It was his second brush with SVP since Emily is the former executive director for an SVP Boulder investee, but it was his first encounter with the Seattle team.

Attending the Fast Pitch Finals and working side-by-side SVP, Michael saw a way that his design work could connect people in a way that he was ready for.

“Everybody wants to be seen, and everybody knows what it’s like not to be seen, especially when you have something so important to do,” Michael says.

“I think putting images to the stories that we need to tell, that’s what it’s about. Helping SVP reach out to their communities and really say, ‘This is our story. This is why we matter.’”

More about SVP’s new communications team

Michael Castle is part of SVP’s newly formed communications team.  As SVP’s graphic designer, he will work alongside new staff writer Cecilia Garza, and communications director, Willow Russell.  Together they are taking a new approach to SVP communications – joining forces with the Network Office to create an expanded team that will serve both organizations.

With additional writing and design expertise in-house, SVP will be able to shine a brighter spotlight on the work being done every day to make our community and our world a better place. We are delighted to welcome Michael to our team and look forward to sharing more written and visual pieces, better supporting our 40 SVP affiliates around the globe, and diversifying the way we tell our stories!

Learn more about Michael (including such fun facts as his secret super skill, favorite sound and go-to comfort food) in his bio.