CATHERINE WILLETT

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How did you get started with illustration? Have you always been creatively inclined?

I have always been creative, and I studied fine art and art history in college, but I didn’t fully realize that people could actually work as illustrators until I moved to New York City. Growing up and throughout my fine art training, I always felt a sort of societal condescension toward illustration in general, as well as trying to make a living from your work. Once I settled into a new city however, I realized that so many people were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing - they were sharing their work with the world, making an impact with their art, creating political and social statements, collaborating, helping people, making books, designing things, and so on. I immediately began to question the world of art galleries and collectors and started to offer my drawing ability for hire doing odd freelance jobs here and there. After a while, I decided to really dive in and enrolled in the graduate illustration program at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) to pursue my MFA. I have one year left in the program, and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

 
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Can you remember the first time you drew something? How did it make you feel?

I don’t remember the very first drawing I made, but I do still have my journals and sketchbooks from 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade, etc. My father is a painter so I grew up with constant exposure to art and the assumption that having a creative process is essential to life. I thought that everyone drew their feelings. Being a shy kid, I learned pretty early on that visualizing something felt more natural to me than verbalizing it, and drawing was a major avenue of expression for me.

 
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How would you describe your style of illustration? Your drawings are quite delicate, with fairly subdued colors - is this a conscious choice, or just something you gravitate towards?

I agree that my style is a bit subdued, and I think I would describe my drawing as such. I do try to create some softness and delicacy in this aggressive world without shying away from dark topics. I’m not always a quiet person, but my drawings tend to be quiet, contemplative, and explore varied emotional states and dreams. It’s a very process-based experience for me where I sometimes focus more on the making than the end result. The act of making is meditative and important for me. I’ve always gravitated toward making black and white work, which I think is partially a product of studying metal plate etching, a form of printmaking, in undergrad. I express myself most easily with a minimal color palette, but recently I’ve been trying to challenge that. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll end up, but that’s the exciting part for me.

 
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What's your method of choice for illustration? Do you do more digital work, or are you drawing on paper? Or a combination of both?

I always start with ink on paper, and then add digital color or other elements after. Learning how to work digitally has opened up so many possibilities for expression, but nothing will replace the feeling of pen to paper for me. 

 

If you could describe a common theme in your work, what would it be? 

Self-reflection.

 
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Your Dreams series is especially stunning, with the attention to detail and incorporation of the gold leaf. Could you go into a little detail regarding the inspiration for that series?

Thank you! It has a lot to do with personal history and the idea of visualizing emotional baggage that we leave behind or carry around as objects - like things a mental archaeologist would dig up. I started with the skull piece in which I was attempting to draw what I thought my own skull would have looked like before I had braces on my teeth as a kid. I was going through a transformative time in my life and these pieces represented that change for me, the things that I was shedding, as well as some recurring nightmares I was having at the time. The gold represents the importance we place on personal events, creating our own internal relics and sacredness.

 
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What's one project that you've done in the past that you're particularly proud of? Why?

I’m proud of illustration work I’ve done for small businesses, especially female-run businesses. I truly believe in the power of collaboration and think it’s beautiful when a couple of people with emerging talents work together to empower each other.

 

Is there a project or series that you're working on now that's got you currently excited? What is it, and what do you like best about it?

A few weeks ago I just completed the series of drawings Places I’ve Been, which is on display at Ro, a lovely Scandinavian-inspired home shop and gallery run by one of my dearest friends in Buffalo, New York where I’m from. Creating a new body of work and going back to my hometown to exhibit it in the space of an extremely hardworking person who is so special to me was a great experience. I was able to connect with old friends and make new connections in a space where I could use my drawings to show my loved ones what I’ve been up to.

 
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What & who inspires you to get out of bed everyday and face the grind of NYC life?

I honestly hate to be bored, so I try to fill my time and days with things and people who excite me. NYC is a crazy place filled with history. Every one of my idols and icons has passed through this city at one point or another, leaving their mark, and just knowing that keeps me going. Lately I’ve been learning the value of slowing down and self-care though, which gets me out of bed in a different way. I just moved to a new apartment and have been creating the space I’ve always wanted. Putting emphasis on building a sanctuary has really opened up a well of creativity.

 
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In an ideal world, how do you see your creative career progressing? Do you want to be doing illustration full-time, or is it more of a hobby for you at this time?

I wouldn’t say that illustration is a hobby at this time, as I’m very focused on it, even when I’m doing other things. I think that eventually I’ll take the leap and do it full-time, but right now I’m loving the duality of my life and the different channels that I’m exploring through my job, grad school, and personal projects. It feels like it’s all culminating in an interesting way that I couldn’t have planned out. 

 

 

Check Catherine out on Instagram and her website.

And check out her Ten Facts feature here.

Landing page feature photos credit: Whom Studio