"There’s something therapeutic about painting intricacies and repetition. I can zone out with a paintbrush and a few hours later, my paper will be caked with ivy or sliced tree rings."
Enter the world of light-and-airy hand drawn illustrator Cat Coquillette. Her designs are influenced by her dedicated love of animals and the natural outdoor environment, with a strong emphasis on leafy plants and small critters. Cat has been integrating words and mantras into her designs to compliment her natural ability for drawing plant life to create a portfolio rich in vibrant colors. Check out our chat with Cat about her wonderful work and make sure you check out her shop to support her by grabbing a product featuring one of her designs.
How did you become an illustrator and designer?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always gravitated towards art. I initially decided to major in illustration at The University of Kansas, but after trying out a few graphic design classes, realized I wanted to do both. My career has reflected this blend of passions; in addition to being an illustrator, I also work as a graphic designer. I look for ways to incorporate illustration into my design projects whenever I can, whether it’s my go-to watercolor style or a sleek digital illustration.
Where do the mantras that you feature in your work come from?
My ideas definitely don’t happen all at once; they sort of trickle in throughout the day. I keep an ever-growing “inspiration” list stored away in my phone. When I think of something, I’ll plug it in. Later, when I’m in the studio, I’ll look at my list and be ready to roll. I have various resources for inspiration. Here’s a few of my favorites: Designspiration, Redbubble Blog, Pinterest, FFFFound, Behance, Graphic Exchange, Grain Edit, etc. I also get inspired visiting The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, which is walking distance from my home. I subscribe to Print, CA, and various fashion magazines. All of these things influence my style.
What’s your favorite thing about a day in the studio?
These are my favorite moments of being an artist. When I sit down to paint, I’m not worrying about managing emails, posting to social media, or sorting Etsy orders. I put on a good podcast, warm up a cup of tea, and dive right in to painting with no distractions.
What tips or advice would you give to other designers who want to achieve your light and whimsical aesthetic?
My approach with watercolor is slightly atypical for the medium. Instead of wetting the canvas and allowing the composition bleed into itself, I use a more restrained approach; each individual element is carefully painted, but I add extra drops of water to these areas, so that the the texture of the pigment blooms outwards against the water as it dries. You don’t have a lot of control over watercolor blooms, which is one of the reasons I find this technique so appealing; the juxtaposition of careful brushstrokes with unpredictable textures can be so interesting.
Patterns and repetition appear an important feature in your work, could you tell us about why you enjoy them?
There’s something therapeutic about painting intricacies and repetition. Elements you find in nature lend themselves to this style particularly well. I can zone out with a paintbrush and a few hours later, my paper will be caked with ivy or sliced tree rings.
There are a lot of animals, birds, butterflies, snakes in your work — when did your passion for animals begin to feature in your work?
Calling myself an animal lover is probably an understatement. If I hadn’t gravitated towards the arts, I’d probably be working with animals in some fashion as my career. I have a soft spot in my heart for little critters and I enjoy depicting them into my artwork. I tend to gravitate to painting more insects, crustaceans, and reptiles than anything else. My goal is to improve my skills depicting traditionally “cuter” animals. (The last time I tried to paint bunnies, they turned out looking like little monsters. I’m still scarred.)
What has been the biggest learning curve you’ve gone through as a creative freelancer?
Managing expectations. I tend to over-commit myself when I get excited about new projects. Last month, I did three weekends of back-to-back art shows. It was incredibly exhausting and time-consuming. Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a life-saver. Rather than trying to do everything, I’m now making an attempt to become more selective, committing to the projects or events that most interest me.
What’s your absolute dream project, if you could work on absolutely anything!?
I’m a graphic designer as well as illustrator, and my expertise is in branding. I do websites, logos, packaging, identities, campaigns, you name it. I’d absolutely love to get my hands on a packaging project for a brand of gin. It’s my favorite vice.
Your palette and colors are beautiful, how do you choose palettes?
I use a more intuitive approach with colors for my original paintings. Because I’m often using watercolors, I’ll typically start a new painting by incorporating the palette from the last one I finished. Once the paint dries, I scan in my work and usually add some additional color options in Photoshop.
What are you working on next that you’re passionate about?
I’m working on a holiday line that I’ll be rolling out before Christmas. I’ve been collecting some of my favorite holiday quotes and depicting them with loose brush script. My favorite so far is “Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal!” They’re slowing starting to trickle into my Redbubble shop.
What one piece of advice do you wish you had read about illustration and graphic design five years ago?
Be confident about your work and embrace new opportunities that come your way. Make an effort to stay up-to-date with design trends. Most fans only know you based on your web presence, so maintaining your website or portfolio is vital. Overall, enjoy yourself! We are among the lucky few whose passions intertwine with our careers. We get to make a career out of doing what we love, and that’s a wonderful gift.