February 12, 2015

Compelled to draw and be in awe of nature: Catharine Graff, Designer and Illustrator

Why holding an umbrella? Photograph by Thalion Graff

I was quickly captivated by the watercolor illustrations of wildlife by Catharine Graff, an artist and creative director. As she declares, she is “is passionate about all things beautiful.” Here, she gives input about her creative process, being close to nature, and working remotely.

Your illustrations of wildlife quickly grabbed my attention. 
When did you discover drawing and liking it?
I don’t ever remember not drawing. In college, I took about three years of life drawing, and I absolutely loved it. It was only about a year ago that I really got into drawing and painting wildlife—there is so much beauty there.

How do you practice drawing in order to feel competent 
and confident at realizing this skill?
Drawing has always been something I was compelled to do—there was something inside me that made me want to create. Any skill that I have comes from the desire to keep on doing it, and discovering new ways and ideas. I don’t know how confident I’d say I am, everything I make is like a little journey—I always learn something new along the way.

Watercolor is a challenging medium. What drew you 
to working in watercolor?
It’s hypnotic. For me, it is a good way to clear the mind. I started because I wanted to release emotion, and the flow of watercolour (below) was an ideal medium for that. It’s now become a meditation for me whenever I sit down to paint.

Photograph by Catharine Graff

Is there a watercolor illustration that you adore a lot? Why?
Whichever one I am working on at the moment. To me, it’s not about the finished piece, but being in the creation-process.

Reference for “Holding Breath.” Photograph by Catharine Graff

Watercolor illustration “Holding Breath.” Photograph by Catharine Graff

Can you give a tour of how this watercolor illustration, 
that you adore a lot, was realized?
I can get a little critical of my own work once it’s finished, but I did enjoy this one, I made this (above) for a friend who runs an independent magazine called Pocketful. The theme was “One does not love breathing,” and my submission was “Holding Breath.” The idea behind it was that when searching for nourishment underwater, if they find it that way, they must hold their breath. I walked to the lake with camera in hand to take reference photos, came home, sketched it, and painted it. There’s a lot of satisfaction from gathering everything, it was just lucky the geese were behaving how I had hoped.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as an illustrator?
It helps to keep me sane. Painting is like a drug, it’s very addictive, but with less side effects. Other than maybe peace and happiness.

Though, sometimes I will look at something I’ve completed and think: wow, this is terrible, at least I enjoyed making it. But, I’ll then show it to my spouse, and he’ll give me encouragement and constructive criticism—it pushes me to keep showing and selling my work.

My Mom always encouraged me to be an artist—she was my biggest fan, even when the medium was crayons.

Your illustrative depictions of wildlife suggest a 
big appreciation of the outdoors. How do you have nature 
be a regularly nurturing influence on your creativity 
and in your work?
Well, it’s Winter time where I am, and I haven’t been out as much as I like. But, I do love a good hike or sit out at the water and breath it all in. In warmer months, I can be found wandering with my camera, collecting my references, like a squirrel collecting nuts. I’m very lucky that when I walk out my door I may see a deer or a fox or a heron. I have a great respect for nature and animals. I am in awe of it all and want to protect it.

Art supplies. Photograph by Catharine Graff

What tools and materials do you use to work on your ideas 
and make them grow on a day-to-day basis?
I have been learning more about photography to build up my reference library. And, as with the wanting to protect animals, I try to use only art supplies which do not have any animal derivatives in their ingredients. I keep a blog about this topic. I add to it when I find new information.

Considering that you work remotely, what tools 
and practices help you be an effective remote worker?
Being able to communicate through various channels is a big one. I try to keep regular business hours, and I have four fuzzy interns (cats and a dog) who are really good at shredding any unwanted paperwork. I provide a wide range of services, from illustration to graphic design to social media, so I have to make sure that I’m managing my time well.

How do you get the word out about what you do? 
How do you attract people to your work?
Word-of-mouth, as well as online. All of my social media and blogs can be accessed at my main website.

Watercolor illustration “Plumage.” Photograph by Catharine Graff

How do you stay creative?
To me, being creative is therapeutic, so, I need to create for an emotional release. It’s all very selfish. I also enjoy observing and reading about what’s going on—it’s a great way to get inspired.

Framed art. Photograph by Catharine Graff

What characteristics help make your workspace work for you?
I joke that my living room is well-named, because I live in it. It’s really become a studio. I can work anywhere, oftentimes I end up sitting on the floor while I’m painting. I will also have music going, almost always.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to illustrate,” 
what’s your response?
Do it because you love it, and you can’t not do it. Just make something—anything—and continue to do it. Tastes are subjective, someone will always love it, and someone will always hate it, but be open to criticism, if it’s constructive. Enjoy what you do.

How does the city of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, contribute 
to your work? And what makes it special for 
I left my heart in Nova Scotia. Where I live now isn’t much of a factor in what I do, I have clients all over the place since I work remotely. This is fine by me, since I’m by the water, wandering around—just the way I like it.

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All images courtesy of Catharine Graff.

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Directly related: Freelance Illustrator Lucy Engelmann, Inspired by Nature and Drawing

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
with people who love making things.

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