Compelled to draw and be in awe of nature: Catharine Graff, Designer and Illustrator
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 was an ideal medium for that. It’s now become a meditation for me whenever I sit down to paint.
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.
“Holding Breath” – in issue 10 by Catharine Graff
When painting subjects such as this, I tend to just enjoy the moment of what is happening, to allow myself to get lost in it. It is my meditation and when I feel most at peace. My subject matter at this time tends to revolve around where I live, which is by a lake. Nothing is better than seeing wildlife in its element and it is always so fleeting. The theme of “One does not love breathing” made me think of waterfowl searching for nourishment underwater and if they find it that way, they must hold their breath.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 you live in, contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
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.