This month, Pony Club Gallery had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlin McDonagh. Caitlin is a visual artist, born and raised on Vancouver Island, and currently resides in Powell River, BC. She creates intricate illustrative works that are deeply inspired by folklore, storytelling, traditions, architecture as well as various real and unreal sources. “Behold we live” is the title of her solo show which will be on display at the gallery throughout the month of April.
Caitlin, the feeling of a story being told is a constant throughout your work. Is it important for you to communicate the idea of a narrative within the images you create?
I’m definitely a narrative based person. I also really enjoy art that has heavy narrative within it. I love storytelling, children’s stories and illustration. I feel like the narrative flows easily when I’m working on pieces, and that they mesh together naturally. Sometimes the narrative is more noticeable once the body of work is all done and seen together. I find that there is a constant balance of harmony and upheaval between my characters. Dealing with loss, death and transformation. Certain characters are on different sides, band together, turn on each other or turn into each other. Starting a painting with only a little bit planned on the piece paper is fun, because it leaves so much room for the narrative to evolve. Then it’s done, and I share it with my friends, family and the public, and they translate it into their own narrative and the story keeps growing. I love that about art!
A vast assortment of borders and patterns are displayed throughout your art. Where does the interest with this imagery stem from?
the past few years I’ve been very inspired by different religious
buildings and structures. From the archways, intricate stone work,
stained glass and exquisite facades. They drive me wild! The patterns
stem from traditional patterns from different cultures, ornamental
architecture, statues and a love of bright colors. I sort of see the
borders as different panels or monuments for the characters within them.
I’m hoping to start working on large scale pieces with these bordered
panels playing together.
What are some influences and inspirations that have shaped your art?
Oh boy, where to start! I’m very influenced by different cultures, rituals, traditions, folklore and costumes. I love architecture and the shapes found in buildings, cathedrals, and different structures. Animals and nature. Storytelling, symbolism, alchemy, and all sort of mythologies. The balancing of opposites. As far as artists go, I love Carlo Crivelli, Hieronymus Bosch, Henri Rousseau, Edward Gorey, Jose Guadalupe Posada, Marc Chagall, Francis Bacon, Albrecht Durer, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo..to name a few. I love love love renaissance art. Surrealism. Old woodcuts and engravings. Stained glass. My cats (I’m sure).
What materials do you normally use?
For almost four years now I’ve been using Holbein Acrylagouache paints - I love them! They are an awesome mix of a regular gouache paint with an acrylic base. You can get light, watered down layers as well as opaque matte layers. It works well for doing pattern work and little details. Dries fast and can’t re-wet like regular gouache paints. Other than the paint, I’ve been working exclusively on watercolor paper for the last few years, but might change that up in the next little while.
Can you share with us your creative process from initial concept to finished product?
When it comes to start a painting it starts by measuring out the borders and shapes that will be in the piece (if present) I get the general idea of the piece down, sketch out the characters that will be in the painting and then get to painting. One of my favorite parts of a piece is when I’m drawing stuff out and measuring with a ruler. There is something so nice about how simple everything looks. I usually have a few different characters in rotation throughout my paintings. Sometimes they just stay within one series of work, but some of them carry on. I do variations, sketch them out, draw out body movement, and usually come to a clear idea behind what the character will look like. Sometimes certain characters are just floating around in my head and have a simple process from mind to paper.
I start with base colors for all of the beginning parts of the painting and the central characters. I usually do everything that will be red all at once, everything blue, yellow, etc. Once the light base layers are painted I sort of start the cycle again and start layering colors on top of each other and adding in shading. When it gets to the end of a painting I finish off different parts of the picture with delicious metallic colors. It’s easy for me to keep revising and shading, cleaning up and so on, but I think I’ve gotten better at letting myself understand when a piece is finished.
Pertaining to your art, when are you the most productive?
usually wake up in the early hours of the morning, and go to bed early.
I find I can’t paint all night like some people I know. Definitely a
What projects are you currently working on?
the Pony Club show, I head home to prepare for a show at Reading Frenzy
in July! I’m excited to get to do another show in Portland. I’ve started doing workshops using the Acrylagouache paints, which are really fun, so I have more of that in store this year. I’m hoping to work on larger pieces this summer, and work on some personal pieces to explore some ideas. I’ve started a project illustrating a tarot deck with a friend, which I’m very excited about! As well as working on a zine project with fellow Canadian artist Esthera Preda, set to come out in September as well!
What is a typical day in the life of Caitlin McDonagh like?
A typical day for me is waking up around 5 or 6, making coffee, feeding my cats, having some water. I get my painting area set up, put on some podcasts and get to work! I stop to make breakfast - usually - and then keep painting into the afternoon. My partner and I both work from home and share a studio, so we get to listen to music together, talk and show each other what we are up to. It’s really nice to have company and get feedback from someone who is outside of my head. I usually call it day around 5 or 6, make dinner and relax. If I have an upcoming deadline, I do work at night, but I prefer to go to bed early and wake up early. I also try to make sure I leave the house and get some nature time in - even a half hour recharge outside makes such a huge difference!