Catherine G. McElroy is one of the funnest artists along Calle Guanajuajo at the Lithia Artisans Market of Ashland. Her pieces have always made me smile, or laugh. The colors are bright, the images are detailed, full of life, and quite often hilarious. Her subject matter is typically animals or insects floating through nearly surrealistic landscapes and bizarre situations. Some would classify her work as whimsical and childlike. It makes a lot of sense that she is nearly done with her first book, a children’s book called, “It’s an Absolute Perfect Day for…”. Catherine and Mo live in Etna, California, about 70 minutes from downtown Ashland. They can be found most weekends in the Spring, Summer and Fall along Ashland Creek They will also be one of 50 artists featured at the upcoming Lithia Artisans Christmas Faire, Thanksgiving weekend at the Historic Ashland Armory.
How long have you been creating your art form?
Catherine… In 1998 I took a class to learn how to paint with watercolors just because I thought it could be fun. My instructor, learning of my profession, assumed it should be an easy crossover and the challenge began.
At the time I was a silversmith who created tri-tone overlay jewelry using sterling silver, red brass, and copper with semi-precious stones. Crossover? Paper and paint verses metal. Hmmmmm?
I persevered and in 2002 I closed my smithing business and sat down to paint full time.
What would you say your main inspiration is when you are creating your art?
Catherine… Life is my main inspiration. My thoughts are an endless source of potential subjects. Some days realism covers the paper I’m painting, my goal trying to capture the absolutely perfect lighting nature provides. Then I realize I’m taking it all too seriously and go a completely different direction, humor. Whimsy is where I love to be because I love to laugh and I laugh a lot. It brings me great joy when people share in my laughter inspiring me to continue in the off the wall style of work that dominates my booth.
Did you study art or are you self taught?
Catherine… Throughout my life I have been creative. I can remember the satisfaction I felt in Kindergarten when I completed art projects. In High School, I considered myself a serious potter and I drew fairly well. In College, I majored in Home Economics focusing on fabrics which led to a brief career in the fashion industry.
I have no formal training in painting. I look at each piece I am working on as a lesson and I will always be learning until the day I decide to do something else.
You are another fine artist who started out in a different medium. How did that affect the artist you are today?
Catherine… Before I started painting, as I mentioned previously, I was a Silversmith from the Southwest (we used to live in Flagstaff, Arizona). My work sold nationally through retail stores and catalogs such as Coldwater Creek and Sundance.
When I was smithing I was only creative a couple of weeks of the year, the rest of my time was spent filling orders, 14 hours a day, 5 ½ days a week. A lot of work, and I enjoyed it for 15 years and then I’d had enough.
What I truly enjoy about painting is that the creativity is endless. Each painting is unique and different, not the repetition I had experienced before in the jewelry industry.
The “I can do this” confidence came from my previous vocation. With the jewelry I kept at it until I figured out what were going to be my signature techniques, determined to be successful. I have carried that philosophy into my painting. I always strive for what I consider to be perfection in my work. It’s the challenge that keeps me painting and feeling better and better about what I am able to create.
Where did you attend College and did you study your art form there?
Catherine… I have an AA degree from Riverside Community College in Riverside, California. In my mid twenties I went back to acquire an Occupational Certificate in Electronics thinking I wanted to be a computer tech. Unfortunately, programming was beyond a foreign concept to me. I quit with just two classes to go, before I could grab my degree with both hands.
What happened instead was I answered an ad in the local paper for a dressmaking position to create samples for a fashion designer. At that moment my true education and introduction to the art world began.
What do you enjoy most or appreciate about selling at the Lithia Artisans Market?
Catherine… What I enjoy most are my fellow Marketeers. We usually are having a wonderful time sharing our lives with each other. When the season ends there is a mix of emotions, we are all happy we made it through another season (it is a lot of hard work!) and also sad that we won’t be seeing each other for months to come.
What I also enjoy is the response I get from the public about my work. People walk into my booth and usually start laughing wondering what is going on inside my head. I get asked that a lot. I just assume everyone thinks the way I do, I’m learning they do not.
Is there a specific moment in your life that inspired you to look at the artist in yourself?
Catherine… Well, I’m still looking and probably always will be. It took me a long time to allow myself to be labeled an “artist.” A lot of people don’t seem to have a problem calling themselves an artist even after a single attempt at something. I feel it is a title that should not be used casually, it should be earned. Finally, after many, many years and a couple of different mediums listed on my resume, I feel very comfortable listing my occupation as an “Artist”.
Tell us about the book you are working on?
Catherine… Presently, we are in the process of self publishing my first book called “It’s An Absolutely Perfect Day For…”, by Queenie Mac (aka. Catherine G. McElroy) which will be available at the “Lithia Artisans Christmas Faire” at the Historic Ashland Amory on Oak Street, Thanksgiving weekend. People can also find it at Ashland Artworks Gallery on Oak Street, or by contacting me at www.catherinemcelroy.com.
People are always asking me whether I’ve been published, or they tell me that I should publish a children’s book. So, I am doing just that.
You might be asking, “why Queenie Mac?” Well, I do live in the Palace, and no one ever seems to be able to pronounce my last name. I suppose having the audacity to call yourself a queen, let alone “queenie”, makes the name memorable.
“It’s An Absolutely Perfect Day For..” is an alphabet book designed for the child within all of us and is filled with whimsical illustrations and amusing alliterations. The creating of this book took about six months of intense work with the help of Mo. We had a lot of fun discussing scenarios over coffee in the morning, then I would sit down to paint and he would do all the graphic work when I was done. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Your art is very whimsical and fun. How do you describe your style?
Catherine… I describe my style as being off the wall, whimsical, amusing and in some cases a little twisted in a humorous way.
I love to paint what makes me laugh and I laugh a lot and a lot of what makes me laugh is what life presents to me visually. I have found that the animal and insect world can be very entertaining subjects that constantly offer whimsical situations that I can take advantage of and immortalize.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for aspiring artists?
Catherine… When I was in school I had a couple of situations that detoured me from becoming an artist. One teacher actually destroyed every ounce of my self confidence. His comments literally stole my ability to do 2 dimensional art for over 20 years.
My advice is to appreciate the knowledge and the lessons offered by the teacher and realize that the teacher is for the teaching of techniques. However, I believe teachers should make it a point to recognize and encourage the potential in their students. Teaching should not be about molding the student into replicas of themselves, but exposing and introducing the student to options and ideas. Art is about innovation. Be creative and unique not repetitive or mimicking. Believe in the pure potential that is you.
Are you a full time artist or do you have a “day job”?
Catherine… Art is my day job. I have been working as a full time artist since the mid-eighties. My most outstanding creation happened in 1987, my daughter Lydia was born.
Why should people buy your art?
Catherine… Why not? It will make them smile.
Why did you pursue art as a way to make a living?
Catherine… I don’t think I ever really had a choice. It always seemed no matter what direction I headed I was always right back down the same road.
“Mo, I thought the map said to turn left”? “Darlin’ we did!”