My So Charmed Life

CHARMING CHAT: Art & Design with Cathy Cervantes


Jodi: Cathy, it’s so lovely to sit down to tea with you! And, you have SO many cool objéts; I want them all! Can you tell me about your collections?

Cathy: It’s kind of like I have been in this deep acquiring coma for the last 30 years, and I am starting to wake up! I have gathered things that I love, or feel they need love, and just made room for them. I find, when I really look at stuff, they have alot in common…color, texture, scale, etc. Now I am at a phase where I am thinning out the herd and only keeping what I really really love, and only letting something in that is “worthy!” That doesn’t apply to textiles or stuff that I use in my art, it is still wide open. And bowls. And circus stuff. And donkey stuff. But, still, it’s the colors that draw me, whether it’s mid-century, kitsch, Monterey, Santa Fe or industrial. And you know we love sharing our treasures with each other, don’t we?????

Jodi: Yes we sure do!! And, I completely know what you mean. It’s so incredible to be at a point in life where you trust your instincts for art and design. My collections are eclectic too, yet somehow these things look cool together and there are indefinable threads that connect it all. I think this happens in our professional lives as designers too, right? Our ways of organizing information, using colors and fonts and such? You and I share the schizo life of artist/designer, among other things. Are we lucky or cursed?! And… who is Trixie?!

Cathy: You know, when I first went freelance about 7 years ago, I had this notion that I could actually meld the two together, and found some artists like Kitten Chops and Lauri Rosenwald who actually seemed to be able to do that. But then I just fell into the normal routine of grinding out my graphic design, and trying to paint on weekends. I continued to feel very frustrated and honestly wanted to give up both. But something happened when I got a job recently that allowed me to use both my talents in one piece and I was totally excited about. Kinda like falling in love with your husband again, you know what I mean? So, my goal is to do that. Oh, and Trixie is my alter-ego. I was a cowgirl in a past life.

Jodi: I can see you as a cowgirl, for sure. You know it is so tempting to want to always combine the art and design sides, but personally, I also feel ok with these things being separate in my life. That said, I can think of several projects I’ve been involved in that really tapped into both, and those were truly very satisfying indeed. What types of design clients do you have for Trixie Design Studios and does your work for them influence your art? Alternately, does your work as an artist influence your client-based design work?

Cathy: I am very fortunate to have some great clients, almost all non-profits, who give me lots of leeway and trust me, as I trust them. So, now it is just a matter of trusting myself and not editing, which I often do, both in art and design. It is amazing to me that finally, at 54, I’m thinking that I do pretty good stuff and have something to offer.

Jodi: Well, I’ve always known you have lots to offer. You know, we have such similar clients, non-profits etc.. and I too love that feeling of making a solid contribution to the people I work for (who are, in turn, doing such great work for the world). It’s interesting… people like us seem to have active/developed right and left brain functions. We can handle ourselves in business but are wildly creative too. Do you have any insights on how this may have occurred for you?

Cathy: Ahem, I am not sure I got the whole money/savings /billings/plan for retirement thing going so well…but, I am a good business woman! I think I am good at spotting trends and also working with people and really understanding humans. I also have worked with the best and I just copy them. When I worked at the agency I was at in San Diego, my office was across from the owner’s, and I would listen to the way she spoke to the clients, with strength and respect, and I just learned to copy it. Other than that, I just go with my Mission Statement of “do good work for good people” so if something doesn’t fit both of those categories, I won’t do the work.

Jodi: Designfarm’s tagline is “uncommon solutions for the common good.” May the force be with us! With regard to our fine arts, people might notice that although our work is very different, we have some common subject matter. Tell us about the roots of your circus obsession.

Cathy: It’s strange, because I have this love for circus stuff and rodeo stuff, but I can’t come to terms with how animals are treated in either one! So, I will just stick with the visuals and, again, colors and textures. I have no idea why it appeals to me so much, but my eyes are like lasers when I latch on to something with circus imagery. Maybe it’s the red and white striped awnings? What is it for you?

Jodi: I went to the circus a lot as a kid and it literally scared the crap out of me and made me cry! There’s something about that attraction/repulsion aspect that draws me to these things that are supposed to be oodles of fun, but that also feel uncontrolled and crazy and weird, with a darkness underlying. Your work has an edge but I also love your sun-drenched color palettes. Is there a regional / cultural (ie, Left Coast) influence? Along with carnivals, what else inspires you?

Cathy: When I was little, there was a show on TV called “Wanderlust” about a husband and wife traveling the southwest in their camper. I was blown away with the images of the desert. I felt that is was home for me. I have sinced traveled alot through Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and that is where I find peace. (Funny, I know, for a girl who has lived at the beach her whole life!) I also LOVE anything “Old Mexico” like in old movies, paintings, textiles, etc. I have a friend from Mexico City who says my paintings remind her of home, so I consider that a real compliment.

Jodi: I’ve only visited the southwest once on holiday and I remember when I first got there how incredibly different the entire landscape looked. I was sort of blown away by all the… endless brown. And the seguaros in Arizona, and how dry the heat felt compared to our swampy summers in DC. So, how do you get your paintings out there into the world? Tell us about shows or online venues. Where can charming readers see more of your work? And I heard something about you doing smaller pieces that can… ahem… be more easily mailed to the other coast…?

Cathy: I have done a miserable job of selling my own work. My website & blog has not be updated in a year, as are the other artists’ sites I subscribe to. We are doing our Cinco de Wino again, where myself, two other artist friends and a couple who have their own wine label get together on Cinco de Mayo, have food, wine tasting and show my work. I did a small show in Santa Fe, and have had pieces in shows at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. It’s hard to find venues for my art here in San Clemente, since everyone looks for beachy, palm tree, plein air stuff, and my stuff is so different.

Jodi: Wow, OCCA looks really cool! Selling seems to be the most challenging aspect for artists. I know it is for me too; pricing things is so challenging, and half the time I want to just keep what I make! When we first met, it seemed that every time we chatted, we learned about more similarities in our lives. We each have a 14 year old daughter… how does being a mom fit into your creative and working life?

Cathy: No way would I ever feel the strength and security to pursue what I want in life if it wasn’t for my daughter and my husband. And my sister. I feel like I have a responsibility to show my daughter what it is to set and achieve your goals and dreams. And she teaches me everyday how to look at life from many different sides. I am always blown away by the things she says. Of course there is that “working mom” guilt thing, but it comes in waves. As I am yelling at her to get outside and play and not end up on the computer all day in your pjs without a shower, she turns to me and says, uh, mom…that is YOU not me. I was standing there, in my pjs, no shower, no makeup, having worked all day on my computer. So there.

Jodi: Oh, I hear that! Shower? Who needs it?! And, it’s interesting to see my daughter growing up with such creative parents… artists, designers, craftistas, and musicians. My kid is lots more math/science than I ever was, but there are still times that she gets a creativity bug and just HAS to knit a scarf or make a skirt or draw. I know what you mean about family support too… it’s truly been important to me. Do you have any advice for designers who want to pursue their fine arts muse? Anything that has worked in allowing you to do both?

Cathy: Yeah, don’t wait as long as I did to get this going! Seriously, trust yourself, work hard, pay your dues and stick by your guns. Everyone knows it has to be a labor of love. One of my artist friends once said, when I asked him if his fine art business was going to work… “Well, what else could I do?” Lastly, like my husband always tells me, “Paint for yourself.”

Jodi: I completely agree… no waiting! Life is short; make art; follow your dream… NOW! What’s on the soundtrack at Trixie Design? Is it different for painting?

Cathy: Complete and utter silence! Except when I open my windows to let in the birdsong, which I love. I cannot be distracted by sounds of any kind, it’s weird. One of my OCD things. But, when I paint, I can have some music going. I tend towards old hillbilly country, bluegrass, folky, but also like 70’s funk and soul, 80’s punk and some of the new music my daughter listens to. Old Joni Mitchell is good for painting.

Jodi: I have to have silence when I’m working on professional stuff, graphic design. I’m so affected by music that I literally can’t think when I’m listening. But I love it when I’m doing more repetitive tasks like putting together designed jewelry or sewing. Thank you Cathy, for being such a dear friend and such an incredibly talented artist! And for sharing your thoughts with me and my charming readers today!

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