10 Questions With Cat Willett
If you live in Brooklyn, you might have seen Cat Willett’s work at Sincerly, Tommy. If you don’t, you might have seen her work on Instagram or Buzzfeed. Either way, you should check it out. We sat down with Cat to talk about her creative process, upcoming book, and her advice for up and coming creatives.
Mad Girl’s Collective: So, let’s start with how you’re an amazing, talented artist. Have you always been creative? When did you start illustrating?
Thank you so much, Kassie! I’ve been creative and have loved to draw for forever, like really. I just found a story I wrote and illustrated from Kindergarten. However, I didn’t always think I would pursue a creative life professionally until recently, and I just began to pursue illustration seriously as a career path in the last two years. Although I studied fine art in undergrad, I always thought I was more fit to work behind the scenes and have been working as a curator. In the last two years though, I’ve been surfacing my work more and taking advantage of the amazing outlets for sharing art here in NYC.
What’s your creative process like?
It ebbs and flows. I’m a firm believer in acknowledging the need to fill the vessel before you can pour from it. I have periods where I’m absorbing - reading, writing, going to museums, looking up other artists I’m inspired by. Then I have periods of work output where I can’t sleep at night because I’m so excited to get an idea out of my head and onto paper. I have a tendency to not make enough time for rest. I am working on setting up more healthy boundaries and making an effort to stop working when I need to.
Do you have a studio space or do you work mostly at home?
I currently work at home, and it feels right for me at this point in time. Living in New York, it’s easy to neglect our living spaces, but the past few months I’ve felt inspired to make my home a sanctuary. Having a comfortable and beautiful place to work has been a part of that process. However, I’ll probably also explore studio spaces outside of my apartment in the coming years to see how that could affect my work.
Tips for female artists trying to make ends meet in New York?
Be firm. Many people in New York view the artist profession as merely a fun one. Although it is a fun job, it also entails the same experience, preparation, investment, and hardship as any other job, if not more. Because people who aren’t creative view it in such a simplistic way, they will try to take advantage of you and expect you to feel that they are doing you a favor by giving you exposure or asking you to work for free. Be wary of these people.
On the flip side, there are countless brands, individuals, and organizations who value our talents, and it’s important to direct our energy toward them instead. Accepting an unfair fee for a job hurts all womxn artists because it lowers the bar and creates an unrealistic standard.
I also see such a thriving community of womxn artists in New York and Brooklyn especially. Getting involved and supporting each other can make a world of difference in starting a career. It’s constantly surprising to me how many people genuinely want to help each other out, share resources, jobs, and knowledge. Being a part of that conversation will only make us all collectively stronger.
Where do you find the most inspiration?
From books I read, from plants (I currently have about 30 house plants at home!), films, music, and the pulse of the city.
I personally struggle a lot with sharing my work. I’m always afraid other people will see or judge it. How do you deal with self-doubt?
I think this question is so relevant right now. In the digital world especially, people are compelled to share more than ever, and use numbers and algorithms to measure their own self-worth. I’ve taken to sharing my work on Instagram, because it often results in new opportunities and connections. However, as soon as I click ‘post,’ I’m already doubting myself. What if people don’t like it? What if I don’t get any engagement? What if someone calls me out for missing something important? Etc. etc. I think we all have these voices in our heads, it’s only natural. It’s fine to acknowledge them and work with them, but it’s important not to let them affect us enough that they prevent us from sharing.
Art is meant to be shared, and for me especially, since so many of my drawings revolve around storytelling, it would be a waste not to. However, I also think it’s important to know when to keep something for yourself. Some things are sacred and don’t need to be posted on social media or hung in a gallery, and creating that division in your mind can help you to feel more confident about the work you do want to share. Take breaks often, and consider why you are sharing your work before you do so.
I peeped a few of the historical women you’ve been sharing on Instagram. Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book?
Absolutely! I’m creating a collection of vignettes of extraordinary women throughout history to educate the next generation of their stories and tip the gender balance of historical celebrated people. The project will take the form of a physical, bound book with writing and illustrations all created by me. It will be debuted on June 13th at my MFA thesis show at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum gallery. After that, I hope to get it published!
How did you get the idea for it?
I’m getting ready to complete my MFA in Illustration in FIT, and I’m required to execute a visual thesis exhibition. The idea stemmed from my own experience as a shy kid who loved and lived vicariously through adventure stories. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that most of my heroes (Indiana Jones, Robin Hood, White Fang, etc.) were not only fictional but all male. This inspired me to find real stories of womxn-identifying people who were just as, if not more, impressive. I’m basically creating the book that I wish I’d had as a child.
I also saw you created a mural series with Sincerely, Tommy. How do you go about finding brand partners?
All of my most exciting projects, including this mural, have come about through real, human connections. In this particular case, I live a block away from S, T, and am a regular at the cafe. I spoke to the staff one day about showing my artwork in the space, and the next thing I knew, the owner had asked me to install these portraits I’d already created on the side of the building. That one project has lead to so many meaningful connections, and I’m so grateful for the space.
I’ve been working a full-time job while freelancing on the side for a few years now. I’ve just decided to take the leap into full-time illustration, and will continue to pursue like-minded brands to collaborate with!
Who are some creators, artists, or female entrepreneurs we should be following right now? Who would you like to see us interview next?