Inspired by international vernacular, Catell Ronca’s use of striking hot colors, bold shapes and patterns reflects a window into the very global city of London, where she lives, and the many cities she has travelled to. Her art is alive with lush, vivid botanicals, environments rich with culture, and thought provoking characters that are gentle and playful, a little bit peculiar, and never lack a subtle sense of humor.
Above: Album cover art for Italian singer/songwriter Joe Barbieri (Microcosmo Dischi)
Her travels around the globe are a vital source of inspiration, she loves observing people on the streets and markets of London’s multi-ethnic neighborhoods (and listening to the various accents). She says “My aim is to reflect what I see around me using spots of color. I’m especially keen to capture the beauty of human beings in their everyday glory. But also, I want to be a visual journalist and document what I see in detail.” Other inspirations include antique shops, car boot sales, markets (even supermarkets), fusions of any kind, contradictions, and interiors. Deeply inspired by nature, her botanical illustrations “have the freshness and bite of their subject matter” says Philip Dennis from art and design blog Ape On the Moon.
Top from Left: Farzad & Saeed for Cricket Magazine; Potluck for Utne Reader; Farzad & Saeed for Cricket Magazine
Bottom: A Beautiful Day In Hell
Described as elegant, impressive and delicious, her artwork was featured in Nicole Vernon’s recent posting for the hip London art and design blog The Young Bloods, which went on to say “Her illustrations span a wide variety of influences – everything from psychology and nature to cooking and cats – and she has a distinctive sense of intelligent narrative and wit. Combine this with a delicious color palette and you’re getting close to understanding the charm and elegance of Catell’s images.” Upon viewing Catell’s work, Brown Paper Bag blogger, Sara E. Barnes, says “it is obvious that she has quite a bit to say. She does so in bold, loud colors and expressive gestures.” Chandra at A Stylish Little Lady says “The colorful illustrations of Catell Ronca are not only beautiful and filled with pattern, but allow you to globe trot around the world and experience a different culture and destination.”
From left: Studio Illegale (Marsilio Editori ); Musungo Jim & the Great Chief Tuloko (Penguin);
Den Trebenta Pallen (Studieforbundet Vuxenskolan)
Born on Christmas Day to French and Swiss parents in Basel, Switzerland, Catell now lives and works in London where she studied illustration and graduated from the Royal College of Art. In short order she received an impressive commission to illustrate a series of six postage stamps with the of theme of Britain’s multicultural society and cuisine for the British Royal Mail. With the Queen’s approval of her artwork, the stamps were launched.
Catell has illustrated for a wide variety of publishing clients for both novels and children’s picture books. Her work has also appeared in a number of art books, the most recent being Chronicle Books’ The Where, the Why, and the How. The book is a fascinating combination of scientific text and gorgeous artwork, pairing 75 artists with 75 scientific thinkers thinkers as they try to solve some of science’s biggest mysteries – from what came before the Big Bang to why do pigeons bob their heads when they walk. Others including The Exquisite Book (Chronicle), Drawn In (Quarry) and The Best of Cover Design (Rockport). “I find important that my style can be adapted to a variety of audiences, for children’s books as well as for adult literature or design,” she says. “A style is a bit like handwriting, you can’t force it to look a certain way and it will naturally evolve continuously.”
From left: The Where, the Why, and the How (Chronicle); Drawn In (Quarry); The Exquisite Book (Chronicle)
In addition to recent book covers for Skyhorse Publishing and Swedish publisher Studieforbundet Vuxenskolan, Catell has also illustrated for editorial clients that include the Guardian, Cricket magazine and Utne Reader. Her work appeared as cover art for Italian singer/songwriter Joe Barbieri’s album, Respiro (Microcosmo Dischi), as well as in the 2012 calendar for Italian charitable organization Arcobaleno. The organization (which translates to Rainbow in English) benefits families and individuals who are struggling to find employment. Catell and Magnet Reps artists Raquel Aparicio, Emiliano Ponzi, and Eleanor Grosch were asked to create images that portrayed the struggle of an actual person that has been helped by Arcobaleno. Catell’s piece, entitled Bin Man, shows a man in profile with dirt and other discarded items swirling around inside him as he gazes at other supposedly ‘normal’ people as they go about their daily business.
Above: Bin Man for Italian charity Arcobaleno
Her recent work for the The New York Botanical Garden included an animated tv spot as well as a number of other advertising and promotion materials. She has worked with a wide variety of clients in book publishing, magazines and newspapers, advertising and art licensing from the US, Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and Japan. Her impressive list of international clients includes The New York Botanical Garden, Penguin Books, Princeton University Press, SpotCo, The Guardian, and Royal Mail.
Catell enjoys being able to guide the talent of future illustrators both young and old. She has taught illustration at a university in north London, as well a stenciling and rubber-stamping workshop for schoolchildren. Working with the 6-12 year olds was “great fun!” and she reveled in being able to experiment with another medium. Experimentation is vital to Catell’s art, working with ceramics as a means of personal artistic exploration. She advises other creatives to not “underestimate the human need for creative play and growth. Change and experiment, allow your creativity to have free reign.”
Above: Ceramic work, part of artistic personal exploration
Catell has a strong internet following being interviewed or showcased on numerous blogs, including A Stylish Little Lady, Ape on the Moon, Brown Paper Bag, Foggy Grizzly, Illustrato.rs, Lost at E-Minor and The Young Blood Project. She was recently featured on Jazz and Draw, a website that showcases musically influenced illustrations. Her striking portrait of the late Amy Winehouse was inspired by Just Friends, while another piece is inspired by Ethiopian percussionist Mulatu Astake, who’s music Catell calls “a great inspiration.”
From left: Mulatu Astake for Jazz & Draw; Virginia Woolf for Faber & Faber; Amy Winehouse for Jazz & Draw
PERSONAL WORK – Catell’s work has appeared in galleries all over the world, from London to Los Angeles to Israel. She has set herself to the task of creating a series of posters that visually document many of the fascinating objects exhibited in small museums around England, including the Henry Wellcome Collection in London and The Freud Museum in Hampstead. Both posters are available as prints from her online store.
Click here for downloadable items – desktop wallpapers and a high-res printable letter sized promo.
From left: Henry Wellcome Collection; Psychoscape; The Freud Museum
CATELL LOVES – Travel, she has been to: Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, Mongolia, Russia, Germany, Mexico, USA, Oman, Belgium, The Netherlands, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Portugal. Color, coffee on a hot summer day, the dawn of each new season, the smell of cat fur, Purple Basil, Passion Flower, the Century Plant, artist Grayson Perry, collecting folklore ceramic bowls, blini with smoked salmon, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, cooking, and two sweet cats.
AWARDS – American Illustration 31, Association of Illustrators Images 30, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles 49, Society of Illustrators of New York 52
From left: Ordinary for a group exhibition at Shenkar College in Ramat Gan, Israel;
Billy, Mandy & Grim for the Cartoon Network’s 20th Anniversary Exhibition
Q&A with Catell
What’s the hardest part of being an illustrator?
Keeping a solid routine, being productive without having a deadline
Best way to end a long day of work?
Leave the studio and go home and ideally cook a nice meal.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
In my wildest dreams, probably a life coach or a linguist… actually, come to think of it, a one-woman band.
Do you prefer traditional media over digital ways of working?
I love the luminosity and physicality of ‘real’ paint as opposed to digitized color. Color looks good on the screen, but printed-out color can be a disappointment. I really enjoy it when I see the physical effect of paint on paper, the relief and the way the paper curls up a little. The subtlety of color will always look better in real than digital.
I couldn’t live without my computer and Photoshop but looking into a screen for a long time makes me tired very quickly. I have made a conscious decision to do my hand-rendered work in a different place than the digital work.
What is your ideal studio like?
A warm, big space with no distractions, no noise, a window that is just facing a tree or a field, an orderly desk and everything neatly in its place – exactly the opposite of my current studio.
Look out your window. What’s the first thing you see?
I see the guy from Webworks smoking his 10th cigarette and it’s only 9:30am.
What do you do when you have a creative block? What are your favorite sources of inspiration?
The best thing for me is to switch off the brain and just be creative and playful, not thinking too much. Doodling and painting in my sketchbook, just for the fun of it is great. It feels a bit like going back to being a child again.
You can only take three things to a deserted island. What do you take?
My bed, my glasses (even though I hate them) and my cat, Big Ernie.
A genie grants you three wishes. What do you wish for?
An assignment that involves botanical or food illustration
A state of the art kitchen with all the latest gadgets
To finally meet my spirit guide
What is a typical work day like for you? How do you portion off your time?
It really depends on the day. Normally, I get up around 7, have coffee, sit around, stare into space… then read some news stories, go for a run or a walk, then to the studio and concentrate for 3 hours. Go to town, go food shopping, home and cook, then back to the studio and work another 3 hours, have dinner and watch a documentary and/or work some more.
How has your work changed since you’ve become an illustrator? How do you see your work progressing in the future?
It has changed quite a bit as I love experimentation. I believe that one needs to grow, evolve and progress. However, the more I try out new things, the more I realize that perhaps I need to separate my art practice from my illustration practice.
What is one tip you have for other creative professionals?
Don’t underestimate the human need for creative play and growth. Change and experiment, allow your creativity to have free reign. But also allow yourself to consciously distance yourself from being creative and do other things instead that don’t involve ‘visuality.’ That way, your creative process and your vision will stay fresh, you’ll be able to better discern what is substantial and important in illustration as opposed to what is just pretty and decorative.