Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Inspirations: Cathy Cullis

Welcome to April and another installment of Inspirations, the first-of-the-month feature highlighting artists that inspire me....and I hope will inspire you too! This month, we'll learn quite a bit about Cathy Cullis, an artist from England I was introduced to a couple of years ago by another artist who thought I'd find her inspiring.  I fell in love with her work and her blog right away. I hope you find Cathy's work and her answers to my open-ended questions give you some new insights! All the images come from her Etsy shop, Cathy Cullis. Direct links to her shop and delightful blog are posted at the end.

Your creative work comes from so many places and takes so many forms. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to a place where you work through writing and poetry, sewing, painting, drawing, sculpting, dyeing, publishing zines....have I left anything out? Do all the various strands of your work inform each other and you as well....does something happening in writing influence your painting, for instance?

I do work with a variety of media and yes I am a writer too. I've always been interested in a variety of 'making things' and playing with words and imagery. As a child I loved the crafts book section of the library and I remember making some very ambitious pipe cleaner dolls and a dolls house or two. I still make dolls houses..... 

As a young adult I went to university and studied both English and Art. The art part of my degree course was as a 'minor' subject. It was a mix of theory and making, and to be honest I didn't enjoy the making very much. I did choose to write my final paper on Outsider Art and that has had a big influence on my own art making. I became very interested in intuitive, folk art and the work of artists outside the mainstream - I was offered the opportunity to continue on with my research but I didn't! For some reason, I will never really fathom, I decided instead to go on to a different university and study for an MA in Creative Writing, focusing on poetry. I've always felt a little push-pull between wanting to be an artist and a writer. I did well, and very much enjoyed my year with a great poet mentor Philip Gross. But ultimately, I have never aggressively pursued a writing career - I do write but I have no huge ambition. My creativity has evolved to being far more visual.... When my daughter was a baby I co-edited a small poetry journal and did drawings for it, that was hard work but a good experience. I got more interested in just making for the sake of and having small children made me realise again the potential of 'play' and improvisation.

I'm a lone parent with two children. My younger child, my son, is diagnosed autistic. Going through the process of diagnosis, supporting etc.. has influenced how I see people and the world. I've realised that I have some introverted aspects to my own personality and I feel we all in are so individual and have particular needs....

Over time I've experimented with all kinds of media and techniques, because I love the feel of different things and like to combine ideas - teaching myself how to do it in my own way, whether that's re-jigging a sewing machine so that I can stitch free-motion, or working out a way of making monoprint drawings without a press. My work pulls on all kinds of interests and obsessions: poetry and romantic literature, art history of varying times, nostalgia, melancholy, childhood, abstraction..... My work is not directly about my life experience but has evolved to become my way of exploring the sensual world, its histories, my history - and what I make each day is not about me but is recognisably my own. It has taken time, years, to feel now that what I make is a part of who I am and I am so very grateful to the people who have encouraged me along the way.

Making and repeating and re-thinking, I've come to develop a style that's 'me'. I've created perhaps my own little world of recognisable faces and patterns, motifs and moods..... I am asked sometimes by people interested in my work and interested in developing their own style: how do you do it?  And the answer might be a little boring but it's simply to do do do. And never stop looking at what interests you, visit galleries, read books, make notes, keep sketchbooks. 

Because you have so many things going on, I'm curious about how you structure your time. I know you also have a family, so I'm always amazed at how much you accomplish....what's your secret?!

So nowadays, I am looking after my school age children, raising them by myself, and working a lot! I love to be making and feel very fortunate that I am able to be working as an artist and supporting my family, I am there for my children at the end of the school day and we are a close little family. Perhaps its in my genes, but I have always had quite a strong 'work ethic' and sense of self-discipline, and I've learned over the past few years that having a structure and planning my week really helps. My art-making is a small business, but is not just about that, I'm wanting all the time to develop as an individual and get better at what I do! I'm living a creative life, and am very grateful to everyone who shows an interest in my little world of dreaming....

I don't think there's a 'secret' to being prolific, but I do know my children inspire me greatly, and are my best critics. And I do know that if I go for a few days without making something I feel tetchy and depressed even. Being creative is about a physical process, a work-out, even if its tearing up paper and glueing. Or scribbling a lot of nonsense in a notebook. Perhaps I have a lot of nervous energy! If I have a project on the go and something brewing, I am happy. However, I don't like making for the sake of and have a very high rejection rate. I put work to one side and then I will come back to it in a day or two and if I don't like something - even if someone else might - I won't offer it.

Favorite materials or way of working?

Despite the fact I've experimented with various media, I still like the basics best: paper and paintbrush, needle and thread. There's nothing really too sophisticated - it's all hands on and timeless. Intricate, high-tech and conceptual making just isn't for me. I like art and craft where you can recognise the maker's thumbprint:)

I suspect you are also a real reader....care to share any favorite books or authors?

Yes I love to read and like to read a broad range of new and classic books. I've recently been reading lots of short story collections and love Mollie Panter-Downes, her stories published by Persephone Books. I'm also a big fan of American literature, my favourite American author being Toni Morrison. I'm keen to read new authors and love poetry and re-read collections.

If you could have a small dinner party and invite anyone from history (time periods aren't an issue here) who would you gather around the table for lively and thought-provoking conversation?

Can I admit I hate dinner parties! I would prefer tea - with the Emily's: Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte. I think they would understand if it all felt like too much and the scones were shop-bought.


  1. Great interview Patti. And Cathy, I love your authenticity and singular voice. You have a clear style which remains fresh over time. There is something quiet and intimate about your work, and when you commented about preferring tea to dinner, that completely makes sense. Thank you to both of you for this lovely post!!

    1. Thanks so much Marchi! Yes, Cathy preferring tea over a dinner party makes total sense....actually I'd prefer that as well. My question always has more to do with the invited guests....love that she's keeping it very intimate. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thank you for posting this interview, Patti! I have been a fan of Cathy's work for a while now. Great interview.

    1. Thank you Carole....this is a very small world and especially in the blog world. Cathy's work is very compelling and she is surely an inspiration!

  3. Brilliant!
    Between the two of you,
    lovely and thoughtful,
    that would be
    my tea party.

    1. Lorraine, so glad you enjoyed this post. Yes, I rather like a nice tea party myself!!

  4. Thank you both for this interview!
    I am a fan of Cathy Cullis, too.
    She is an inspiration for female artists (who are mothers, too), she gives a lot of courage to go on and on.
    Thank you for the good questions, it is a big pleasure to read you both while having a cup of tea :)
    Best wishes and viele Grüße from Germany

    1. Stefanie, thanks so much for your comment. Yes, Cathy's drive and enthusiasm give me a great amount of courage so I can only imagine what a positive influence she has on other artists who are also raising children! So glad you enjoyed reading this post, along with your tea. I am just enjoying my tea now! Cheers!

  5. I think her work is just grand. I found this link today from her blog. Hello there Patti!


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