Guest Blogger–Angela Cater–Doing What I Know, And What I Love

Today, my guest is the extremely gifted and award-winning author and illustrator Angela Cater.  Her talent in capturing an animal’s soul is what drew me to her work a few years ago when I was looking for an illustrator for my picture book.

The moment I saw her portfolio online, and beheld the delightful and charming pets she featured on her page, I was simply enchanted. Her magic is immeasurable and every time I see one of her cute illustrations, I smile and wish I could cuddle one of those adorable critters.

She is a gem to work with and I am honored she’s my partner in our Rickie the Raccoon series. She has quite a few great picture books she has written as well, which you can find at: http://www.tabbycatpress.com/

You can also check out her website and pet portraits, and see for yourself how much talent she really has

http://www.angelacater.com/

Doing What I Know, And What I Love

By Angela Cater

I’ve long since forgotten who it was that said you should draw and write what you know, but I seemed to take these words to heart.  Not for me, fantastical dragons, fairies or princesses – I looked for working class heroes, and cats.

I was given my first cat when I was just two years old and cats quickly became the main subject in my art, although like all young girls, I had a few years flirtation with horses.

In my late twenties, I had a freak accident which shattered the cartilage in my right knee.  I found myself on crutches for several months, and housebound after surgery.  I took this opportunity to start taking my art more seriously and again turned to my cats for inspiration.  I had relocated to Manchester a few years before and was living in an area that I felt unsafe in.  Creating my “Character Cats” (anthropomorphic cats in a variety of costumes and situations) gave me a source of escapism, and they became popular greeting cards on a number of sites.

In 2004, I was approached through my website by a Canadian writer, Giovanna Lagana, who asked me if I would be interested in working with her on a children’s picture book, “Rickie the Raccoon Learns about Recycling”.  It was a dream come true and the story featured a cat, – but the main character was a raccoon.  This created a problem for me.  I telephoned every zoo for miles around in the hope of finding a raccoon to photograph, and in the end had to resort to Google and to illustrations in other books.

Just days after I had finished the last illustration, I caught the end of a news item about a local animal sanctuary, and blow me – there was a raccoon just 22 miles up the road!  I paid him a visit, one very inclement day but that’s another story.

Having now got a taste for book illustration, I set about writing my own and again turned to my cats for inspiration.  One of my earlier most popular Character Cats was called ‘Sailor Sam’ and I could easily imagine my handsome tabby as having a girl in every port and living the wild life on the high seas.  I drafted in cousins and their children to play the human characters, making it a very personal book for me. “The Adventures of Sailor Sam” has so far proved to be the best selling of my books (personally I’m happy if I just break even), and there are even a few tabby kittens in far flung corners of the world named after him.  Samson died, aged 18, a few years later and for a while, I was too depressed to work and without him, felt unable to publish any more Sailor Sam stories.

I turned next to my workplace, an independent girls’ school, which is next door to a park with a large lake.  I begin most mornings with a walk round the lake and if you do this on a daily basis, you soon get to know individual bird characters.  I was also charmed by the tale of the annual nesting of mallard ducks under our school’s magnolia tree.  This has occurred every year for the past 16 years and when the ducklings hatch, the caretaker provides them with a safe escort across the car-park and to their home on the lake.  This event provided the basis for “A Perfect Nest for Mrs Mallard”.  I loved the challenge of depicting individual birds from the park in a way that regular visitors would be able to recognise them.

Now I am about to start work on a fifth book, inspired by the many stray cats that have turned up half-dead on my doorstep and been nursed back to health.  These cats frequently turn out to be the most special and loving pets, grateful for being given a second chance.  “Brogan’s Good Turns” (unless someone can come up with a better title!) will tell the story of one such cat, keen to repay his young mistresses’ kindness. But a cat and a human’s idea of a good turn may not coincide, and Brogan unwittingly causes chaos and trouble for his family.  I had no shortage of feline models to choose from but had to advertise for a child to play the young girl in the story.  I was concerned that if I made up a child, I would not be able to get it looking like the same child throughout the book.

I’m at my happiest when I am creating, and hope to carry on illustrating both my own stories and those of others, in the hope of both entertaining and educating young minds.  That I am providing a lasting tribute to the cats, birds, and sometimes people, that share my life is an added bonus.

1-When did you know you were born to be an artist?

It was my first Christmas at school, aged 4, when my teacher excitedly took me to see the Head Master with a picture of a reindeer that I had painted.  It may have been blue with three legs, but it was most clearly a reindeer.

2-What is your favourite medium to work with?

I like gouache as you can work light on dark as well as dark on light, making it perfect for painting animal fur.  I also use coloured pencils a lot and am a member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society which aims to promote them as a fine-art medium, rather an a children’s toy.

3-Tell us a bit about the awards you’ve gotten for your work?

Awards have tended to elude me, but I was five times a finalist in the “Paint a Wildlife Subject” competition run by the famous artist, Roy Chaffin.  I was also one of the first ten artists to achieve signature status of the UK Coloured Pencil Society.

4-Were you a daydreamer as a child? If yes, are you still?

Absolutely, I used to see pictures in the clouds, the fire, cracks in the ceiling, and at night the patterns on the 1960s wallpaper and curtains would frighten me to death as monstrous faces emerged.  Many of my paintings have come out of daydreams and trying to escape the reality of living in a city where you constantly hear the sound of police sirens and the police helicopter whirring overhead.

5-I know you told me about the hauntings in your home when you were young, but can you tell us more about them and your reaction to them?

It happened mostly during my teenage years and those of my siblings.  Things would often just fly around the house (mostly vegetables in the kitchen but once, a knife).  We’d get up to the smell of smoked kippers, and my brother’s room would fill with pipe smoke.  We think the ghost was that of an old man, but don’t know who he was.  He could be very mischievous, moving the pieces on my brother’s chess set around, turning bedroom posters upside down.  One of the strangest things was when we were once listening to a tape of the Dubliners singing “The Leaving of Liverpool” and realised an extra voice was singing along!  We weren’t scared, we realised it wasn’t malicious and in fact we just got used to it.  Things stopped happening once my brother got rid of the chess set.

6-Who is your favourite artist and why?

There’s quite a few I like, but no particular favourite.  I like surrealism, and admire Magritte and Dali.  I wish I was a great draughtsman like Durer, and I love the realism and character depiction of Rockwell.

7-If you could go back in time and be an iconic figure in history, who would you be and why?

Probably Johann Strauss, I love his uplifting music and think he probably lived a quite glamorous life.

8-What’s your fondest memory as a child?

I guess the times spent with my grandmother.  My mother couldn’t cope with my handful of a brother, and my sister who was usually very sick (she has Cystic Fibrosis), so I spent most weekends and holidays with my gran.  We’d spend Saturday evenings playing Beetle or Scrabble, watching Starsky and Hutch, and sharing a can of Guinness.

9-If you weren’t an artist, what would you want to be instead?

Well, I don’t make a living as an artist unfortunately.  I still have to hold down a day-job to ‘earn cat food’ as I tell the cats.  I would love to be a full-time illustrator.  I’m only truly happy when I am creating.  Most of my working day, I’m on auto-pilot whilst my head is longing to get home and get back to my true work.

10-Name the most memorable comment you got for your picture books from a reader.

The best thing was a story my brother told me about one of his friends who finally gave in to pressure to buy his son a kitten.  They went to an animal shelter, but instead of picking a kitten, the lad chose a three year old tabby cat and named it ‘Sam’ after my character, ‘Sailor Sam’.  It’s great to know that my beloved Samson still lives on in this way.

11-Can you tell us a bit about the project you’re working on now?

Briefly, it is the story of a cat who tries to repay his young mistress for saving his life by doing lots of good turns, but things don’t turn out the way he intends.  I am experimenting with a new illustration style (simpler than my usual style, a little bit Studio Ghibli inspired, and in ink and coloured pencil.  The most recent feline addition to my household, Pablo, has been recruited as a model.

12-Who is your favourite children’s author? Illustrator?

As a child, I adored Enid Blyton, but now find her stories quite superficial and dull.  I tend to buy books more for the illustrations than for the story.  I like the illustrations of Ann Mortimer and Jan Brett.  I do however like “Alice in Wonderland” and have a number of copies by different illustrators.

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