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Artist Q&A: Cáit McEniff

20 Oct 2022

We spoke to the Leeds-based illustrator, Cáit McEniff, who illustrated The Hepworth Wakefield's Festive Market campaign for 2022.

Can you give us a brief introduction to your work?

I’m an illustrator and textile artist from Warrington but based in Leeds. I like to make work that’s rooted in ideas, imagination, curiosity and research. My work is pretty wonky and usually analogue; I’m influenced by storytelling, folklore and being outside. I started making textile wall hangings during lockdown and they have become a large part of my practice now. It’s interesting to see how my interest in textiles and textile history has influenced my illustration practice, my work is definitely more shape-based now with an emphasis on simplification. I’m also heavily inspired by mid-century design and the bold shapes and colours of pictures from that era, for example, posters from Polish School of Posters and children’s books by Miroslav Sasek.

Tell us about your creative process for The Hepworth Wakefield Festive Market campaign?

I wanted to make the work for this project using analogue methods. This is where I find most joy in making work, engaging my hands and using real tactile materials (I’m not very good at digital stuff and my computer is ancient!). I chose to use paper collage for this work as I really enjoy the process of almost drawing with scissors. It means my work stays looser and wonkier and the shapes are less perfect than if I was to draw them. It was important that I tried to make the imagery for this campaign joyful and playful to reflect the atmosphere of the Festive Market. When making the collages for the project I didn’t stick anything down. Instead I scanned each cutting of paper and jigsawed the collages back together again on Photoshop. This was so the animation team at Hungry Sandwich Club would be able to animate my collages easily and I could retain the analogue qualities of the paper. It’s been absolutely amazing to see my characters move, Hungry Sandwich Club are absolute wizards, proper magic! It was really fun constructing the poster for the campaign. Once I had all of the collaged assets it was almost a case of worldbuilding – putting different characters together and seeing how they interacted and told small narratives. It was like a big wonky festive jigsaw.

Could you tell us how you started in illustration and how you have managed to stay motivated to pursue illustration despite the past years’ challenges?

I did a degree in illustration at Leeds Arts University which I finished in 2020. To be honest, graduating in the middle of the pandemic I really struggled, the world was a hard place and I was pretty burntout. I think it was about three months before I started making work again. At the time this was really hard and I felt really guilty, but looking back it was an important break. The turning point for me was when my neighbour was giving away some of those Victorian coloured tiles people use in their patios. I spent the day making pictures from them like children’s building blocks. It was just a day of making things for no exterior motive, no client etc., and I loved it. I realised that this was how I would need to approach my practice if it was to be a sustainable and healthy career for my brain. That’s how I’ve tried to look at illustration since. Trying to find the joy in making things, trying new mediums, weaving research through everything, slowing down and staying honest. Slow and steady stops a head rush.

You are a Leeds-based artist and have worked with many Leeds staples from the grassroots music magazine Nice People Magazine to brunch spot, House of Koko. How has living in the city influenced your art?

I really, really love Leeds. The arts and music community here is brilliant, it’s small enough to mean that everyone knows each other, but big enough that there’s loads of great opportunities and lots going on. Lots of nice people doing lots of nice things. The connection between the music scene and the arts scene in Leeds is really special too and makes for some really interesting collaborations. As well as doing freelance illustration, I also work weekends at Colours May Vary in Leeds. I’m lucky to work at such a wonderful place which has also allowed me to meet so many lovely creatives in the city who share similar interests to me. I’m grateful to live in such a kind city where everybody champions each other’s work. There seems to be a real spirit here for encouraging up-and-coming people and celebrating good things.

What’s the best creative advice that you ever received?

One of my tutors at uni, Matthew Hodson, would always say “dance then stance”. I like that. Do the play and make the mess – then decide. When I was doing a project about folklore in my final year and worrying about how to approach my illustrations for it he said “embody the tradition of folk and just make”. Going into commissions I can be guilty of letting the pressure get to me and being swallowed by imposter syndrome. Remembering how lucky I am to get to make pictures for a living and that I chose this path because I enjoy making, reminds me to find the joy in it even when it’s hard. Stay hungry, try new things, keep looking, stay engaged. I think I’m constantly trying to tap into that childlike curiosity when it comes to making images, pure play and expression, no need for external validation.

Which other local Leeds/Wakefield based artists are you inspired by at the moment?

My friend from my uni course Luci Pina @luc.ipina is doing amazing things. She’s a prolific illustrator based in Leeds who makes beautiful drawings and paintings about music, stories and celebrating Black culture. Her work is full of movement and energy, I think you can really see the enjoyment she has in making her pictures. Research plays a really important part in her practice which embeds everything she makes with heart, authenticity and sentimentality. Everything she makes is really special.

I’m also really inspired by my friend Hannah Platt @hannahbplatt who is a Leeds based photographer. She has an incredible eye for capturing beautiful moments within the everyday which reminds us to look to our local environments for inspiration and to celebrate our communities. A real love letter to the North, I love seeing the world through her eyes. Her book Nosey Parker was published this month through RRB books! She’s doing amazing things and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

To see more of Cáit’s work, explore her website and Instagram