East Austin Illustrator Caitlin B. Alexander
Words by Jess Hagemann Photos by Eric Morales
Art runs in Caitlin B. Alexander’s family. As she says, “There wasn’t really ever any other option [than art] in my life.” She remembers lazy summer afternoons during her Dripping Springs childhood when she and her younger brother would sit at the kitchen table with Mom, intently watching her sketch the shape of a human face. Emulating her, the Alexander kids then spent every spare minute illustrating the short chapter books they’d co-written, producing miniature art books that may one day be worth a fortune should Caitlin’s career continue along its steep trajectory.
At just 28 years old, this Texas native has a bachelors degree in illustration and printmaking from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and has already created work on contract for such big names as National Geographic Learning and the Texas Farmers Market.
Caitlin’s use of gouache (an opaque paint traditionally used in color theory) defines her artistic style, which is playful, active, and very much alive on the page. From her custom people and pet portraits to the repeating patterns she designs for fabric and wood panel screenprinting, Caitlin mixes very little water into her paint for a ‘dry-brush’ effect that literally leaps off each sheet of textured watercolor paper. I can just hear the tune the happy man is whistling in her latest portrait, or that the birds are singing as they perch in a stand of whimsical, willowy trees—part of a custom home illustration.
The artist herself looks something like one of her cartoon subjects: her pixie-cut hair accented by a 1950s-era bandanna, and her intelligent eyes quick to see the beauty all around her. She attributes her vintage look to a love of Mary Blair, the female illustrator behind most of the Disney films released between 1943 and 1953, as well as thrift store furniture and textiles. “I, in general, really love the aesthetic from that time period,” Caitlin says. “Then in school, I learned about illustration [in the ‘40s and ‘50s] and illustrators were rockstars then. They were in all the magazines, household names in some cases, even, like Norman Rockwell.” It is that “interesting tipping point in the history of illustration” that drives Ms. Alexander’s contemporary pursuits.
Her work is regularly on display at markets like the BossBabesATX CraftHER event and Austin’s Very Own (a new event series put on by Collective Blue). It’s also for sale on her website and etsy.com. Online, Caitlin’s bestselling print is called “Women are Strong as Hell,” a political statement in response to the 2016 presidential election. “It’s symbolic,” Caitlin explains, “because the woman’s strength comes from complicated, detailed, and beautiful things.” The hand-lettering and heavy color palette featured in “Women” are representative of Caitlin’s self-described “continually maturing” style.
After graduating from SCAD in 2011, Caitlin returned to Austin because it’s her home. “I’m excited to be more involved in the creative community here that as a kid I wasn’t really a part of,” she says. “Even just on the eastside … you see it during the East studio tour; it keeps growing bigger every year. It’s outstanding how many artists and types of art there are right here in east Austin!” Accordingly, the work she’s most excited about creating in the near future is for local businesses and publications. “That’s where I’m most passionate, because I get to interact with people one-on-one in my community. It’s the best.”
Native Knowledge: Caitlin and her mom, artist Karen Alexander of KJDA Works, are currently collaborating on a series of handmade quilts that will debut at the East Austin Studio Tour in November 2017. Caitlin has designed over 70 different fabrics that Karen is hand-quilting and embroidering in ‘pixellated’ squares. Enjoy the details up close, then stand back to appreciate the full optical illusion! The KJDA Works studio, where the quilts will be exhibited, is in the Cherrywood neighborhood.