Catherine Marion’s Fantastical Universes of Flora and Fauna

Georgia O’Keeffe once said, ​​“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”

Artist Catherine Marion creates entire worlds of stylized flora and fauna, especially flowers and birds, for wallpaper and other products. Her wallpaper designs, however, are what she imagines when she sits down to draw. Combining colors and forms from the natural world with colors and forms purely from her imagination, Catherine produces immersive, tapestry-like artworks for walls, fabric, product packaging, prints (excerpted from the wallpaper designs) and more.

Her designs are marvelously diverse and have an almost animated feel.

Her designs are marvelously diverse and have an almost animated feel. For example, in Lovebirds and Cactus in Arizona, pink flowers and bright green cacti with star-like spines conceal brightly colored birds. Contrasting colors and patterns convey intense movement. In Japanese Cranes and Mystical Nile, birds intertwine elegantly in a symmetrical arrangement of flora and fauna. In Mystical Nile, crocodiles, butterflies, and birds float in a field of green water and Egypt’s iconic lotus flowers.

Flowers have long occupied a central place in the lives of humans, whether through rituals, design and decoration, literature, or otherwise. In fact, the earliest plants in the fossil record resembled magnolias, and small flowers not unlike herbs have been dated back to around 120 million years. Possibly the earliest extant representations of flowers in art are images of stylized lotus blossoms from Egypt, decorations in ancient tombs. 

Clearly, artists through the ages have looked to flowers for inspiration. The attraction is fascinating in many regards, not least because, unlike other plants, flowers do not provide sustenance. While some of them do have medicinal properties or can be the basis of perfumes, for instance, the primary impetus for cultivating flowers is purely aesthetic: they are beautiful and usually fragrant. 

Needless to say, flowers are abundant in New Zealand, as are birds. Indeed, Catherine is currently working on a design combining bowerbirds of the island with their violet shimmer and purple irises. Irises were favorite subjects of O’Keeffe as well. She often expanded them to monumental proportions, zooming in to the extent that the flowers became simplified, colorful abstractions, quite different from Catherine’s lively compositions.

Click on image to enlarge

Catherine explained to the Milton and King Podcast interviewer that, early on, her designs were simpler as she was learning to transform basic ideas into more complex patterns and overall images. Her artistic process, at least the early stages of it, might be considered old fashioned in some respects. She begins by sketching from photographs that she takes with her phone camera of virtually anything that captures her attention: a random floral pattern on a building in New York City, a flower or bird seen on a hike in New Zealand, a carpet in a Scottish castle, and so forth. 

After making a preparatory sketch, Catherine photographs the image and transfers the basic design to her iPad. Once in digital mode, she draws over the original lines, creating a more complex digital version, which she expands upon, adding color and other forms. It usually takes her about three weeks to produce a complete design.

Originally from Québec (Canada), Catherine studied industrial design following high school. After a year and a half, she realized that industrial design was “too constrained” for her and switched to graphic design. She spent another year and a half studying at university. When she graduated, she went directly to France on a graphic design-oriented, one-semester study abroad program. The experience provided her with a new perspective on graphic design.

She was eager to explore the world […] She flew to New Zealand, exploring the island and its diverse beauty.

Aside from learning the nuts and bolts of graphic design, living in France inspired Catherine to travel further afield. She was eager to explore the world and not yet ready to settle into a career, so she flew to New Zealand where she intended to travel, exploring the island and its diverse beauty. It was in New Zealand where she met her partner, who was from Scotland. 

The couple traveled around the island country for a few years and then moved to Scotland together. She worked as a graphic designer in Scotland but was unhappy with the work and the culture overall. Catherine saw Scotland as “too job focused.” She also disliked the weather and longed for the sunshine of New Zealand.

She and partner decided to move back to New Zealand where they now reside permanently. “When you go to New Zealand,” she explained, “and you meet somebody new, they don’t ask you ‘what’s your career?’ They just ask you what you like. It’s just much nicer.” 

Her partner urged Catherine to build her artistic career as he saw she was unhappy working as a graphic designer. She recalled that the experience was “scary.” “Everyone,” she explained, “says art is a hard way to make a living – ’the penniless artist.’ That’s not the case if you stick with it. You just need to be consistent.” It worked for her.

At first, she emphasizes, she did not feel like she had a cohesive style, so she had to explore and experiment to develop her own style, which you see now in the wallpaper and other products

Catherine actually approached Milton and King by email after seeing their website; she felt their overall aesthetic aligned well with hers.

Becoming a designer for Milton and King was an enormous breakthrough for her. Catherine actually approached them by email after seeing their website; she felt their overall aesthetic aligned well with hers. 

At the time, she was not creating patterns, she was “just making artwork,” but she sent the company her portfolio and they were very receptive. They asked her to convert drawings into patterns for wallpaper but she had no idea how to do that. Through a variety of means like watching YouTube videos, Catherine said she eventually “figured it out.” Now, when she begins a design, she is thinking about how it will work as a pattern. 

Her first patterns highlighted birds: kingfishers, hummingbirds, and fantails with flowers as secondary elements. In her earliest patterns, the various elements were not touching one another or overlapping. Since then, she has progressed tremendously, creating many elements that intertwine. “That’s a bit trickier,” Catherine admitted, “but I’ve got the hang of it now.”

At the moment Catherine and her partner, both nomads at heart, live in a camper van they outfitted themselves in a region of New Zealand called Taranaki. It is a coastal as well as mountainous area on the north side of the island. The landscape is dominated by the volcano, Mount Taranaki. The ferns and rhododendrons and countless flowers and birds of the rainforest, Egmont National Park, inspire the artist.

Catherine’s work is featured on a 2024 calendar for Pomegranate (a printing and publishing company that offers its customers “art you can bring home”). Their collection of high-quality puzzles, games, and stationery are decorated with works from some of the world’s brightest artists, both known and relatively unknown.

While hers isn’t yet a household name, Catherine delights in the knowledge that her art takes center stage in people’s homes around the world. “That’s the best part of the job. I love it so much!” It connects her to so many people she has never met and will likely never meet. “A design,” she said, “will mean something different to each person.” 

© Debra Thimmesch (1/10/24) — Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

PomCom offers fans of Catherine Marion’s art the ability to incorporate them into their daily lives through gorgeous calendars, jigsaw puzzles, and note cards. Shop PomCom’s Catherine Marion collection here.

Listen to Catherine’s Milton and King podcast interview here.

Visit Catherine Marion’s website to learn more about her work.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo/Middle Photo: Fantails in the Kowhai Tree

Bottom Photo: Images from Pomegranate’s 2024 Catherine Marion calendar have been provided by Pomegranate, and are used by FF2 Media with their permission. All Rights Reserved by Pomegranate.

Tags: Canadian Artists, Catherine Marion, Debra Thimmesch, Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton and King, New Zealand, PomCom, Pomegranate Calendars, wallpaper

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Debra Thimmesch is an art historian and critic, activist, independent researcher and scholar, writer, editor, and visual artist. She mentors graduate students in art history and is attuned to current endeavors to radically rethink, decolonize, and reframe the study and pedagogy of art history. Her work has appeared in Art Papers, The Brooklyn Rail, and Blind Field Journal.
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