We stumbled upon Cat Coquillette while going through designs on Society 6. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, absolutely do!) We were floored by her art, and did quite a bit of stalking to find out more. What we DIDN’T know (until right around the time of the interview) is that she also resides in the Kansas City Metropolitan area, which isn’t something we had targeted her for. Her gorgeous color palettes, unique lines, and fun typographic designs are what we would line our walls with–and we just might, now that we know we’ve got such an amazing neighbor.
Get inspired by Cat Coquillette!
MOSHERY: What would you like our readers to know about you?
Cat Coquillette: I’m the creative behind CatCoq, an illustration and design brand. I started my career in the design agency world and am now working for myself as a commercial artist and brand designer. The leap to entrepreneurship was terrifyingly uncertain, but has paid off. Personality-wise, I feel like I resonate with the crazy old cat lady persona, except I don’t have any cats and I’m in my 20s.
M: We know you’re based in Kansas City now, but where are you originally from? How do you think that being from there has helped you on your path?
Cat: KC has a killer design community. I studied Visual Communication at The University of Kansas and my professors had strong industry connections in KC. I hounded one of my professors to help me get connected with Willoughby, an award-winning branding firm. I snagged an internship during my senior year, followed by a job offer. I was ecstatic. I worked as a designer at Willoughby for four years and loved every minute of it. The founder, Ann Willoughby, is an incredible mentor to me. She started the business from the ground up back in the 70s, when women in design were few and far between. She continued to grow and cultivate the firm into the success it is today. Ann is such an inspiration to me. I had so many opportunities while working there and learned from the best. Eventually, it was time for me to take the leap to entrepreneurship. I’ve been building the CatCoq brand ever since.
M: What do you love about living in Kansas City?
Cat: Living in KC is great. I recently wrote a write-up for the blog On The Grid, where I highlighted my top twenty favorite places in Westport, one of KC’s oldest neighborhoods.
M: When did you decide to pursue art as a career? What were your studies like?
Cat: I’ve always gravitated towards the arts, so I began pursuing a BFA in illustration at The University of Kansas. I packed my electives with graphic design courses, and after a few classes, I was smitten. I couldn’t choose between the two studies, so I decided to double-major. That was the best decision I could have made. I knew I wanted to start my own firm at some point, so I also enrolled in business minor courses.
Our professors expected a lot from us, so my courses were very demanding. I pretty much lived in the Art & Design building on campus during my junior & senior years. (I even had a blanket and a favorite spot to nap when I needed a break.) Our assignments gave us a well-rounded foundation in design; we learned web, interactive, motion graphics, animation, branding, illustration, typography, campaigns, publication design, etc. The essence of design is problem solving, so every project ensured that we were focused on custom design solutions.
I studied in Germany for a semester during my junior year as well. It was there that I got hooked with infographics. I wound up designing a booklet comparing renewable energy practices between Germany and the US, which was one of my best pieces in my senior portfolio.
M: You have worked with a wide array of clients. Do you have any personal anecdotes from working with them, or anything you’d like to share about your experiences?
Cat: I embrace a healthy of mix of personal projects + client work. With personal projects, you get to make all your own calls, which is obviously awesome. However, working collaboratively with clients can push you to uncharted territory, which can be incredibly rewarding as well. The overwhelming majority of my client relationships have been fulfilling and enjoyable, with results that we’re both proud of. My guilty pleasure is reading “Clients from Hell” stories and feeling smug about myself. One day karma will probably catch up with me.
M: What inspires your art?
Cat: One of my favorite ways to get recharged creatively is through traveling. I can point to different paintings
and tell you what trip inspired each. I spent the beginning of 2016 backpacking throughout Southeast Asia and am still working on painting my inspirations from the trip. I started on tropical motifs after a trip to Key West, but my collection of tropical paintings really blew up after a few weeks in Hawaii. I painted alpacas after Peru, tiki totems after Maui, I enjoy immersing myself in the natural world, so my artwork is typically more nature-inspired (animals, foliage, organic patterns, etc.) than anything else. I’m also inspired by other creatives– I follow my favorite (living) artists and designers on social media and it’s such a perk to see what they’re working on at the moment. I live across the street from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, so it’s so easy to hop over there when I need a break from my studio.
M: In a feature with CurateDesigns.com, you mention that “traveling is a great creative recharge”. What has been your favorite adventure so far, and what work did it inspire?
Cat: In February, one of my friends and I traveled to The Philippines to hike through the rice terraces of Banaue. The trail opened up from dense to jungle to cliff-side views right at the golden hour, so our first glimpse of the terraces were highlighted by the setting sun. The views were incredible and it was a completely ethereal experience. One of the villages we hiked to had a collection of water buffalo skulls, spanning multiple generations, hanging from a rice storage shed. The skulls were enormous and so beautiful. That was one of the first things I painted when I returned to my studio.
Cat: My first experience with Society6 was as a customer; I’d purchased half a dozen phone cases through the site before it dawned on me that I could sell my work through their platform, too. I’ve had an incredibly positive experience working with them. Their community of artists is also a great resource. I follow some of my favorite painters, designers and photographers that are active on the site.
M: Your stuff is so damn cute. Do you own all of it? Is your place full of your work? (I would surround myself with it!)
Cat: I still own nearly all of my originals, with the exception of the ones I’ve given away to friends and family. The rest all stored away in flat files until I figure out what to do with them. My walls are pretty much coated in artwork, though. I collect tapestries from my travels and have purchased more screen prints than I have wall space for. I also hang paintings, prints, digital illustrations, you name it. My collection is getting little ridiculous– every time I buy a new piece, something has to retire from the wall. One of my favorite pieces of art is an animal screen print that my friends Jessica & Tad at Carpenter Collective designed. I love animals and this piece has about a million of them.
M: What would the perfect office look like for you?
Cat: Thank you! While I love a modern + clean aesthetic, my workspace is definitely more cluttered than tidy. I have some IKEA furniturethat definitely helps me stay organized. (See attached photo.) My ideal workspace would include floor-to-ceiling windows with an abundance of natural light, high ceilings with exposed beams, and refurbished wood floors. I think I’m describing a loft downtown that will be my next studio. In the meantime, when I need a change of scenery, I head to any number of coffee shops around the city. I have a collection of “curiosities” that are overflowing into my workspace as well– deer skulls, taxidermied blowfish, peacock feathers, alligator heads, chunks of quartz, you name it.
M: You did a feature with Society6 about your Instagram feed. Who are your favorite Instagrammers to follow?
Design & Illustration: Grace Bonney, Design Milk, The Jealous Curator, Dinara Mirtalipova, Refinery29, Jonathan Adler, Lisa Perrin, BlairZ, Designspiration, Katie Rodgers, Ann Shen, NatashaLawyer, KatieVernonArt
Also, shoutout to my friend Tom, who has started sharing a lot of his paintings on Instagram. He’s incredibly talented and I love his realism with watercolor and pencil sketches.
M: What do you think is underappreciated in this world?
Cat: It’s quite common for creative work to be undervalued when it comes to compensation. I feel incredibly lucky that my passion is intertwined with my career, but that doesn’t mean that I should expect less in pay just because I enjoy the work I do. It’s so common to see this perception that it’s a privilege to design a logo or paint a commission.
One of the worst things we can do to our creative profession is to let our work go undervalued. I hire a CPA to do my taxes because he’s a professional and tax law is not my forte. I trust his judgement, appreciate his service and pay him fairly. Hiring creative professionals should be a similar practice. I’m not going to tell my Uber driver that he should give me a free ride because it’s “great exposure!”. Guess what? “Great for my portfolio” doesn’t pay the rent.
Quality creative work is incredibly valuable to brands, and successful companies realize this. Be confident in the value that you bring to the table. We work hard and deliver great work in order to get gratifying payoffs, both financially and mentally. The best clients are the ones that make you feel respected and valued.
M: Who is your favorite superhero? Why?
Cat: The Pink Power Ranger. Because my childhood BFF always made me be Yellow when we played as kids & I still resent her for it. Sup, Lizzie. I haven’t forgotten.
M: In modern society, what does feminism mean to you?
Cat: It’s too bad that “feminism” has become such a loaded word. It’s simply the advocacy that all people are entitled to the same rights, regardless of gender. Any decent person should want to get behind that.
M: If you could only have one celebrity with you during the Zombie Apocalypse, who would it be and why?
Cat: Probably one that owns a fully-stocked yacht, knows how to operate it, and is really good as fishing.
M: Fair enough. What do you listen to to feel like a badass?
Cat: Nothing amps me up more than the Kill Bill soundtrack. I’ve been using the “Zombies, Run” app to motivate me while I run. Dodging all those fictional zombies also makes me feel pretty badass.
M: What’s your favorite quote at the moment?
Cat: “At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, & your eyes sparkling.” –Shanti
M: What’s up next for you?
Cat: I’m feel like I’m living 50% in the present and 50% in the future. I love considering “what if?”s and dreaming high aspirations. I’m very heavy in licensing right now, which is perfect because it gives me the the time and flexibly to explore new avenues. Up until now, my overhead has been pretty low, but I’m getting to a place where I can take bigger risks and test out new ideas. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a line, but haven’t yet narrowed it down from stationery, home decor or accessories, etc. I’ve also been looking into new studio spaces. I’d love to find a great space downtown with an abundance of natural lighting. I do have the plans for my next big trip in the works as well– My friend and I are going to be hiking, camping, and riding camels throughout Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.
Keep up with everything Cat Coquillette at CatCoq.com!
Meredith has spent her life pin balling across America. She is often referred to as an entrepreneur, photographer, writer, and multi-media maven. She would label herself “butcher,” “baker,” and “candlestick maker.” (Hint: One of these is not true.) She is currently trying to find the perfect design for the DIY ukulele her twin gave her for Christmas. You can find her random musings on Twitter and Instagram.