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Rising Stars: Meet Catalina Williams

Today we’d like to introduce you to Catalina Williams.

Catalina, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I was the kid that drew all day. It was all I cared about. I think I had my head buried in art books all my childhood. In a sharp turn, and out of fear of not being able to make a living as an artist, I ended up going to architecture school in my twenties. But I always spent every little free time I had painting and drawing. I did as many art exhibits as I could and stayed closely connected to the art community and the galleries in my city. I come from Valparaiso, Chile—one of the most colorful places in all of South America. It is a college town where, much like in Savannah, art and culture are at the center of public life. In 2014, I got married and moved to the United States to Kingsland, Georgia, a small town about an hour from Savannah. So much in my life was changing at that time that I decided to just embrace change altogether and finally commit to being an artist full-time and breaking from everything that I knew. It was hard to navigate at the beginning with the language, the culture, and the galleries, but I kept trying. And just when I thought it was not going to happen for me, I gave social media a chance. Suddenly, it was like having my own gallery to the world! Companies were writing to me to work on their illustration projects or to have my artwork on their products.

The first year, I only worked on a few projects, but by the second year, it finally became a full-time job. Now, it’s not rare that I work simultaneously on several editorial projects in different parts of the world while managing my online store. And in 2021, I illustrated my first children’s book to be released this year.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I was so discouraged when I started. I thought it was never going to happen for me. I didn’t have a network; I didn’t grow up or go to school in the US. I was finding out that it’s a little tougher to get into art galleries here. Most of them were over an hour’s drive from where I live, so I had to think of a way to do this on my own and from home. I knew that social media could be a great tool to reach people, but up until then, I had only worked in traditional mediums like oil or acrylics that didn’t photograph well enough for social media. That’s when I started working digitally. I had never truly worked in a digital medium like Procreate before, but I quickly realized that it would allow me to have instant access to people who would never see my work otherwise. In the end, it also opened the door for me to work in illustration. In many ways, social media was a lifesaver. It helped me find a community that my work resonated with. Not everyone is going to like your work, but having a platform that shows it to millions of users is how you find your community, a smaller group of people who like what you do. I’ve also met and become friends with so many talented artists and illustrators. We help each other, encourage each other. It’s great.

But maybe one of my biggest struggles has been dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I was diagnosed in 2018 just when I was starting to build my career. Among other things, I would get stuck in loops of perfectionism. The type of OCD I have makes me start things over. I would finish something, it would not feel right, and I would have to start over. This could go for hours; it was exhausting. Therapy helped greatly, and now I have it under control. So many artists deal with mental health issues; I don’t know why is so prevalent in our community.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I work in illustration, woodcuts, digital prints and acrylic paintings. Regardless of the medium I use, what unites it all is a search for meaning in images. Images have a language of their own. And they enrich the meaning in ways that words never can. The assignments of an illustrator can be very varied. One day, I can be illustrating a series of images for an advertising campaign, and the next day I’m creating the artwork for a dramatic movie poster, but the process is always very similar. I start with a series of words and phrases that best describe the assignment, and then I piece apart and search for images that can convey that meaning. I often rely upon the process of observation in search of perfect images to convey that message.

A great deal of my work comes from personal introspection, observation, and word associations. Both personal projects and illustrations are based on characters, usually simplified in their geometry. For me, it is easier to express emotions and ideas through people.

Even when I’m working for a client and my work is very bound by the needs of the project, I try to concentrate on the few aspects of the project where I am able to be original. I try to respond to the project in an unexpected way while fulfilling what’s needed.

How do you think about luck?
I believe that more often than not, success comes from incredible circumstances. I think I got lucky to be alive at this time when so many tools for creation, education, and promotion are wildly available. I feel lucky to be part of a generation that doesn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams just for being an immigrant or a woman or for struggling with mental health; those are incredible circumstances.

Even living through something like the Covid-19 pandemic made the world smaller and more accessible in many ways, and now it is even easier to build a community with people around the globe. No one succeeds in this world by themselves. We are a product of our community, and these days, our community can be online.

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