I’ve long admired the whimsical and lighthearted work of illustrator/printmaker Alanna Cavanagh. I recently dropped by her studio in the Artscape Triangle in Toronto to talk about the things she loves and some of the inspiring projects she’s working on.ILLUSTRATOR/PRINTMAKER/BLOGGER: Alanna Cavanagh
Alanna is one of those people who energizes a room. She’s animated and engaged as she describes her passion for illustration, silk screening, surface design and CBC radio.
Last fall she moved from Cabbagetown to Parkdale and has embraced everything about her new neighborhood from the arts scene at the Gladstone Hotel to the bagels at the Rustic Cosmo Cafe on Queen Street West.
You’ve probably seen her work over the years without even knowing it. She’s created illustrations, advertising, silk screen prints and design projects for a long list of prestigious clients as diverse as her interests.
Alanna discovered early on that she learns by doing. She has been very busy. These are some of her clients:
Editorial work for the NY Times, The Globe & Mail, Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Elle magazine, Real Simple magazine, Utne Reader and The Atlantic.
Design projects for The Four Seasons Hotels, Target, Brooks Brothers, Sputnik Design, the LCBO and Italian Design Week.
Advertising for VISA, Eaton’s and Air New Zealand.
Book covers for Chronicle Books, Little Brown and Co, Harper Collins and Penguin.
The big orange scissors is one of Alanna’s more recognizable silk screen prints. This one hangs in her friend Kim’s house.
Wouldn’t this print be perfect in a girl’s room?
One of a series of illustrations for Air New Zealand’s ad campaign to attract the gay and lesbian community.
As one of six children, Alanna says she was always drawing – even in her high chair. Her busy mother knew a stack of art supplies would keep her daughter happy for hours.
It was only after winning the lead in the school play (Anne of Green Gables) that Alanna decided to put art on the back-burner and set her sights on a career in musical theatre. She soon discovered acting was a tough business and for her, more of an interest than a vocation. Once she decided to go to university, “the love of art came right back.”
One of Alanna’s smaller silk screened prints.
Majoring in art history at the University of Toronto, Alanna found herself inspired by the early work of Andy Warhol, particularly his shoe illustrations. She leaps up to retrieve well-thumbed books with her favourite images. Egon Schiele’s art also had a huge influence on her style and interest in illustration. She says with characteristic enthusiasm, “I was blown away by it. I fell in love with his lines. His work stopped me in my tracks.” She began to study the work of artists she admired and her own distinctive style evolved. Alanna is largely self-taught.
Andy Warhol’s early shoe illustrations featured a blotted line technique that Alanna often employs in her work.
When she first started drawing, a top illustrator at the time told her to focus on what she liked. Alanna loved fashion, so it was a natural starting point for her. She recalls with amusement that many of her assignments from 2003 – 2005 featured Sex in the City style women. That’s what clients wanted to see at the time.
Two very different book cover designs.
After working non-stop for many years, Alanna took a few months off in 2005 and added silk screening to her repertoire. Soon after, she created this print of Franny — the kind of woman she likes to draw.
All of Alanna’s illustrations are done digitally. She creates her drawings by hand, adding colour using Photoshop. Her free-spirited style strikes a chord with so many people. The silk screen Penguin Book covers Alanna created have been incredibly popular. As an avid reader who spent time working in a bookstore, she always admired what Penguin Books stood for.
This striking salon wall in Alanna’s loft has such personality. A print from her Penguin Books collection acts as the focal point. Her men’s brogue shoe print has a 1950’s nostalgic feel.
An IKEA expedit bookcase houses Alanna’s collectibles and books –acting as a great room divider in her studio/loft.
Over the last 10 years, surface design has blossomed. You can now get shower curtains, duvet covers and tea towels with illustrations on them. Alanna couldn’t be happier as she says, “I love playing with colour and pattern.” Interior design is a natural extension of her work. She adds, “I’m super passionate about interiors.”
This is a wallpaper design Alanna is currently developing. It’s in the prototype stage, but she says, “I just know for certain that people love the alphabet.” She recently posted these images on her blog.
Style at Home senior design editor Margot Austin, asked Alanna to design a large mural for the magazine’s booth at the Interior Design Show in Toronto (IDS11) last month. The look Margot was after was “Dorothy Draper meets Alice and Wonderland.” Alanna’s colourful illustration was printed onto strips that were applied to the walls of the booth like wallpaper. The end result was spectacular.
Another view of the Style at Home/Beauti-tone booth at IDS11.
When I ask Alanna to describe a typical day, she says she works around her “pattern of energy.” She usually feels focused and perky from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and in the evening from about 8:00 – 11:00 pm. She’s an unabashed fan of the CBC radio show Q hosted by Jian Ghomeshi and NPR podcasts with Terry Gross. They keep her company while she works.
The afternoon, she admits, is a “write-off.” She uses that time to run errands, work out at the Y and take “field trips” to places like Anthropologie and Virginia Johnson, where she’s always inspired by the displays and fabrics.
I absolutely adore this new pattern Alanna has developed. Her love of birdcages is evident in many of her drawings.
As she settles into her new space, there are silk screen frames scattered about. To me, they’re as beautiful as the images themselves. Her series of prints for Brooks Brothers are particularly charming.
All images and photos courtesy of Alanna Cavanagh.