I have lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and New York City but I grew up in Northern Illinois near the shores of Lake Michigan on my grandfather’s tree farm. I was really fortunate to have grown up within a creative, supportive family who harbored no prejudices and denied many obstacles. My father Thomas was an architect and mother Virginia was a very prolific artist and illustrator for Hallmark cards. I am the eldest girl of eight brothers and sisters, seven of whom went on to careers in the arts. My childhood was magical and filled with mysteries. I don’t remember wearing shoes much in the summer and spent a lot of time exploring the woods of pine and apple orchards.
My grandfather’s barns were filled with random items found at auctions: dental tools, artist canvas, burlap sacks piled high with long blades at the end to cut ropes (yikes!), tools and endless supplies of curiosities including a welding shop. In the winter we would skate until midnight on our moonlit pond and in the summer we would swim and fish. I often would take night hikes seeking out the owls hooting in the trees and get lost in the wilderness.
Uncoiled Pleasures 11″x14″x2″ Inks, handmade pigments on clayboard panel
Along with all my siblings, I attended University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana and studied design, painting and printmaking. Determined that all of their children would be self- supporting, my parents would not allow me to major in fine art so I graduated with a graphic design degree, yet I took as much painting and printmaking classes as possible. After college, I walked in off the street with a portfolio and no formal interview and was hired by the Chicago Tribune as their first woman illustrator/art director where I worked for 3 years and during that time, took a leave of absence for two months so I could travelin Europe. I then returned, quit my job two months later and moved to Dallas and married my husband, scientist and MD George Muschler. After one year at the Dallas Times Herald I began freelancing full time. After four years we moved to New York City with our first baby and I started working for major publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Knopf, Simon Schuster, Random and Esquire among others and went onto a long successful career as an illustrator in the editorial world and decided to shelve my personal studio work til later in life. In 2006 a monograph of my work was published, “Open Spaces” launching my work into the museum and gallery world. I primarily am focused on my personal work at present but occasionally do a commission. I have a series of U.S. Postage stamps that have been releasing for the past 3 years.
“The Ancestoral Spirit” 11″x14″x2″ Inks, handmade pigments on clayboard panel
I am drawn to the affinity of the wood engraving. It’s natural narrative and graphic qualities are revealing of the human spirit. I was far more interested in drawing over painting in my formative years as an artist and fell in love with the power of line and symbols in the context of the narrative story and how my artwork might impact the culture at large through illustration.
“The Seed” 5″x7″ Inks on scratch board mounted on wood
“Virtually Home” 5″x7″ Inks on scratch board mounted on wood
“Adventureland” 9″x12″ Inks on scratchboard mounted on wood
In what ways does your environment influence your work ? We moved to Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1988 and I live/work in a 100 year old home and the coach house above our garage serves as my studio space primarily. (real estate is cheap) Studio-wise, I have multiple spaces-as my children have left our home, I have overtaken their rooms. I have a small room for my tech items-printers, files and business items. I have a messy space that I can create without worry of damage to the floor. This is my buckle down and bury myself space. I have an area where I show collectors my art, which is tidy and well lit and sometimes I write or do art in this space. It also houses my fine art etchings, lithographs and embossings. My garage is my shipping area as well as sanding, staining and varnishing of the art.
We have a nature preserve nearby that I walk to almost every day. It attracts incredible bird life such as cormorants, bald eagles, great blue herons and egrets. We live about 10 minutes from the city of Cleveland, which has a thriving art community and world class museums. I love living where the seasons reinforce the themes of my work…each one is an experience, a challenge and immersion of senses. Culturally, there is an enormous mix of people here, which brings perspective.
Above: The Chamber / Below: The Rescue Lithographs on stone ihttp://www.cathiebleck.com/2013/10/10/stone-lithography-residency-cleveland-institute-of-art-fall-2013/
T What is the best part about being an artist? Being given the role of a spiritual guide as an observer of cultures.
What is the worst ? I suppose the suspended time in isolation doing the work that is required. The angst of not being happy when you are not creating work and not happy at times throughout the process doing the work. But, I suppose that is the same in anything that demands our full attention and commitment.
What inspires you? Moving through personal relationships in life. I find energies of the mind and spirit in the many roles I play. I am attracted to ideas that promote change to a higher purpose. I seek the stories of those that are courageous. Individuals that push the limits of what seems -not possible fuels me; those that are pushing through adversity and transforming in the process I find inspiring.
Observing growth in all forms of life, whether a leaf unfolding or a journey of passage witnessed through struggle and love.
How would you describe the initial impulse to make a new piece?I am interested in that place where transition occurs-the tension between opposing forces. The angst that forms on the cusp of change felt by a common community; I begin to build a stage of symbolic images. I might go through 10-20 quick studies on vellum in order to capture fluidity of the line.
Are there some rituals you follow in your creative process and/or special tools you use for your work? During the growing season, I collect flowers from my garden first thing in the morning. Then I depart to my studio, placing an item from nature on my desk and start paging through books that inspire me, or perusing a giant bin of discarded sketches. Often I will play the same song over and over again when I am working on a particular painting. I try to avoid the seduction of my computer.
How closely do you follow your original idea in the process of making a piece? I definitely respect the painting speaking to me prospect, but I begin with a fairly thought out construction. I often begin with a seed of an idea and create many sketches quickly then a detailed sketch with an overall composition. As I get into the piece, I begin to discover so many new hidden images and follow their lead.
Do you typically work on one piece at a time or have several going at once? I have multiple works going on in each of my studio spaces. I also have separate bodies of works that might take years for me to complete each.
How does the internet affect your work? Quite often it is a distraction from getting work done and definitely try to reserve time on the internet for the downtime when I am taking a break. I have to set limits on how often I go online however. When I find myself absorbed in my work I don’t want to touch my computer. It does not replace going to see artwork close up at exhibitions or museums but it does expose me to artist’s works I would otherwise not have discovered. I cannot deny that we live in a day and age of sharing information on the internet so the online communities do have their place for connecting me to other artists, my family and friends. I have used it to connect with artists internationally when I travel and have had some great exchanges with others around the world meeting up with them in person while in Austria and in Turkey recently.
How do you balance being an artist with being a wife and mother? They have to live with my condition-the anxiety of feeling like I should be working all the time. When I was raising my kids there were so many opportunities to create with them, which made me so happy. Working at a balance is constant. My husband works far more than me, which is curse and a blessing. I am fortunate to be with someone that understands the creative process and he is too. None of my children want to do what we do-our oldest is a physical therapist, our son James Muschler is the drummer for Moon Hooch and our daughter Ana is in her last year at Ohio State in anthropological sciences with a love for primates and planning to join the Peace Corps after graduating. (she is a great artist too!) They are all creative at what they do and definitely are carving paths-taking the road less traveled approach which makes me so happy. I learn so much from them!!!
How do you get through artist’s blocks? I usually start by cleaning my studio. Going to the art museum definitely!
How do you deal with the disappointment when your work isn’t selling well? How do find the strength to continue? Well, I think everyone has felt the stress of not selling as much since 2009. Artists are not alone in this situation. I am spending less on framing and have done some smaller works as well as works on papyrus that sold in my recent show in Chicago. I have taken on a few illustration commissions to pay the bills. Recently I did a large painting for a winery in the Willamette Valley seeking my input to develop a mythology for their wines Flood + Fire. They will use the images on their packaging and in emails. The client also purchased the painting and as a bonus I got some great wines! That was a good tonic for dealing with the despair of slow sales on personal work .
I also belong to a great cooperative press here in Cleveland-Zygote Press. I do etching, stone lithography and some polymer plates on letterpress. Making art in a positive community always improves the psyche-I am always learning something new there.
What would you tell the younger you just starting out as an artist? Seek out the weird and the wonderful. Go to museums…small and large ones. Check out University fabrication labs in the engineering department. It is amazing what can be created combining art and technology now and many of them are encouraging artists to use them for free. Travel and carry a sketchbook. Don’t get discouraged and compare yourself to others. Everyone in the arts feels insecurity-we constantly expose ourselves.
I will say that one thing about success in the art world and illustration world that is consistent. There is no room for appearing that you are experimenting. Galleries and art agents alike want to collaborate with artists that know what they are doing and can produce and keep deadlines.
What are your vices? Staying up too late at night and trying to break that habit! Travel can also sometimes be a vice…I get so much from discovering cultures and seeking the weird and the wonderful.
What kind of pets do you have? We only have one pet now, a cockatiel named Teekie though we have had many pets through the years-a corgi named Cinder, two black rabbits and a host of other small friends. My daughters dogs stay with us too from time to time.
What is the last wild animal you saw? My daughter Ana is working at an ape sanctuary this summer and I am introduced virtually to many of the apes and their funny personalities. I have seen one very big raccoon, an opossum, and a skunk all in the last 2 days.
Pick one of your pieces and describe the inspiration/inclination to make it and some of the process OR feel free to write about something connected to your work that you want to describe. I have been working on a twilight series- It has always been my favorite time of the day- when the sky is that intense blue and all life transforms into shapes of darkness –a sense of peace falls over us like a blanket. When I was a child, I used to sneak out and hike in the dark…walking into the unknown. “Ardelle’s Forest” was done for an upcoming 2 person show here in Cleveland entitled “Rarely Home”opening September 5th with a great artist, Amy Casey at Maria Neil Art Project. I am exploring the instinct of travel. At a core level, it is a necessary act for people so that they can understand the meaning of their own lives. We sometimes don’t see what is right in front of us…staring at us. We must leave our comfort zone and step into darkness in order to see the light. Step out of our shells in order to see where the winds of time are taking us?
Photo by Ana Muschler
Recent Exhibition/ New Works on Papyrus:
Video clip from my studio: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152994139174478&set=vb.695174477&type=2&theater