Artisan Cathy: The Details of Nature

Mar 15, 2021 | Artisans, Career

“I look for little things . . . like a fern uncurling its fronds in the sun,” says Cathy Hillegas.

There is magic in Cathy Hillegas’ trees. A play of light and shadows gives a sycamore divinity. In her painting “Rise Up,” the vantage point from the lowly ground makes noble the tree’s massive height as it stretches upward toward the sky, its leaves and bark bathed in holy white light.

This piece took Cathy over 200 hours to complete and secured her a spot in the most recent National Watercolor Society show in California. Like many of Cathy’s watercolors, it represents her draw toward finding the dramatic lighting, bright colors, and shadows in nature.

“I like to paint things in nature that might go unnoticed. I look for little things and blow them up big, like a fern uncurling its fronds in the sun or a leaf laying on ground,” Cathy says. Because her watercolors take so many hours, she likes to work from a photograph and looks for the way light can be captured on film before putting it to paper. “The thing about watercolors,” she explains, “is that you don’t use white paint. The white is the paper and only water can lighten up a color, so it takes a lot of planning.”

In 1993, after her mother bought her a class at Preston Arts Center for her 36th birthday, Cathy said she fell in love with the art form. “I had quit my counseling job when my second child was born, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up.’ After I took that class, I fell in love. I’ve been obsessed ever since,” Cathy says.

In her near 30-year art career, Cathy has learned to turn her passion into business through art shows (she is currently showing her work at Chestnuts and Pearls gallery in New Albany, Indiana), teaching, and selling her art on websites like Etsy.

At 65, Cathy still struggles to find a “room of her own” in which to paint. “The pandemic has been hard. Most of my students are older than me, so I have had to quit teaching this past year. Finding a quiet space with five people and five cats and dogs in my house has been tricky. The whole year has been stressful for artists. Either you are prolific or stunned; I’d put myself in that last camp.”

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