Are there a lot of artists and creative people in your family? How did you get into illustration and design?
Actually, no (haha). My dad’s a retired electrical engineer and my mother was in medical school. I think though, it’s that influence that made me want to go to architecture school as it was still creative but has a technical background. Growing up, I was always really creative and into scheming. I think illustration was a natural medium to get some of those ideas and concepts out.
Can you tell us about some of your influences?
I love MC Esher, the cartoonist Seth and the quietness of Edward Hopper paintings. Also, I love great design so I’m constantly on the look out whether it be online or while shopping, I’m always looking for something to spark my excitement.
‘Cabins in the Sky’ illustration for TOQUE Magazine
How would you describe your visual style? What was the process like defining it?
I’d say my style is retro yet whimsical but with some film noir emotion at times. My favourite pieces are more conceptual and blend ideas; they make you think or look twice as there’s something you maybe didn’t see the first time. To hone my style, it really felt like I kept coming back to what it was that I loved drawing.
‘Backcountry Boil’ illustration for Oast House Brewers
Do you have any strategies that have helped you manage the stress of finding clients? How do you determine pricing as the industry continues to change?
Luckily for my illustration work, I have an agent who handles most of that work and it’s the creative agencies who reach out to him to book me for jobs. For pricing, so many factors go into the cost of illustration work (licensing, complexity, geographic region, etc.); it’s a constant adjustment of that matrix from the start so I can’t really say I’ve seen industry change as much as I’ve seen my work being used for larger and larger projects which has affected the price.
‘Rae Spoon, bodiesofwater’ cd illustration & Design
Your work spans a number of industries. Are the processes for working on commercial and editorial illustration different or the same?
Overall, the process is quite similar from sketches to finals, but I would say if I’m working on a branding piece, like packaging, there is a higher level of scrutiny and everything needs to be so deliberate. Thankfully with those I’m generally working with art directors and creative directors who know their clients inside and out and help guide some of those creative decisions.
‘Riverside IPA’ beer label illustration for Royal City Brewing
How has your creative approach changed over the years?
I’m not really sure it has changed all that much. Those initial sparks or ideas for an illustration concept are always the most challenging to make sure I come up with something great and I feel I’ve always honoured needing to give myself time and space to percolate on it.
‘Toronto’ icons and map illustration for Brickworks Cider
What criteria do you use to critique your work? How do you know when an illustration is done?
If I’m excited to look at the drawing the next morning, then I know it’s a good one. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist but I can’t really explain how I know when it’s done. I think it’s similar to when photographers ‘know’ they got the shot. Sort of like a hunch that you just know it’s done; the perfect peace of knowing adding more will ruin it, yet feeling satisfied in the level of detail.
‘Word on the Street’ event promotion illustration
One last fun question, if you could swap jobs with anyone for a day, what job would you pick?
I would love to be a carpenter and be in a wood shop building furniture all day.
‘Ear Buds’ event illustration for HotDocs Podcast Festival
, a self-described schemer, uses her creative talents to illustrate, design and art direct award-winning work. Cai’s diverse background in philosophy, film, architecture and design serve as inspiration for her practice. Cai
is a partner at Toque Ltd
., a creative agency and long time freelance illustrator.