News, Reviews and Interviews

Cate McCauley Talks the Talk with 1stAngel

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Founder of 1stAngel Arts Magazine Social Area Manager on Fine Art America An oil painter by profession, it is actually my digital work which has been exhibited. I enjoy bringing art to non artists and artists to other artists. I have interviews on my magazine from all kinds of artist, writer and musician. I hope you enjoy them and my site as much as I do

When did you first become interested in art?

Playtime was pretending to put all the words and pictures in magazines. My earliest paying gig was getting a nickel for every page I didn’t go outside the lines in my coloring book. Seems all that paid-off: I was an art director at seventeen years old.


What style of art do you use most?

Realism is the style, pyrography the medium.

As an old-time commercial artist, I’ve done my share of pen & ink illustrations, graphite drawings and maker comps – long before there was any digital equipment. That experience translates well into pyrography because it takes a very steady hand. Nothing I’ve ever worked with produces tonal shading and sharp details like this medium. It’s very unique.

Has your style changed from when you first began as an artist?

Certainly styles change according to the mood, but also as you develop more skills, try new approaches, and push the envelope. Yes, it changes quite a bit. Yet there’s still a particular style that transcends all of that: “The hand of the artist. “

What medium do you use?

Pyrography literally translated from Greek means to “draw with fire.” I use an electric machine that heats metal-tipped pens to 500-900OF (260-480OC). It has controls to dial the temperature up or down to create different shades. My colors are added with watercolor paints and pencils. I’ve also experimented with making my own natural dyes.

Baby Elephant ©Cate McCauley
Baby Elephant ©Cate McCauley

What made you choose that medium?

I’ve always loved working with wood. My dad built Hollywood movie sets, so perhaps it runs in the family. Pyrography was a spin-off from a passion for woodworking and professional experience as an illustrator. I’d been doing it on and off over the years, some gifts and a few commissions. Then in 2004 I decided to build a collection and show my work. This latest collection is burned on Arches #140 Cold Press watercolor paper.

Do your ideas come from life or imagination?

My illustrations are realistic and very detailed. There are also times the art becomes whatever it wants. For instance, “Barred Owl on the Prowl,” he’s sitting on a birch branch. Now I’ve stared at nature, birch trees in particular, for hours-on-end; colors, textures and the shades at different times of day. This time I left it up to the paper.

Cranked the dial to super-hot and said, “okay paper, it’s you and me, let’s do this.” My pen barley grazed the surface. All those little specks appeared from the highs and lows of the paper, which brought its own thing to the party.

How do you choose your images and colours?

Composition-wise I have to see it in my imagination first. Sometimes people suggest a subject and it’ll ring a chord. There are compositions sitting around here waiting to be born. Drawing a lot of fur and feathers, I research details of birds and animals – study their patterns, textures and shapes. My work is so detailed I use a magnifying glass.

Do you work in a studio?

I’m blessed to have separate workshop that’s bigger than the house. In summer the overhead doors are wide open to the north light, overlooking a pond and waterfall. In winter it’s back inside with a big window and under a solar tube for even more light. I hope to finish rehabbing the space to allow for more studio tours.

Summer Studio ©Cate McCauley
Summer Studio ©Cate McCauley

Who is your favourite artist?


What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?

“Colonial Kitchen” is a special child. I worked on her while going through a breast cancer scare and two biopsies. Last March, on the night of my surgery, she won 2nd place at the RI Woman’s Art Exhibit, then on to take 1st honorable mention in June. She brought me solace in troubling times and the strength to keep-up my artistic momentum.
(I’ll be fine, by the way. Thankfully, they caught this cancer early.)

How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?

Instead of putting something on the surface, like graphite, ink or paint, I’m significantly altering the surface with controlled burning. Pyrography is about layers, temperature and hand control. There’s no erasing. Every stroke counts. On average, it takes 10 to 40-plus hours for each piece depending on size and complexity. That’s before matting and framing, which we do in-house.

How well do you take criticism?

Can’t say I’ve had any as a pyrographer. People are fascinated by this art form. However, as a commercial artist, (from apprentice to president of my own ad agency) there have been plenty of compromises. If someone feels that strongly, and they’re paying for it, then it’s wise to listen, maybe learn something. I tend to go with the flow and consider the source. If need be, I explain my decisions and vision. It all works out.

Colonial Kitchen ©Cate McCauley
Colonial Kitchen ©Cate McCauley

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?

Take long walks in beautiful places or visit my favorite cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?

I step away when the subject has developed its own personality. There are instances when I’ll go back and rework a piece after the paper has relaxed a little, to enhance the contrast or detail. At some point the paper tells me it’s had enough, or a deadline has arrived.

Have you had exhibits in galleries?

For the past nine years it’s been mostly outdoor shows. It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve gained a following and have repeat customers, which is very rewarding. Last year there were almost a dozen gallery and museum exhibits. This year I’ve scaled way back.

Have you any exhibits in galleries planned for the future?

I was recently elected a member of the Art League of Rhode Island. They have exhibit opportunities in some nice galleries including The Providence Art Club. Then there are the outdoor shows: Wickford Art Festival for 2-days in July and 3-days at the Scituate Art Festival in October. What I like to call “camping with my prized possessions.”

What are you currently working on?

In order to revamp my web site, I spent most of this winter teaching myself computer programming. I’ll be working on some smaller pieces soon, getting back in the groove after a long, cold New England winter.

Cate McCauley At Her Desk
Cate McCauley At Her Desk

What are your plans for the future?

Planning on staying-the-course and maintaining a good selection of art. But I’m really itching to do some 3-dimensional work. There’s a piece of seasoned wood with a thick vine growing around it that’s caught my eye: Perhaps a good candidate for a relief carving and pyrography mixture.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

My first art director told me two things. 1) Everything you learn belongs to you forever. 2) When asked to do something, even if you don’t know how, say yes anyway. In the time between you saying yes and actually doing it, go learn.

What advice would you give new artists?

Some artists just want to get into “the zone,” therefore sales aren’t a big deal. But if you want to sell your art, my golden rule is: If they can’t see it, they can’t buy it. Make the commitment to build a collection and do a show. Or arrange to exhibit a few pieces somewhere, even a coffee shop or library. Once you have a direction or deadline, it’ll motivate you.

Have you done any courses to help you?

I’m almost completely self-taught, learned from working on the job, except for some drawing classes at the RI School of Design. Ironically, when my high school wouldn’t let me take the commercial art program I quit and became a studio apprentice. While my peers were at the prom, I was at my drafting table drawing, building a career that’s lasted almost four decades.

What do you do to market your work?

By far, most sales happen at the outdoor shows, where you meet people face-to-face. Customers buy the artist as much as the art. They love to hear the how and why of a piece, see that gleam of inspiration in your eye. Sometimes the art find its owner. When a person has that glazed look and just keeps staring – that’s usually a sale in-the-making. I also offer prints, which is a nice option if that’s what a customer can afford.

Do you use social networking in your day to day life?

My web site ( and pages on Fine Art America get a lot of traffic. I’m not really into the whole Facebook or Twitter scene. I’d rather spend my time drawing. Luckily folks link to me through their sites and blogs. I communicate with other pyrographers from around the world, and have written articles about this medium.

Barred Owl on the Prowl ©Cate McCauley
Barred Owl on the Prowl ©Cate McCauley

Are you available for work (commissions)?

Yes, I do commissions. Portraits especially make me step-up the game, because they have to be spot-on. Trying to bring their memories and impressions to your art is always interesting. Most clients have faith in me, which I deeply appreciate.

Have you got hobbies?

What little time I have for leisure is spent cooking, gardening and caring for my fish (when they’re not frozen under the pond). Living in a rural area, friends nearby often have bonfires where great musicians gather. Fireside with a star-lit night is our favorite relaxation time.

Where are you based?

My husband Leon and I live in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, deep in the woods near the Connecticut border, where there’s abundant wildlife, especially owls.

© 2013, Isabella Francesca Abigail Shores. All rights reserved.

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  1. Awesome interview Elizabeth, you picked a brilliant artist to promote the art of pyrography. Over the years I have met Cate in person and we have become friends. I am also a pyrographer, and I consider her a mentor, as she is always willing to share her knowledge of this art form. She will answer questions others may have, and most of all she is always willing to help. This is a rare trait, as most artists refrain from telling their secrets of how they do things, but not Cate. She has worked hard to get where she is, and I am happy that she is being recognized for her talent. Regards, Danette Smith

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