Some artists have meaningful reasons behind their art and why it was made. Even their smallest details serve a purpose. Other artists, like Cathy Pavia, rarely have an explanation for their creations. Some of her ideas just appear into her mind at 4 in the morning, and she can’t help but get out of bed and put them on paper.
Pavia, an illustrator, painter and teacher from Belmont Heights, has had an interest in art for as long as she can remember. “My mother was really good with being very patient with me,” she said. “I would ask my mom to draw things, and I actually would just draw with her. It was just something that we did together all the time.”
Pavia grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. By the time she was about six or seven years old, she joined a children’s program at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which she stuck with until junior high school. Pretty soon, she was also taking weekend classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Later, Pavia got a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art and a Masters of Fine Arts degree at California State University, Fullerton.
Pavia has been an illustrator for over 25 years. She enjoys the story-telling aspects of it. “For years, I was a free-lance illustrator,” she said. Today, she has over 20 books in print. Pavia’s favorite project is from the children’s book, Zen of Oz. “The publisher wanted a very specific style in illustration,” she said. “They wanted the illustration to have the flavor of old Japanese print making.”
Pavia had never practiced this style before, so she viewed the entire project as a learning experience. “I had to emerge myself in the culture and the history of that very thing- the 1800s and early 1900s of Japanese woodblock printing.” she explained. “I had to make my watercolor look like that. And also, the characters who were from the Wizard of Oz were to look like those characters from Japan, one of my favorite things from art history. So, that was the perfect thing for me. I had to learn all about that. Dorothy didn’t look like Judy Garland. She was completely different. She had to be very tall and willowy.”
Pavia added that it is crucially important to be accurate and true to what the story is and its style. “When you’re an illustrator, you may get projects where you go, ‘Oh boy, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this one,’” she said. “But you really have to change your attitude about it and take it as a challenge.” Illustrating picture-books has also inspired Pavia to start writing them. “Writing is another thing that I really enjoy doing– not that I’m good at it,” she said, jokingly.
Pavia said she has not written for any children’s picture books yet and has had trouble finding classes regarding them. “There aren’t too many classes in terms of writing for children’s picture books because it is a really specific genre,” she noted. “Because it has pictures with it, there are very few words in it. If you look at a children’s book, there are probably about 700 words in it, if that.”
When she first became interested in writing for children’s books, her first manuscript was 15 pages long, and it was considered too long. Along with illustrating, Pavia also taught and lectured about life-drawing, watercolor and illustration at a number of different colleges such as Rancho Santiago College, California State University, Fullerton, Golden West College and California State University, Long Beach.
For the past six years, she has been teaching at Orange County High School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana. “The high school is really great because it’s like going back in time for me,” she said. “Those high-school kids are exactly like I was in high school. They have to audition to get into the school. So, they are very focused on already being professional, and they are very very very good. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s very business-like.”
Lately, Pavia has been working on oil painting and portraits. “I haven’t really done much oil painting in my career as an illustrator because it’s totally impractical,” she explained. “When you’re an illustrator, you have to get things done fast.”
One of the images that Pavia enjoys painting is of her dogs. One of her dogs, a Labrador retriever, used to constantly steal pastries off the counter. She decided to paint a portrait of her, but she added some additional details that made the painting more comical. “You see the dog in the background stealing pastries off the counter in the kitchen with a burglars mask on.”
Pavia has described her paintings as “very abnormal.” Another favorite of hers is called, “Astroboy meets Alice.” It is an image of the tea party scene in the story of Alice and Wonderland, but Astroboy, the Japanese manga character, is present, hovering over the table and burning the tablecloth.
“It’s like he’s the unexpected guest,” Pavia said. “When Astroboy came out, it was the most different thing that was going on. When we were all growing up, Walt Disney was the animation that we looked at. That was the norm. And when Astroboy came out, he was this strange, wonderful thing.”
Pavia had never worked with portraits before. “It’s like starting from the very beginning,” she described. “As artists, you have to challenge yourself, and you have to try new things.”
One of the portraits that Pavia is currently working on is an image of one of her studenta at OCSA. She was particularly fascinated by his hair. “It’s like a sculpture in of itself,” she said. In the picture that she took of him, he is leaning up against an SUV. In the background, the window of the SUV displays the student’s reflection.
Pavia also plans to paint more portraits of her students. “The kids are so wild,” she added. “They are such great kids. And most of them want their portraits done. They’re like, ‘Sure, I’ll pose!’”
Although Pavia said she has not had a chance to really get involved with her portraits because she is just starting to recover from knee-replacement surgery, when asked if she plans to have a show, she positively answered, “It may be a while before that happens, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”