West Coast-based artist Caitlin McCarthy illustrates pale, spectral beauties, languid of limb and with milky, blind eyes belying the secrets and mystical knowledge they possess. Visions of dark, dreamy romanticism, these sibyls and seers gaze impassively at the viewer, their delicate bones and bloodless visages hinting at a bygone era of melancholy and loss, and of mysteries glimpsed from beyond the veil.
Though among her inspirations she’s noted a fascination with otherworldly pursuits–the occult, fairy tales, uncanny oddities, etc.–and this clearly includes a fondness for Victorian aesthetic and Gothic sensibilities, there are also whispers of the natural world to be found in McCarthy’s work. The quartz crystals, lush flora, and thorny crowns paired with and adorning these spellbinding enchantresses suggest more than a few earthly adorations, as well.
Caitlin graciously gave of her time for a brief Q&A; read more and learn of this artist’s love for the odd and the unusual and how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in her work.
Has art always been a passion for you? Can you tell us how you got started on this creative path and how it has lead to the work you are producing today?
I’ve always felt a pull to create, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I loved that art gave me the magical ability to transport my imaginary world into something physical and real. I kept drawing through childhood and into my adult life. Eventually I became tired of working at a coffee shop and decided to go to art school. I graduated a few years ago with a BFA in studio art and was lucky enough to get a job in a creative field. I’ve been blessed to have family, friends, and teachers in my life that have supported and encouraged me to continue creating and find my own artistic voice.
Your Tumblr blog and your Etsy site both mention that you find beauty in the odd and the unusual. Has it always been this way for you? When did you notice this curious appreciation and what forms did it take for you?
I would say I have always been drawn to magic, the unexplained, and the mysterious. When I was younger it was an attraction to fantasy, and as I got a bit older I began veering towards a darker aesthetic. As a teenager, I developed a love for dark music, black clothing, vampire novels, and cemetery walks. I like to think my taste and style have evolved, but I suppose I never really outgrew any of it. Things that are considered spooky or macabre inspire me. Perhaps it’s the idea that surrounding yourself with reminders of death will lessen the fear of it, or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic I find myself naturally drawn toward. I do my best to fill my life with the odd and the darkly beautiful and I channel this into my art, my style, my travels, and my home.
Your work appears mainly colorless, rendered in black and white, perhaps some shades of grey and the occasionally pale blushing pink background. The effect is delicate, nuanced–almost elegantly anemic. Can you speak to the muted tones and lack of color in your work?
In college I worked primarily in watercolor. After school I began working in comics and training as a colorist. I spent my days working on the computer, staring at screens glowing with vibrant colors. I have found my personal art began naturally drifting in an opposite direction. Drawing with graphite has become a bit therapeutic for me. I enjoy the act of using my hands to create something. After I’ve completed a drawing, sometimes I’ll add faint tones of color to match the personality of the piece. Other times, the piece just seems complete, so I’ll let it be. Color can be a very powerful tool, but I find that the lack of it can be as well. I use contrast, texture, and line to create the moods I wish to evoke with a piece. Absence of color lends itself well to creating the melancholy, eerie, or mystic atmosphere that I am trying to summon in my work.
Your portfolio is peppered with priestesses, seers, and witches; mystical females as well as an obvious interest in the occult feature heavily in your works. I would love to hear about your influences in this vein, and how they inform your art.
The occult is a pathway into exploring the paranormal, the unknown, and hidden secrets. I often draw the women I wish to be or that I admire. These are often strong women with magic in their eyes, ladies who are tapping into, channeling, or manipulating things we can’t even begin to understand. Instead of being passive, they are mastering and shaping the world around them. I find the idea of controlling what is believed to be uncontrollable both comforting and terrifying.
Can you give us a tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? What rituals do you use to put yourself in the mood to work?
My home is my shrine and my safe space. I do my best to surround myself with inspiration and things I love. I collect antiques, mourning memorabilia, taxidermy, old photographs, and religious paraphernalia. My walls are covered in work created by artists I admire, and I have more books than I have shelf space, or time to read. I do nearly all of my drawing at night when I’m home alone. I’ll settle in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine on my couch, and snuggle up with my two dogs. I like to turn on a favorite film or music, and the colder and stormier it is outside, the better.
Other than your Etsy shop, where can we find your work?
You can also find me on Instagram @CaitlinMcCarthyArt. I have found Instagram to be a very inspiring and supportive place for artists. I like to share photos of what I am currently working on, glimpses into my home and life, as well as information on sales and such. I’m also extremely fond of Pinterest. I find myself pinning inspirations nearly every day. It’s my virtual bulletin board, and if you’re interested in a peek inside of my head, it’s the place to go.
Step into the role of prophetess or seer for a moment, if you can. What do you predict for 2016 in terms of your art?
I had a lot of personal life-changing events last year and I’m curious to see how those will seep into my art. I really am hoping to challenge myself throughout 2016. I’d like to push myself to sketch more, and to share more on social media. I too often get caught up in thinking things aren’t good enough, and that is so toxic. I’d also love to participate in some group art shows. I think it is such an amazing way to meet and connect with other artists. Unfortunately, I am not able to predict the future, but I am excited to see what it may bring.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
One of my favorite pieces from Morph Knitwear is the huge, open knit Shapeshifter shawl. (And come to think of it, I probably should add that to my winter uniform!) Curious as to how one might style this wooly behemoth? I’ve a few suggestions for you, below. As always, click on the image to find more details on the items within each ensemble.
I have a weird habit wherein every time I write something, I feel compelled to design an outfit around it. Obviously in the virtual sense – my wallet could not possibly withstand this peculiar compulsion!
Below are 15 (okay, it’s actually probably more like 20-30) ensembles created in 2015, including links back to the articles, essays, or ramblings that inspired their creation. As always, click through the image to find details on the items included.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of writing a course guide for the uninitiated and those new to the splendors of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and their myriad, wonderful fragrances. You can find it over at Haute Macabre.
And because I don’t know how to be brief and possess the uncanny (and not at all annoying!) ability to make a long story even longer, you will find it broken down into three installments, for easier reading:
It gets a little personal, I’m afraid. I find it difficult to separate a beloved thing from the experiences I’ve had while adoring that thing -so there are more than a few anecdotes and opinions. It cannot be helped!
I have loved Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, their people, and their fragrances for a very long time now and I do hope I’ve done them justice with my words. Let me know what you think! Have I missed anything? What are your favorites scents and collections? Favorite BPAL memories over the years?
It’s a long shot, but maybe you’ve heard about a little film released recently by that guy – you know. He does the scary stuff… Guillermo …what’s his name? Yeah, it wasn’t very big, not a lot of hype. Really flew under the radar, you know? Scarlet Summit? No, hm. Ruby Pinnacle? This is gonna drive me nuts.
Ha! Just kidding, you weirdos. I reckon Crimson Peak has been on our collective horror-nerd radar for the last three years, and we’ve anxiously been counting down the days until its release earlier this month whilst working ourselves into a feverish delirium awaiting its myriad charms.
A lush, lavish gothic romance in high, bloody style – and a dizzying exercise in glorious excess – Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak delivered on a grand scale. A tale to delight the senses on every level, brimming with terrible, tragic beauty and darkly dreamy imagery, both elegant and savage – the only thing missing from this gorgeous experience is the fragrance of those dark secrets and monstrous revelations.
The mad geniuses over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab anticipated this, and October 31, 2015, marks the release of their Crimson Peak-inspired line of fragrances, nail polish, jewelry, and statuary.
As to the scents themselves, the lab has outdone themselves. I’ve been wearing their fragrances for years and although they consistently provide marvelous olfactory experiences, never had they made as strong a showing as they have with this singular collection. Among the oils I sampled, each was beautifully nuanced, deliciously complex and perfectly – uncannily – captured the essence of the character or the theme conveyed.
In short, I think I loved them all. My wallet weeps at this pronouncement.
Some standouts include:
Edith Cushing (Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind: pearlescent vanilla musk with white sandalwood, grey amber, white patchouli, ambrette seed and oudh. ) smells of wholesome beauty, youthful innocence and somehow…of butterflies and ruffled nightgowns. The airy warmth of delicate musk and sweetly powdered limbs.
Both Sir Thomas Sharpe (Give in to temptation: black amber darkens a pale fougere.) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Love makes monsters of us all; faded red roses and a glimmer of garnet with black lily, yang slang, smoky plum musk and black amber. ) share the same melancholy amber base. Sir Thomas is a close to the skin scent – slightly sweet, with a hint of light musk and tinge of tears – it is a somewhat sad smelling thing. Lady Lucille, on the other hand, is plummy with dark roses and the tang of something deliciously unhinged. “Love makes monsters of us all,” she mused, and you can smell that cruel, desperate sentiment in this bottle.
Dr. Alan McMichael (My deeper concern has always been for you. If you are happy, I am happy. Bay rum and sandalwood) is a deceptively simple, comfortable scent. A feeling of safety, of familiarity, of leaning into a warm neck and breathing in skin and a hint of luxurious aftershave. Also…of horses. I have never actually seen a horse in real life, mind you -I only know them from books, but I am fairly certain that story-horses share this smell.
Crimson Peak [EPONYMOUS] (A house that breathes, that bleeds, and remembers. A house like this, in time can become a living thing with timber for bones and windows for eyes: snow marbled with blood-red clay frozen over the scent of decayed wood) conjures a bleak, chilled incense. Not an entirely welcoming fragrance at first, but as it sinks into the skin, becomes a part of you, you detect a very slight woody warmth and its peculiar charms become a thing to crave.
The Manuscript (A ghost story – Your father didn’t tell me it was a ghost story.
It’s not, Sir, it’s – more like a story…with a ghost in it.
A leather-bound manuscript, ink barely dry. A Gothic ghost tale, personified. The pages are permeated with a preternatural otherworldly quality – but only slightly, as the ghost is a counterpoint; leather and paper and splotches of ink, with a hint of ghostly chill.) Rich, buttery leather, parchment dried with age and subtle, acrid scent of something you can’t quite place -something from the corner of your eye or a mostly forgotten childhood memory. This smells of déjà-vu to me; a book I’ve not yet read and yet have somehow have committed the tale to heart.
Black Moths (Back home we only have black moths. Formidable creatures. They thrive on the dark and cold.
What do they feed on?
Butterflies, I’m afraid. A flutter in the darkness: wild plum and black currant with aged black patchouli, vetiver, red rose petal, tonka absolute, and opoponax) Brittle, papery, musty darkness that becomes lighter in the wearing never but quite loses that tinge of unease, of quiet menace.
Perhaps you’d rather scent your rooms than your person?
Young Edith’s Bedroom (beeswax, leather-bound paper, white gardenias) hints at porcelain and wood, lace and shadow but becomes the most incredible, bombastic honey scent I have ever encountered.
Lucille’s Room (lilac water, fossilized black amber, lily of the valley, violet leaf, oakmoss) is a lighter, more subdued fragrance, recalling the play of shadow and light and the flutter of moth wings in between.
The Workshop(sawdust and gear lubricant, metal rods shining in golden afternoon light) –is it possible to smell the imagery of dust particles floating lazily in a patch of dim afternoon sunlight on a cold, clear afternoon in late winter ? I believe have.
Allerdale Hall (A grand house brooding against the horizon, a silhouette of jutting chimneys and sharp angles silhouetted against the grey sky) Allerdale Hall is a challenging scent to pin down. Dark oiled woods and the scent of the sky before a snow.
A sensory masterwork, these 30 individual, original scents expand upon the vivid world of the film’s characters and story points and are available in 5ml apothecary bottles exclusively via the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab website.
And of course, it’s imperative to know how one might wear this collection, is it not?
Let’s talk Fall 2015 fashion trends, shall we? Do you really care how to wear this season’s car wash skirt or that godawful psychedelic fringed poncho? Is someone, somewhere, still trying to make those drop-crotch harem pants a thing?
Do you really care about what’s trending sartorially, anyhow? Personally, I feel like none of it is the slightest bit relevant to me or my experience.
You know what is relevant to me and my habits and personality? Dripping stone walls and overgrown graveyards. Trap doors, secret dungeons, and locked tower rooms. Footsteps creaking upon staircases and fingers clutching dusty candelabras. Howlings and shriekings, groanings and gibberings, and the clanking of chains. Drafty turrets, swirling mists, and sudden winds.
Do you follow me?
Haunted castles, my friend. Haunted castles are a vital part of my Fall/Winter 2015 fashion scene.
I have put together three full ensembles (with accessories!) in which you can cloak yourself as you traverse ghostly passageways alongside insubstantial spectres and white-haired women turned lunatic and raving.
You prefer haunts crawling with vampires and bloodhounds and vanished corpses, you say? Worry not, we’ve got you covered there, as well. From creepy keeps to cursed citadels, your haunted castle wardrobe needs are well-met with frocks from ghoulish designers and macabre baubles to match.
Sarmi vintage dress $680 // For Love & Lemons bralette $122 & panties $38 // Bloodmilk mini lorraine cross earrings $210 // Macabre Gadgets Arche ring $600 // Julia Deville death & lilies ring $9800 // Rituel de Fille lipstick, “cipher” $23 // Diptique Oud Palao perfume $75 // Bernard Delettrez spider clutch $1960 // Jeffrey Campbell Psyche booties $189.95
Arletta dress $175 // Fleur of England bra $118 & thong $126 // Valentino Cuff Bracelet & Ring Set $745 // Patricia Nicholas spiderbat earrings 97€ // Maison Michel Flower Veil Mask // Kathula blackened ring $100 // Diane Von Furstenberg clutch $368 // Kat Von D Everlasting liquid lipstick, “witches” // Chloe lace up boots $1,175 // Alexander McQueen ring $345 // DSH Perfume Paradise Lost $98
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Crisafi;in addition being a marvelous, magical artist, he is one of the nicest humans I have ever had the opportunity to chat with. Thanks so much, Bill! This interview was originally published at Dirge Magazine.
An artist’s ability to not only move with ease between mediums, but to transcend them, is a rare talent. Illustrator, photographer, and sculptor Bill Crisafi is adept in this regard. In summoning his uncanny inner narrative and powerful visions, Crisafi draws inspiration from nature, feminine strength and energies, and the, “remaining echoes of the Victorian era that haunt the landscape” of his native New England.
He shares this otherworldly imagery with the viewer through a variety of lenses, both literal and figurative. Feral witches and their familiars frolic, mystical woodland rituals are illumined, and the deeply dreaming, fog-shrouded forest holds sway over all in his starkly surreal, whimsical illustrations and eerie woodland photography. These themes can also be found in the earthy mysticism of the jewelry he creates for Burial Ground, with long-time friend and collaborator Jamie Mooers.
I recently caught up with Crisafi and chatted about his melancholic art and dark obsessions, the eternal autumn otherworld he inhabits, and his deep love for the magical New England landscape.
As an illustrator, photographer, sculptor, and jeweler – and soon to be a tattoo artist – you’re very much a visual storyteller. Where do you conjure the dark tales that you share with the world from – can you talk about your influences and inspirations in this vein?
Yes! I am apprenticing with my good friends who own The Black Veil Studio, that’s opening very soon. I am beyond lucky to be learning the trade from these guys.
I think I am most directly influenced by, but not limited to, film & folklore. When I was in college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I substituted all of my art history courses for film history. Among those courses, I was able to study the work of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, as well as take a course on German film & the Grimm Brothers, where we compared films to the tales. These courses fueled my obsessions with darker themes. I loved learning about the uncanny and German Expressionism and it has stuck with me.
It’s hard to say where my true heart is. I love all mediums for different reasons.
I’ve read that you attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY for a time but the call of the wild brought you back to the woods of your native New England. Can you talk about how this woodland yearning shaped your path as an artist? Do you feel any influences from your time in the city and with FIT creeping into your work – how do you reconcile those two somewhat opposing influences?
A lot of my work at FIT was directly influenced by the New England landscapes I left behind. I have one clothing collection in particular that I illustrated which was heavily influenced by my walks through Maudslay State Park in Newbury, MA. Among my ‘fabric swatch page’ was an assortment of specimens from the park: milkweed, twigs, dead flowers, etc.
I think the aching I had to be home, in the woodland environment, made me obsessively keep it alive and breathing through my work when I had to be in the city. This theme lives on today in Burial Ground. All of the twigs & natural elements used are found in places that are sacred to Jamie and me.
I was never keen on illustrating as I was instructed to at FIT. I’ll never forget a project where we had to draw a collection for J. Crew and it resulted in big headed models with frizzy orange hair that had deer antlers jutting out of their heads.
Your illustrative work focuses quite a bit on witches, ritual, and all manner of creatures/familiars/shapeshifters haunting both land and air – spiders, bats, wolves, etc. It’s all imbued with this sense of feral mysticism. Can you talk about these obsessions ?
There is a drawing at my parents house I did in 2nd grade that is a book of “What I liked doing the most during the year” and one page says, “I liked it when we worked on the witches,” and my drawing to accompany that is a naked hag with white hair, standing over a bubbling cauldron
I remember as a child rolling around the forest in the fallen leaves by myself wearing a cloak, mixing potions at the kitchen sink, and making frequent trips to Laurie Cabot’s store in Salem to beg my parents to buy me a book, a wand, or something that I could use to conjure magic. Those are some of the best memories I have and feel like there is a dialogue between myself and nature that magic helps me communicate.
I also see a connection with these ideas and my mother. She is honestly the hardest working and strongest person I know. I see the presence of female strength, sacrifice, and wisdom in witchcraft and it is really comforting to me.
It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I did really start to address it in my work and use it as a tool for communicating my beliefs.
What can you share with us regarding your work space where you create and cultivate these mythic, melancholic narratives? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with? What’s the most vital, invaluable item in your studio?
I was spending my days in the upstairs corner of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem drawing on a couch that had a window overlooking the grand ballroom. I love it there and will probably still utilize that space from time to time to get work done. I finally purchased a desk so now I can draw right in my bedroom.
My space is very important to me and directly determines my drive to make work. I hope to turn my room into a mixture of a Sabbath scene from the film Haxan and a Victorian treehouse, then I’ll never have to leave! I will forever be obsessed with Victorian objects, particularly mourning ones. The most invaluable item would probably be the human skull Jamie’s grandmother gifted me on my birthday some years ago. She is also an artist and used to use it as a reference when drawing. I do think it may be a close second when I pick up the taxidermy still-born goat I have been making payments on.
As you can tell, my priorities are in order.
In 2014 you and longtime friend and collaborator, Jamie Mooers, relaunched Burial Ground with “The Way of The Mystic” collection, which, as you state, “reflects our shared path and the symbols that captivate us.” Brimming with earthy mysticism, these pieces wonderfully echo the motifs seen and felt in your other works. As your paths forge forward, what can we expect to see in future collections from Burial Ground?
We have a small collection of jewelry set to debut in just a few weeks. Our first collection focuses on familiar symbols with concrete meanings that are easy to resonate with.
As we move forward from that, we are still working with casting twigs from areas that are sacred to us, but trying to create a dialogue between the wooded sculptures and the stones we set in them. Some pieces transform from twig into limb, referencing our connection to nature. We are also branching out – we will be offering photographic prints, illustrations, patches, and even some really exciting housewares.
There are also some collaborations in the works that we have been dying to get started as well.
Speaking of collaborations and collections, you work with some really fantastic artists who are relatively well-known in their own right. Courtney Brooke of Lightwitch, for example, is the first who comes to mind. She shot the look book for The Way of the Mystic and quite frequently shows up in some of your own photography. Can you tell us about your relationships in this community and the almost collective vision that you seem to share?
I feel like I am a chip off of the same block as Courtney. She is one of the most inspiring and true humans I have the pleasure of knowing. There are some people that you meet who don’t even really need to be given an explanation of what you’re going for creatively and they already get it. Courtney is that person.
The Way of the Mystic lookbook is a prime example of a dream collaboration day. It was our first time working with the makeup talent, Steffanie Strazzere (@sstrazzere), and the combined skillset she has with our art direction, Courtney’s vision, and Kris Hatch’s modeling was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen.
I think there is an understanding for artists from New England that are into similar things as us. It goes back to the rich and haunting history of Massachusetts, and although it resonates differently in each of us, I think there is a bond from that we share. I wouldn’t trade New England or its people for anything.
And because I am nutty and can’t write about someone without wanting to dress them up myself (or even play dress up AS them) here are two interpretations of some modern day Countess of Castiglione ensembles!