Artist Spotlight: Carolyn Gavin

July 14, 2016

If you’ve been following along with our Artist Spotlight series, then you are in for a real treat! Today, we celebrate one of the newest members to the Red Cap family: artist, Carolyn Gavin. From bright bouquets in watercolor and gouache, to sweet kittens and unbelievable upcoming gift wrap designs, Carolyn has added a such a unique point-of-view to our line. Read more below to learn about her childhood in South Africa and what inspires her to create such lush and colorful pieces, plus advice she has for the burgeoning illustrator. Thank you so much for chatting with us, Carolyn! View all of Carolyn’s designs for Red Cap in our shop, here.

Tell us about your childhood—did you always want to be an artist? Did you have any other aspirations?
I grew up in South Africa in a very protective, nurturing environment. I lived in white suburbia in Johannesburg with my familytwo older brothers (who taught me to be tough), parents, and great grandparents, two dogs and a nanny, Beauty, who was like my second mama. I had a nice life, we had a swimming pool and I remember always painting and creating things and wanting to be an artist. I studied with artist, Nina Campbell-Quine, and she really taught me how to paint, experiment with different techniques and live a “bohemian” life as an artist. She had a stunning house and studio which she designed. The studio had gigantic windows facing an incredible succulent garden. A very exotic and intoxicating place to visit and paint every week!

As a white person growing up there, life was easy, sunny and bright. As a black person, life was unfair and unjust. Apartheid was at its peak right then in the 60’s and 70’s and no one dared speak out. The thing to do was either leave the country or fight for what you believed in.

Carolyn_b:w copy


It was a strange world where everything was beautiful on the surface but everything hurt underneath. I started to feel the underlying tensions of life there as I got older. Things really heated up as I was doing my three-year Graphic Design diploma in college and there was always this idea that we were leaving the country. This did in fact take place and we had all left by the Spring of 1990.

We love your paintings of bold flora—are you a gardener as well? If so, how does your garden grow?
Yes I’m a very keen gardener. It’s a passion of mine! My mother gave me my own patch of land to take care of when I was a tiny girl.


I planted Sweet Peas, Portulaca, Nasturtiums and Marigolds. Things grew so easily in Africa… now I have a tiny front and back yard filled to the brim with creepers, trees, Perennials and Bamboo. I find it a very rewarding pastime and a serene place for a break on a sunny day. Its a very short growing season here (Toronto, Canada) so we really try to be outside as much as possible during the nicer months. The garden is very conducive to painting, makes for a lovely and inspiring outdoor studio, where I can listen to the birds, breathe in the scent of the Honeysuckle and observe the beautiful yellow Magnolia Tree.


What is your creative process like?
I think it changes and goes through cycles. Lately I’m doing a lot of painting in water-colour and Gouache. I love to play around and find that is when my creativity is heightened and at its best. I draw quite a bit from nature using pen and ink. I think the more I create the better it is but I honestly feel it’s a process, it’s a journey and it’s a learning experiment all the time. I never quite feel, “Yup this is it”… its plain sailing from here! I’m learning as I go along…


What inspires you?
Colour, colour combinations and patterns from all over the world.. Africa, Mexico, India, Belize, Eastern Europe… Flowers, animals, fashion, the city, the country and travel. I love to travel to new places. I think this opens up a whole world of possibilities and new creative experiences which translates into new and wonderful work. Plus, it refreshes your mind and energizes the soul.


What is your most successful piece?
I think the artwork I did for the climbing wall for The Botanic Garden Children’s Center in Cambridge, MA (part of Harvard University) is a successful piece of art on a large scale. It was a hugely challenging idea for me to think of my work in such a large scale environment. The original watercolour painting was roughly 22×12 inches horizontally. The climbing wall mural is approximately 16 x 8 feet across. The artwork had to include fauna and flora from the garden including a Gingko tree, tomatoes, lilies, sunflowers, peas, beans, a squirrel, a bunny, a cardinal and a robin and some more.


On a smaller scale, one of the most challenging and rewarding projects was creating the line of 12 greeting cards for Red Cap Cards. It was kind of like creating work for a commission but it took me longer than I normally work because although we discussed themes, subject matter and style, nothing was definitive. I just had to paint and record my progress to Carrie as I was going along, in the hopes that a collection would arise from that. It sure did, not sure how exactly but I’m so happy with the end result. It truly reflects my style and the freedom of the project and the big input, encouragement and inspiration from a great art director!

Carolyn Gavin

What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting out?
Work hard, never stop learning and don’t give up.


Favorite medium to work in?
Goauche paint and then watercolours.

Do you have a favorite piece that you have created?
I have a few but I think its the Congratulations card for Red Cap. Hands are challenging for me, but this one holding the flower bouquet seems just right. 2nd is the Thanks bouquet on Grey… i love how the colours and flowers are so balanced and harmonious in this one.


Who are your role models, in terms of art or otherwise?
Painters I adore are Matisse, Odilon Redon, Raoul Dufy, Paul Aizpiri, Frida Kahlo, Olaf Hajek, Clementine Hunter. I’m inspired by people like Dame Daphne Sheldrick who has an Elephant Ophanage in Kenya and has devoted her life to raising and reintegrating orphan elephants into the wild. She tirelessly campaigns against the abuse of captive animals and poaching.


If you didn’t work as an artist, what would you hope to be doing?
I’d love to do something with animals or work on a flower farm.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
A new collection of fabrics with Windham Textiles. Its a lot of watercolour flowers, birds, bunnies and butterflies.


Any advice to burgeoning illustrators?
Try to find your own style. It’s so important to define that as soon as you can, then you can work towards refining your style always.

And one we must ask all of our artists: favorite drink.
Rum and coke…and tea.


Photos courtesy Carolyn Gavin & Red Cap Cards.
Follow Carolyn on Instagram, here.