Featured Artist: Cate Francis


Cate Francis is a printmaker and illustrator from Saskatoon Saskatchewan, she obtained a BFA from the University of Saskatchewan in 2008. In 2012 she received a of a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier grant to pursue an MFA at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design which she completed in the spring of 2014. She has shown work in galleries across Canada and the US. Her work has been published in local and national publications including Applied Arts, Grain Magazine, and the Antigonish Review. Currently she is chief conservation officer of the Paper Wildlife Conservancy, and printmaking instructor at Creative Commons YXE. In addition to her personal art practise Cate also works as an award winning freelance illustrator for numerous clients in the Canadian arts and entertainment industry.


Canis latrans no. J–7, Screenprint on Shoji, wheatpasted, 2016 Photo: Skot Hamilton.

born: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

BFA University of Saskatchewan
MFA Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
Prairie Horticulture Certificate – University of Saskatchewan

awards: SSHRC Joseph Armand
Bombardier 2012. Boston Print Biennial
2013 – Blick Juror Prize

favourite artists: Many of my favorites are muralists and street artists such as ROA and BLU, or illustrators such as Moebius and painters like Walton Ford. I do; however, have a favorite genre of “artist” in historical medical and naturalist illustrators for early scientific publications—particularly those from about 1600–1900. So many of these illustrators were also master printmakers and many went uncredited.

favourite book: I would have to say that William Gibson is my favourite fiction author as I have been actively collecting and reading him since highschool and he just keeps getting smarter with his approach to sci-fi. For non-fiction, lately I’ve been pretty into Eugene Thracker.

favourite films: It’s been a tie between The Thing and Videodrome for a long time. Early John Carpenter and David Cronenberg movies have a real texture to them.

favourite albums: Depends. Just based on sheer number of plays consistently for the last 15 years I guess it would be Flow by Foetus, unless it’s the month of October, then it’s Roky Erickson’s The Evil One. I cycle through albums I am enamoured with, but the music I want to listen to is all about context…and the weather.

music playing while printmaking: I have different playlists depending on where I am in the process. If I am drawing and doing color separations, usually something slower, more low key, like what I play on my radio show (postpunk, triphop, shoegaze, or doom metal). But when I am printing, due to the speed at which my inks dry into the screens, it has to be quick and consistent, so I’ll usually opt for the faster on-beat tempo of the heavier stuff such as noise rock or black metal, or dancier stuff. For a while I found the best album for keeping pace was Blackjazz by the band Shining.

Saskatoon and Edmonton share a river, so it was easy for me to relate to Cate Francis’s attachment to her hometown Saskatoon, especially when she talks about the river trails, the plants and wildlife. Francis is a printmaker whose day job as a horticulturalist with the city’s parks department allows her to encounter wildlife, and her city, close up. Saskatoon and its urban wildlife—both real and those she re-imagines as prints—are the focus of her Paper Wildlife Conservancy (PWC) project. She jokingly describes PWC as “a printmaking and breeding program” or “habitat installation.” The project blurs the boundary between urban wildlife and public art.”

“I wanted to improve the ecology of the city’s street art,” says Francis. “I’d install a numbered ID tag and the date installed as a kind of parody of a wildlife conservation organization with printmaking-like cloning.”

Negotiating installation sites for the prints was a time-consuming task and Francis distributed hundreds of permission letters and met with property and business owners. She spent an average of six-hoursa- day for six weeks prepping the project, which included drawing, inking, printing and cutting the animals. The animals were printed to life-size scale (except for the leopard frogs which were twice the normal size). There is a narrative to the installations, for example, a coyote jumping on a rabbit. Francis screen printed blackand- white images onto Japanese choji paper and applied the animals to Saskatoon urban surfaces—walls of businesses and organizations, street posts—using street artists’ wheat paste recipe: flour, water, and a small amount of cornstarch and white glue. As in chine colle, the surface under the image shows through.

Installation times varied depending on weather, the size of the print and type of surface. Installation on brick was the most time-consuming as she had to cut and adhere the print around individual brick edges. Average installation time was approximately 1.5 hours. Francis installed some 200 prints of wildlife throughout Saskatoon and they are surviving — only five have needed repairs and approximately 30 per cent have “disappeared.”

Cate Francis takes me on a skype tour of the basement studio of the home she shares with her husband, two pugs, a snake and a turtle. She pans her computer over an eclectic mélange of mannequin legs, rock collections—black rocks gathered on Nova Scotia’s Lawrencetown beach—a bovine skull, a leafy branch, and, though she is not a supporter of the hunting industry, some vintage taxidermy: a pheasant, a crow, a goose and a duck. “They’re gorgeous. I try to preserve them,” says Francis. She has always been interested in nature and animals. In fact, when choosing a path for herself it was a toss up between biology, veterinary studies and art. Francis uses art to highlight Saskatoon’s urban prairie ecosystem. “People tend to think of the prairies as just empty, and they’re not. It’s a big, open space, but you can drill down. It’s not just a big resource pool—there’s an ecology to be preserved.”

She would like to do more large murals in Saskatoon and take her PWC project to other cities. Francis exhibits with artist Iris Hauser in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in fall 2018.

When did you begin printmaking and what drew you to it? I started print in my first year as an undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan. Initially [what drew me to printmaking was] the ability to combine the communicative and graphic nature of illustration with more subtlety and texture than those graphic forms generally allow for. I use photoshop in my process, but always find the look of my work as a digital print flat and unsatisfying.

How does music influence your work? While I am working on personal work, I mainly use music to carve out a certain mental space in which to think and feel out ideas. During these times, I prefer there to be less lyrical content, since I often generate ideas by taking an initial concept, then trying to define it by losing myself in rabbit holes of research surrounding a topic. Then, during the actual execution of the work, it becomes a way to zone out in a drawing or dull my awareness of the fact that my legs have fallen asleep while I am inking or to keep a fast pace while printing with time sensitive materials. Basically, with the artwork music rarely factors into the concept. With illustration, though, it is the opposite, as the bulk of my commissioned work has been for clients in the music industry. With these types of jobs, obviously, the content I am illustrating for dictates the direction of the work, and I have been fortunate to primarily have clients that offer a general concept and trust me to do their work justice. Broadly doing commission work for bands has made me a better artist. Since what I produce is entirely in service to the music, I feel freer to use a broader array of tools both in terms of medium and content than I do when creating my own work. Sometimes in working on a commission, I discover some new way of using a medium or communicating a visual idea that directly solves a problem or block in my personal practice.

How has working and living on the prairies, specifically, Saskatoon— an iconic prairie city—inspired your art? I would say it is primarily the environment that influences my work. The wide-open spaces encourage me to zero in on the more hidden complexities of the ecosystem. The Paper Wildlife Conservancy project was created as a direct response to the realization that my sense of place and home is deeply tied to the prairies. I have worked in the horticultural/arboriculture field since I was 12, and I grew up learning the names and cultural requirements of the plants around me. This interest in the natural world naturally extended to insects and animal life as well. The familiarity with the sights and sounds of the Saskatchewan ecosystem is how I contextualize my sense of place. I never really realized just how deep this connection was for me until I moved to Nova Scotia where the trees and birdsong are familiar but also completely different. Exciting to explore, certainly, but I never developed a connection to the landscape that really felt like home.

What printmaking processes are you drawn to and why? I primarily work as a screen printer. I think in layers and love how flexible I can be within the process, like adding elements and layers, so it’s a natural fit. I usually combine this with chine colle… more layers! I also love etching, but find it much more constraining. My goal is to get into the habit of pulling one edition per week when I have more regular studio time this winter.

What project(s) are you currently working on and what are the connections to nature and the outdoors? My public art project, the Paper Wildlife Conservancy is still running. I am in the process of logging and removing damaged placements and compiling all the data and images for the project’s final home on the web. It has been a fun and informative project. I intend to continue working under the moniker on some larger murals in the future.

Connected to this project is a series of prints “Excerpts from the collection of the paper wildlife conservancy,” reflecting on my personal experiences when interacting with the local wildlife on the prairies, funny stories or the ways the local ecosystem has shaped my idea of home and place. This work is on tour until 2020 around the province, along with a field guide that invites viewers to submit their own stories and experiences with the local flora and fauna. Hopefully some of these can make it onto the PWC website in the future.

In addition to this body of work I am prepping for a two-person show with Iris Hauser in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, next year.

Is there a daily work routine that you follow? Depends on the time of year and how many jobs I am working at the time! Deadlines are my best friend. I do have a day job working for the parks department, in addition to teaching workshops and giving demonstrations regularly. It’s easy to get involved in all sorts of work when there are so many awesome things happening in the community that I love being involved with. But because my art process tends to be quite labor intensive and time consuming, I try to combat overfilling my schedule by always having a studio-based project or two with hard deadlines in the calendar. That way, no matter how much I want to get distracted by other events in the community, I have to get into the studio daily, or at least for the weekends, in order to keep up. Though I would never recommend this to anyone, I find I work best with periods of really intense focus where I can spend a week doing 18-hoursa- day in the studio to get an edition done, start to finish. That’s my favorite way to work, but it isn’t sustainable, physically or socially, so I normally only have the luxury to work this way a few weeks a year.

What is your favourite Saskatoon bridge? I bike down the university bridge every morning on my commute, and the city let me install some Paper Wildlife Conservancy geese on it last summer, which are intended as a homage to the actual flock that loiters at the north end of the bridge tormenting families and joggers.

What are your other interests (besides printmaking)? The things that take up the rest of my non-art hours include horticulture, dogs, hiking the riverbank, growing stuff and kickboxing.

Saskatoon has a vibrant arts/music scene—how has that environment nurtured your art? The community here is in a lot of ways small, but big for the size of the city. And it has always been supportive of my work. The size is such that there is a significant crossover between the arts and music scenes— many people have a hand in both. But it is also a large and engaged enough arts community to allow for new projects and collectives to spring up and carve out little isolated niches.