Author’s Note: Catherine and I met through the “SupernaturalTFWNC” Facebook group I run, where she started posting some of her amazing diorama art. Then I found out Nightsky at The WFB also knew her, and somehow the idea was hatched that I’d do a holiday story for The WFB that incorporated Catherine’s art. That was so much fun that we did a second story, and then a third (links at the end of the interview). Meanwhile, I invited Catherine to be a guest author in my group and talk about her inspiration for the diorama art concept. That interview, lightly edited, is what follows. I’ve had so much fun working with Catherine on the illustrated stories, and I’m thrilled to share them and this interview on The WFB. I’m certainly looking forward to more stories in the future!
This interview focuses on Catherine’s most recent work creating Supernatural dioramas. Her beautiful portraits of Supernatural and other genre characters is showcased in Bettina Bier’s interview, “Inspired by Supernatural: Drawings by Catcurl”.
SPNFamily Artist Catherine Curl
Interview by Gail Z. Martin
Q: You’ve been kind enough to share your wonderful dioramas and portrait art online for a while now. What is your journey as an artist?
A: I remember drawing Star Wars in school. I always got good grades in art class but didn’t pursue a career in it. I have always been an outsider and lover of scifi/fantasy movies. Portraits is my thing.
(One of many stunning Star Wars portraits showcased in “Inspired by Supernatural: Drawings by Catcurl”)
When my dad got ill when I was young, he took up Hobbytex, which are oil paints in tubes [capped] with ball point tips. It’s a paint by numbers craft sold in kits by a hostess in the ‘70s. I inherited his collection.
Then when I was married, I worked at a video store managed by my then- husband who was also an artist and we did a lot of video promotions that often won us company prizes. We lived near a cinema so we’d do movie promotions, too. After my divorce, I got pretty depressed so I threw myself into my art as therapy. That’s also when I discovered Supernatural. I fell for Sam & Dean pretty hard. I feel I’m at my best when I’m creating art.
Q: How did you choose dioramas and portrait art?
A: I love painting eyes, as they say they’re windows into the soul. As a child, I loved my doll houses. When I was 12 and Star Wars came out, I collected the 12″ dolls, which have become collector items. Now we have Sideshow and Hot Toys for adult collectors.
When I got my Dean doll a couple years back when it was released by QMX, I waited patiently for Sam & Castiel but it didn’t happen. I saw a few creative versions of Sam online and found someone to put a Sam together for me because there’s no Winchester brothers without a Sam. When you search online, sculptured heads from China pop up. Having been a collector, I didn’t want to damage my Dean doll so I learnt to make another doll. Of course, it got addictive. The perfectionist in me wanted a more realistic approach and the Barbie accessories weren’t cutting it any more.
Q: How do you get the figures to look so much like Sam and Dean?
A: QMX released Dean with the characteristics of his bow legs. Some people complain the sculpt doesn’t look like Jensen/Dean but he does in the right angle and lighting. I don’t know the history of the other online sculpts but some like that head sculpt more. I wanted FBI versions too so it’s easier having more than one instead of changing clothes all the time, and the official Dean doll has gotten harder to find and his price appears to have tripled.
Obviously, you have to make sure you get a taller body for Sam to make it work visually. My first couple of goes buying bodies were wrong but will make interesting friends or adversaries. There are so many choices out there of varying colour tones, shapes and budgets.
Q: All the details in your dioramas fascinate me. What’s the process for planning/creating a new tableau?
A: My goal is to make the bunker. My portrait art has taught me a good sense of proportion to scale and I’ve learnt over the years to make things on a budget. There’s nothing you can’t do with cardboard but there’s lots of talented people on Etsy [to buy from instead of making it yourself]. I sometimes get frustrated through researching when I find the perfect thing and discover it’s doll house 1:12 scale and not Barbie 1:6 scale.
3D printing is creating more choices but I’m not very skilled when it comes to all things technical. There is more satisfaction creating things from scratch, but I do have a knack for finding cool things. The drawback from this hobby is increasing postage [costs] and that Covid makes things take longer to get to you. Some of the cheaper places like Wish have the occasional scammer so I intend to stick to Etsy/Ebay. I found another Dean doll in Canada and it took 5 months to get to me!
The trick, of course, is thinking outside the box because you can make things from recycled items. I swear my super power is op shopping (charity/2nd hand store finds). Some people do room boxes but I don’t have a lot of tools or space so my approach is more like a TV set on my dining table so I can chop and change things around or pack it all up when I want to paint the portraits.
My latest delivery often determines a new photo op. Because my Dean doll is a collectable, I haven’t gotten gritty with blood or stuff yet but when I build up a few more outfits, I plan to get more dirty. Sometimes those outfits cost more than real sized clothes. I haven’t even gone near the “designer label” you can find online.
Q: How do you find the clothing and props for the scenes? Do you make them yourself or utilize/repurpose from other sources?
A: I didn’t learn to sew but I have fond memories of my mum making Barbie clothes for me on Christmas. When I did porcelain doll making for a while with my fairy projects, there was a lot of gluing so I don’t make clothes. I hunt down other clever artists on Etsy. One wonderful SPNfamily member online I made friends with made me a few sets of geeky PJs for Dean and bedding for me. Her Dean is living happily with Cas. She’s also made cute T-shirts for them.
On Etsy, I discovered an artist who made Dean’s Samulet and lucky coin as well as making other life-sized props of the horsemen rings.
Another artist who is passionate for mini books created John’s journal among other fandom classics like The Indiana Jones diary, Buffy’s vampire book, Doctor Who’s diary and Fantastic Beasts (which you’ll see in my photos as they’ll be going in my Bunker library). Most recently, I bought a moose beer can from Canada as an in-joke for Sam.
Obviously the show is a great inspiration and I try to find things I’ve seen in there. This week I got a Buffy’s Gentleman accessory of a jar with a heart in it, although I have seen some artists do the same thing (I have been eyeing a jar of eyeballs). I still need to stretch my skills and make more, but you’ll see that [happen] once I get on to making my bunker.
In the works: I’m starting small with creating Dean’s bar as a project. It will take a while, as my process requires lots of procrastination and I get tired a lot. I never learnt to drive so daily travel on two buses is a great time for research, but exhausting on energy levels, especially when having to wear masks now and not having your glasses fog up.
You constantly check online. A doll company releases for a new movie, say a franchise for Marvel that has China making new outfits, and suddenly there are new outfits on Ebay, but I noticed Covid has affected the amount of choices recently. It’s in a constant flux. Sometimes there’s nothing for ages and then something new pops up. Prices fluctuate between sellers so you don’t buy the first thing you see because it might be cheaper further down, or just viewing something might prompt a retailer to offer 5% off.
There are a lot of great artists in Poland and Ukraine when it comes to furniture. Thailand is great for miniature pottery. I’ve started joining online miniature groups and you have anything from hobbyists to miniature movie artisans to learn from or get ideas from.
Q: How long have you been making dioramas? And how long does it take, on average, to create a new scene?
A: I haven’t quite been at it a year yet. Sometimes I feel like an art department for a mini TV show, chopping and changing things around. I bought artist wood pouring boards from work as my set walls. When I started, they were quite blank. Now I have textured printed paper or stickers on them. I’ve worked out that wrapping paper is too thin and fragile, but craft store bargains can work well, like adhesive fabrics. Slowly my props are increasing so things are looking more layered and realistic. The visual storyteller in me is dancing with glee. My recent picnic photo looks so realistic people have told me they thought it was real, so I know I’m improving. I have an artistic eye that tells me what works. I’m not sure if that’s born talent or improved playtime. Maybe a bit of both, LOL.
Q: I’ve always been fascinated with miniatures—doll houses, dioramas, miniature railroads, etc. What are some things that inspired you?
A: Star Wars changed my life – seeing the realism of the special effects. Seeing all the movie magic especially in films like Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner or the artistic brilliance of Labyrinth or Dark Crystal, the many years of magic of Harry Potter and franchises of comic heroes of Marvel and DC. Seeing all those documentaries in movie magazines and on DVD special features. Drooling over art books in a Dymocks bookstore. Then there’s the famous Collen Moore Fairy Castle doll house or Queen Mary’s famous dollhouse. The internet has certainly given access to many more artists online. I’ve always had a love for dollhouses, wishing I’d kept my tin ones that are now retro collector items. Even Barbie was an inspiration with all the accessories you used to be able to get for so many different “career choices.”
Q: Please tell us more about your portrait art. What mediums do you use? How do you choose your subject?
A: It’s all in the eyes for me. Obviously, the better the reference, the better the result. People fascinate me. I’m more of a listener than a talker and feel socially awkward but my best voice is my art. My love for movies is a huge passion so I love painting my favourite actors.
My medium has limits so it’s more difficult doing smaller works. I often do A2 sized art that fits standard sized frames 50 x 70 cm. My oil paints are more drawn onto the Hobbytex fabric which is like a heavy duty fabric stiffener. It’s on a huge roll that I cut off as needed. It’s an Australian product made interstate by a family business. It started out in the late ‘60s and you can buy it online. The US used to have a similar thing called Artex. The only difference was Artex had a three-sided tip and Hobbytex has two-sided tips. The ball tip is like a Biro Ben. Originally they had over 100 colours and you could buy paint by numbers pictures or paint tablecloths, pit holders or grow chats, velvet paintings. Now it’s down to about 20 or so. Some people thin it down and use it in airbrush guns.
I grew up selling patches for jean’s or painting aprons and T-shirts. My dad used to create mini character banners for his favourite football teams. When I inherited it all, I did presents for friends. Then I discovered Supernatural and started painting portraits of the boys. I take photos of the portraits and turn them into greeting cards for birthdays, or create a Christmas card every year. I’ve experimented making handbags and blankets, too.
Q: What’s in your mind as you’re doing your art? Are you thinking about the show or the characters, or solely intent on the piece you’re bringing to life? Is there an overall ‘feel’ you want to convey?
A: I get lost in the process of bringing the image to life. I start with the eyes (one could get lost in Jensen’s eyes!).
(One of the many Supernatural cast/character portraits showcased in “Inspired by Supernatural: Drawings by Catcurl”)
I usually paint the face features first. Getting that right is important. Unlike painting on canvas where you can paint over things, you can’t in this medium. If you get it wrong, there’s not much room for correction. Sometimes you can be a hair’s breath off. I usually paint until I at least have done the whole face. If you leave off and go back to it, it can leave lines. Being oil paint, it can reflect where you left off so it’s best to keep it all the same level. It’s quick drying but you can blend. Sometimes I do the hair background and find it better to add the detail the next day. The background I do last and find it less exciting.
Most of my portraits can be done in a day or two. I stick to this because I have lots of supplies so it keeps the fees down. Sadly, they don’t make all the colours now so I get excited if they occasionally bring back discontinued colours or I find them second hand. They are considered retro paints now and finding them second hand doesn’t always mean they’ll work. Old paints have thickened up and won’t flow but sometime changing the tip can get them working again. This medium has a unique look which I feel gives me a unique appeal. The advantage is I can paint on clothing if I want to. As a painting, you don’t even have to frame it; it doesn’t tear like paper. I did a T-shirt of Commando Arnie (Predator) for a friend over 20 years ago and it still looks great. I’ve made some [items for] photographer friends who’ve kindly given permission to use their photos as reference for a few pieces. For example, Mandi Lea Photography has taken awesome pictures of Jensen and Jared, Jason Manns and Louden Swain. In one particular con photo Mandy took, I fell in love with how Jensen held his hands and wanted to paint it. I just want to capture their essence and reflect back the love and passion they have. Most of the time I get it right.
Q: Are there other mediums you’d like to try or explore? If so, what are they and what calls to you about them?
A: I stick with my oil paints cause it keeps my expenses down. I have a limited budget. I’m not running out to buy canvases all the time. I tried water colours but it’s not for me. I like acrylic painting but it takes way longer. I do want to do more movie style poster art. I so admire Mark Ratts’ artworks or the great Drew Struzan. And, well, I’m addicted to miniatures now! How I’d love to be the Seth Green of Supernatural (not that I have his twisted humour). I’ve always loved cosplay but I’m not visually young and beautiful any more, and my waistline has gotten too thick. I love movie props but you need room and a great work place set up. I do have a thing for boxes. I’d like to create more specialised gift/trinket boxes and experiment more with resins (the endless Supernatural ideas for earnings and jewellery). I also have a love for greeting cards. If only I had the money to pay copyright because I’d love my cards to be legitimate merchandise.
Q: How long have you been a Supernatural fan? What about the show calls to you to spend so much time and effort capturing it in your art?
A: I’m a huge geek and I’d just about watched everything there was to watch scifi/fantasy. When my 20+ year marriage broke down in 2014, I was looking for escapism and distraction. I think I had heard about Supernatural but thought it was a horror show and I don’t like/watch horror. I was cruising the DVD isle of my local department store looking for something new. Supernatural had finished season 10, so after devouring the other seasons on DVD, I was waiting for season 11 to start. I identified with Dean not feeling he was good enough, worthy enough and let’s face it— he’s gorgeous!!! I’m sure people have seen Da Vinci’s line work of perfection against Jensen’s face. I guess the artist in me just finds him beautiful!! Supernatural is my security blanket, my comfort zone. It gives me so much joy and pleasure. No other show compares to its complexity, brilliant acting, writing, visual storytelling. It has everything—humour, romance, adventure, drama, horror. I can’t get enough!!!
Q: Do you do art of other shows/fandoms? If so, which ones? If not, are there any that you’ve thought about?
A: When I wasn’t so passionate about Supernatural, my other love was for Star Wars. My best painting ever was of Obi Wan Kenobi that I did for Steve Sansweet. It’s as close to photo realistic as I’ve ever gotten. I’m a huge geek growing up with Doctor Who, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. My other favourite art piece ever was from Firefly, of Inara. Being an artist, your mood, the weather – it all effects an outcome. Some days it all just comes together perfectly. My Slave Leia was another like that. I need to finish doing all the various Doctor Who and Firefly cast. There’s a desire to do Doctor Strange & Thor & David Tenant’s Crowley and some more Star Wars, and especially Emily Swallow in The Mandalorian.
Q: What’s your next big project?
A: Apart from wanting to build the bunker and maybe telling fan fic stories with it,
I want to build Dean’s bar. More immediate plans include a new art piece for Halloween, my yearly Supernatural Christmas card and generally more portrait art. I’m itching for a new Dean piece generally as I’m having withdrawal due to work reschedules, and there’s a new Jared Walker piece I have in mind to do. I try to tell myself to do one piece a week but that hasn’t been happening this year so much.
Q: Where can people find you and your work online?
A: My technical skills suck and I keep forgetting passwords so I’ve created my Facebook page at least three times, so you can find my general art page under Geeky Art. I have created a group page for Dean doll passion/dioramas under the name “Demons I get, people are crazy.” I do have art on Deviant Art under Eclepticgears but forgotten how to use it. It’s easier to see my work on Instagram under Catherine.curl or you can find me on twitter @catcurl with my current profile art as Soldier Boy.
Q: Thank you so much for joining us! We love to see your work, so please keep posting!
A: Oh, I will! As long as I still have breath, I’ll be painting Jensen. My love for Supernatural will never die and I’m having so much fun creating miniature dioramas!!!
Interview by Gail Z. Martin. Edited and Illustrated by Gail Z. Martin and Nightsky.
Browse Catcurl’s oil painting gallery in “Inspired by Supernatural: Drawings by Catcurl”.
Immerse yourself in Sam and Dean’s world with original stories written by Gail Z. Martin, illustrated with Catcurl’s diorama scenes:
|Another Auld Lang Syne: Sam & Dean’s New Year’s Eve|
|Slay Belles: A Supernatural Christmas Story|
|Amethyst Dreams: A Supernatural Hunt|
|Just Another Weekend in the Bunker|
Enjoy more Supernatural art and stories of fans who have been “Inspired by Supernatural” in WFB’s “Lighter Side” articles!