Cait McEniff has perfectly encapsulated Leeds in this issue’s front cover. It is testament to her stunning style, which seamlessly blends intelligent observations with a childlike curiosity. Meg Firth talks to Cait about developing her style, people-watching and her huge collection of journals.
Leeds is a place full of characters; from the wolfman to Stevie the dog, the city is brimming with stories untold. Life in Leeds inspires illustrator Cait McEniff, who moved to the city recently to start her degree in Illustration at Leeds Arts University: “There are so many kooky characters in Leeds; it’s a big friendly melting pot of interestingness,” Cait tells me as we sit down for a cuppa at Hyde Park Book Club. “I’m fascinated by drawing as a means of storytelling and Leeds is a great place to indulge in that.”
Cait’s observational art has the ability to immerse you in a warmer, more simple world. Through her signature style of wonky characters, soft shading and subtly blended tones, Cait’s coloured pencil drawings transport you into gentle soft atmospheres. People with tiny heads and chunky bodies populate her art in a style that is refreshingly carefree. It is void of any ego, and in turn, captures a childlike innocence. “Art in school is very much about drawing realistically,” Cait explains. “When I left, I wanted to go back to drawing like a kid again. Just to tap into that wonkiness really and be as playful as I can, and try and get back into that childhood curiosity.”
Combining childlike naivety with a sentimental awareness, Cait’s sketches instantly bring a smile to your face. Honing in on a single contemplative gaze or a nonchalant passerby, Cait is able to convey a plethora of emotion through the smallest and gentlest of marks. It’s no surprise that she spends a lot of time people-watching. “I’m people-watching all the time!”, Cait admits. “I know it’s bad, but I just love listening to people’s conversations; I just find it fascinating. You never know what’s going on in people’s lives.”
Always with a sketchbook on her, Cait fills her pages with little observations that she makes while watching others go about their day-to-day. “Everything’s always moving, so there’s something charming about capturing that in wonky wobbly lines,” Cait muses, who also likes to capture moments with film photography. “I think there’s real value in both and having a different way of making memories tangible is something really beautiful!”
In an increasingly digital age, Cait’s use of colouring pencils and a sketchbook is refreshing. “I just love the tactile-ness of having a physical and tangible thing that holds it all,” explains Cait, who started a project when she was 16 to do a journal a month: “Looking back they’re so cringey,” laughs Cait. “It’s nice to keep but hard to look back at; it’s nice to see that progression and have a shelf of things you’ve made.”
Originally from Warrington (“the shit bit in between Liverpool and Manchester”), Cait studied an Art Foundation at Manchester School of Art before deciding to move to Leeds for University. Cait was slightly hesitant at first about going to study art is “so glad” she did. “It’s just like primary school but harder,” laughs Cait, talking about how she loves the freedom of the course. “The tutors just support everything you want to do and there’s a real drive to just be joyful with it. One of my tutors, Matt, always says: ‘dance then stance’, which I think is a great little nugget. It’s the idea of trying not to have an end image in your mind and just enjoying the process of playing and having fun with it. It’s such a privilege to be able to do what you love so I think there’s a duty there to have as much fun with it as possible.”
Next time you’ve got a spare 10 minutes in between chores, take a page out of Cait’s book. It’s easy to let the stresses of our lives consume us to the point where we don’t take the time to look up and breathe it all in. There’s a purity and goodness to be seen in day-to-day life - even in the sad bits - and Cait McEniffs sketches remind us of that.
Words by Meg Firth