Backlog: Interview with Cate Webb

Cate Webb and I talked concrete skin, Aubrey Beardsley and skill versus style.

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Cate Webb is a tattoo artist and illustrator in Vancouver, Canada. Her work is primarily focused on the horror hidden in plain site.

I hear you’re opening a shop centered around hand-poked tattoo. I also
noticed that you mostly do line-work. I was wondering if that holds a specific
appeal for you or if it’s just really difficult to shade in this way?

Oh you can totally shade with hand-poked, you can do like cray realistic stuff. I
think that a lot of my work specifically is just line focused because my drawings
are. I think I’ve just been really timid in the last little while, now I’m getting more
confidence because I’m doing it more. Like I’m really inspired by Aubrey
Beardsly and a lot of art nuveau stuff. It’s really simple, just like very minimal
and you’re getting the basic essential parts of the figure or the composition. And
so like I think that’s what I was trying to do with the tattoos. I still want to get into
more complex pieces and I’m really pushing for those. I’ve done a few of them
but like I feel like with lines you get this sort of ghosty kind of effect and it’s really
like, I don’t know, ethereal? But I can do shading, I’m just learning to get more
comfortable with it, learning how to do greywash.

After all this time do you appreciate line-work more?

I think yeah, I’m a little nervous just because it’s not like drawing, you can’t make

One of my favorite pieces of yours is called, ‘Gemini’ and features two
greyhounds looking up. Your paintings and illustrations are beautiful.

I don’t have that. It’s really sad when I sell them and I wish they were still around
but they’re like gone sooo… that’s kind of a bummer. I was actually at a
halloween party this year at this house that I didn’t think this person still lived at
and uh I looked over and saw a painting I did like four years ago. I went over to it
and I was like, “ holy shit! I forgot about that painting. But ahhh I could have
fixed that” and I was like picking it apart. “Wait I’m at a party, like what am I

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How is it to tattoo people? Do they differ in any way?

Not a lot of people realize that some people just like have skin that’s like “I don’t
want that, get that out of me.” For me like starting off doing it, when I would come across those people I would start off somewhere simple like their arm. It should stay but then like I’d see them again and they’d need a touch-up and it would just be like gone. I was
always like “what did I do wrong!?” But it happens, it’s super weird.

See because hand-poked is such a great medium, I wish I could have some
but I just can’t.

Yeah, you know, this job has taught me a lot. I actually have a guest artist from
Toronto staying with me. We were talking about skin and it’s so nice to talk about
skin with somebody who gets it. It’s just so like, skin is like weird, everybody has
such different skin. Like the skin on the inside of your arm should be soft but I’ve
tattooed some people who have like concrete for skin there. It like bent my
needle and I was like “what the hell?” And then I have to get a new needle and it’s
like oh my god this never happens, this is weird. But yeah, skin is very weird.

Once you tattoo a lot of people do you realize how different people are? People down to every little thing are so different, it’s really weird. I also wanted to ask, are you yourself Canadian. Did you grow up in Canada?

So it’s like B.C. is the province and I live on Vancouver island in the capital city of
Victoria. So we’re like a little island, a little Pacific NorthWest island, it’s pretty

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What would you say your connection to bodies is? Your line of work has
more to do with human bodies than most and even in your painting you
often feature a lot of bodies.

Yeah! I’m like obsessed with bodies. Like the form and figure of things. Like
animals and people and how they interact with each other. I like to paint a lot of
people with animals and show their relationship. Because I don’t know, ever
since I was a little kid that’s all I wanted to draw, like people and animals. I
remember being in school and trying to do abstract stuff and just being like “I
can’t get my head around this.”

I also wanted to ask you if you see a difference between your art of the past
and now? I notice you do more painting that drawing now.

Painting is incredibly hard, I love drawing and it’s my comfort zone. Turning my
drawings into paintings is like… I don’t know. Paintings a whole different bag.
Like, you’re accessing skills that you don’t use for drawing. I feel like painting is something you have to constantly work on. For me drawing or painting everyday, or almost everyday, you start to see the improvements. They might be really minor at first but they get bigger. My drawings now compared to the ones from this time last year are immensely better. Fuck, I feel bad for those people that got my old drawings.

Do you feel that relying on style rather than skill is lazy? Should artists take
art classes?

It’s funny because I was talking to the artist who’s staying with me now. He’s like
a human photo copier. He does these beautiful, hyper-realistic pointillism
drawings for his tattoos but he doesn’t feel like he has any style. He wants that
illustrative style but doesn’t know how to get that. I don’t know, like I kind of
know but for me I did it in one way but it might be different for other people. I’ve
turned him onto Aubrey Beardsly and he’s obsessed.

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Would you agree that style comes from some sort of imitation? Faking it
until you make it?

I agree and disagree with that quote, I think like for myself I’m mostly a
self-taught artist. Like, my mom was really into art she just never really did it as a
kid. My mom always had these big art books and I would look through them and
see the artist that I liked. And I would try to draw their paintings like just to see if
I could do it and that kind of thing. I think I also read somewhere that like Picasso
was a fucking savant and that guy could draw a hyper realistic portrait of
somebody. So it’s like when I learned that then I saw what he did later in life, as a
kid something clicked in my head. It’s like you just gotta like learn how to draw
things, and they don’t even necessarily have to be like perfect stuff but you just
gotta learn the like math behind a drawing. It’s all just magic after that, you’ll
never forget those after you know them. Then you can do whatever the fuck you
want. You can draw a person, but it doesn’t have to be this perfect person it could
be like super elongated. When I discovered Egon Schiele my mind was cracked
wide open.
So a lot of people tell me that they can see my influences in my work and that’s
like okay, I think when it’s like direct copying, without the learning part that’s
when it’s like… So it’s like through your influences you develop your style.
Because you’re learning how to draw and how you like to draw which is like, the
best part about drawing.
I think we live in a really cool time too where art is whatever you want it to be.
Art is many different things, so like having a more graphic, illustrative, kind of
cartoony style is just totally accepted. Whereas in the past it wasn’t as widely
accepted, like it was considered low brow.
People tend to think it’s lazy but you can tell when people know what they’re
doing. It’s not that they don’t know how to make something look realistic.
Illustration is an ever growing community that’s full of people just trying to get
themselves out there. It’s not even about money or fame it’s more just like
connecting with people.

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Cate’s work can be found at or on her instagram @Catewebb


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