If you’ve happen to frequent some of the local hangouts in downtown Chico, you’ve probably seen paintings by local artist Caitlin Schwerin. I met up with her last week to chat about her work. She lives down a small gravel road in a short row of houses with picket fences and no sidewalks. The grass in her yard is bright green and overgrown. Cats roam free and a distant rooster makes an afternoon call.
She leads me to her studio in the back. A very small rectangular space stacked with canvases and wood, finished and unfinished paintings. As you would expect, she has fragments of pictures and notes taped to the wall. Her paints and brushes create a tidy little mess on one end of a work counter and in the middle is a painting she’s working on. It’s a “treeple”. Half tree half person, a kind of mod looking lady with a puffy orange fro and long thin legs. Schwerin smiles as she blends color into the tree fro. I ask her to categorize her style. She says “I like the phrase ‘serious whimsy’.” She explains that while all her imagery is whimsical, she approaches every painting with “all seriousness”. She reminisces about attending Chico State, and receiving criticism from her professors for being too “commercial” and “lighthearted”, but she says, “that’s just what comes out.”
There is a simplicity to her imagery that is balanced by her depth of color. She layers and blends colors and mixes acrylics and oil paints. She talks freely and relaxed as she continues to paint, showing her experience and confidence in her process and techniques. We talk about her polka-dots (a by-product of staring and the end of toilet paper rolls) and landscapes. She admits she paints birds when she is sad and that creating these paintings offers her an opportunity to construct some order out of the chaos in her head.
I ask her if this is her only job, and to my surprise, she says yes. Caitlin Schwerin is a working artist, completely making her way on the sales of her artwork. I ask her how she does it, and she says she doesn’t really know, “I’ve been doing this a long time.”