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Q&A with Caitlin Keegan

Illustrator, graphic designer, writer/researcher

My name is Caitlin Keegan and I’m an illustrator, graphic designer, and sometimes-writer/researcher. I created a tarot and playing card deck called The Illuminated Tarot and I’ve illustrated books and products for publishers like Abrams, Storey, Workman, and Chronicle Books. Before going freelance I was a designer in the Creative Services department at Sesame Workshop where I worked on licensing and product development. Before that, I was a designer for Nickelodeon Magazine. I went to school for illustration and was always illustrating and making artwork in my free time, and finally made the leap to full-time freelancing in 2013.

I’ve developed a strong interest in mythology, religion, symbols, and archetypes through working on the tarot deck and that interest has been informing a lot of my recent work. A love of pattern and decoration is another thread that has run through every phase of my career so far.

Tell me about your Dreamer's Journal. Was this book inspired by your own dreams?

Dreamer’s Journal is a guided journal and illustrated dream dictionary that will be published by Clarkson Potter in the spring. The inspiration for the book came out of my tarot research. Dream symbols felt like the logical next thing to learn about because there is so much overlap between the two. I’m interested in what we can learn about ourselves through interpreting images, and tarot and dream interpretation are both perfect vehicles for this. Visual symbols connect us to one another, manifest in dreams and art, and then influence the art we make—it’s an endless cycle. We connect with images in very personal ways and on a cultural level that we don’t always consciously notice. Dreamer’s Journal is a tool to help unravel all of that.

As a freelancer, what tools help you to organize your projects? Do you prefer analogue or digital tools like PC software or apps on your phone?

I don’t use any apps or digital tools, but I do have designated notebooks for projects. I like the larger softcover Moleskine (or Moleskine knockoff) blank notebooks that come in packs of three and have a folder in the back. When I have an idea for a project, I start a new notebook. That way if a new thought, inspiration, or reference pops up in connection to that project, I already have a dedicated place for it. If I’m not sure what to work on next I can always go back through the notebooks and find something to build on.

What places inspire you in Brooklyn - to discuss work with your clients, think over projects, or just relax?

My favorite thing about living in NYC is being able to walk almost everywhere. Walking is my favorite exercise, meditation technique, inspiration source, and mode of transportation. Lately I’ve been visiting Green-Wood Cemetery a lot since I live and work very close to it. It’s a beautiful place and there’s so much history there that it seems impossible to know it all—that feels inspiring somehow. All the famous and infamous New Yorkers are buried in there: Basquiat, Boss Tweed, the guy who invented the sewing machine, the guy who took credit for inventing the sewing machine, Leonard Bernstein—plus a few beloved dogs. There is a wild parrot nest in the entryway. I’m always noticing new details on familiar routes and it’s very easy to get lost in there.

After more than 5 years of freelance experience, do you have any tips how to get rid of procrastination?

A little bit of procrastination is okay. I think the key is to make it work for you whenever possible—for example, procrastinating on one project by starting another one.

Could you name any pitfalls of freelancing?

“When it rains, it pours” but sometimes there are droughts.

Who are your colleagues in NY, whose work do you follow?

My workspace is in my apartment so I don’t have colleagues that I see every day but I have a few trusted friends that I run ideas by every once in a while: my sister Sian Keegan who is a surface pattern and apparel designer, my friend Jesse Ragan who is a typeface designer, and designer/art director friends Kathleen Losche and Jess Rosenkranz. I’ve been lucky to work with some great editors and art directors too—most recently, Sara Neville and Danielle Deschenes at Clarkson Potter who really helped shape Dreamer’s Journal into something that is engaging, useful, and beautiful.