By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Filling blank walls has become Cathi O”Toole's passion. Give her the challenge of creating a memorable mural, and she will put her talents to the task.
“I love doing things that have life in them; birds, people, animals and plants,” said the Shrewsbury artist.
She remembers as a small child adoring anything to do with art. Her favorite gifts were paints, drawing or coloring paper, easels and water colors. As she grew up, she added acrylics, pastels, colored markers, artist brushes and pens and special inks to her Christmas wish list. No mere crayons for her.
In high school, O”Toole spent all of her time in the art room. One of her art teachers once told her, “Even if I gave you the whole wall, I don's think you could fit everything you want to draw on it.”
That gave her the inspiration to do just that by filling walls with her artwork. She helped with sets for the drama department's high school plays.
She attended Fanning Trade School in Worcester, where she earned a degree in commercial art. To this day, she continues to take art courses and lessons whenever she can either through the Worcester Art Museum or private instructors. Some of the subjects she has explored include water colors, nude model classes, and lighting. One of her favorite topics was negative space, which taught her much about depth.
Her first mural was done for a client in Clinton, and took her two months to complete.? Then she did a series of panels featuring different seasons, for a restaurant in Worcester.? Another large mural in a private home depicts a series of six waiters and a headwaiter all carrying trays of glasses and bottles of wine, favored by the lady of the house. The headwaiter has a rose in his mouth and a bottle of expensive French champagne. To add humor to the scene, the family dog is also dressed in a tuxedo, and he gets to carry a bottle of Jack Daniels, the master's preferred drink.
One of her favorite murals was done in a log cabin. The 10-foot-by-12-foot scene was done in exchange for a motor for her truck. She woodburned a whole scene with its own log cabin, a forest of pine trees, a life size deer and a bounding rabbit and then furnished the wood mural with color.
“I do a lot of children's rooms. Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George, farm and beach scenes; whatever the owner wants. I create something that's fun and whimsical,” O”Toole explained. “It's a very collaborative process.”
She works with the client's ideas and can sense what suits a particular person. Because she uses acrylic paint, she can easily make changes. The final result is an original, creative wall space full of new life that reflects the shared vision of both the owner and the artist.
The public can view one of her works at a Northborough farm stand. The scene on the front wall of the store has farm animals, a tractor, buildings and pumpkins in bright colors that liven up the big space over the front doors.
Humor and fantasy play an important role in her work. She uses a trompe l'seil technique that involves extremely realistic imagery in order to create an optical illusion that makes the depicted objects appear in three dimensions. No corners look like corners. Plants grow to the ceiling. Walls have faux finishes to create magical spaces. Statues and people look three-dimensional, but are all part of the flat wall.
Besides murals, O”Toole paints toy chests, stools, shelves and just about anything else.? She also sews elaborate costumes, designs shadow boxes for weddings and showers, and creates centerpieces for special occasions. With her flair and imagination, this artist has more than fulfilled her teacher's prophesy of never having enough walls to contain all the things she wants to draw.