Imagination at play in printmaker’s illustrations

What do Olive Oyl, a fox and the rainforest have in common? 

Those familiar with the work of Encinitas artist Kathi McCord know that these are favorite images often found in McCord’s brilliantly imaginative illustrations.

Known professionally in the world of book illustrators as “Kathleen Garry-McCord,” her enchanting artwork is a visual delight. Her whimsical Arts Alive banner titled “The Magic of Books” is on display near Book Tales in Encinitas, while visitors to the Encinitas Library have the opportunity to view a collection of her illustrative prints through June 10.

Kathi McCord’s Arts Alive banner titled “The Magic of Books” is on display at 625 South Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas.   Photo courtesy of Stephen Whalen Photography

Kathi McCord’s Arts Alive banner titled “The Magic of Books” is on display at 625 South Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Stephen Whalen Photography

Having spent her childhood between New York and Florida, McCord began making woodcuts as a high school student in Miami. Expanding her skills at University of Georgia, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in printmaking and later, a master’s degree in film. McCord has shared her creative and technical expertise as a professor of art and film at Southwestern College and Miramar College for over a decade.

Considering herself a printmaker first and foremost, McCord has had several gallery exhibitions since making San Diego her home in 1971. Her series of politically oriented etchings titled “Toys in Peril,” received praise from local iconic art writer Robert Pincus, who described McCord’s work as “immaculately executed” and added that “the wry tone of them is finely tuned.”

McCord says, “I enjoy playing with art history as an homage, not a spoof, bringing historical imagery into the 21st century.” Her extensive body of work includes titles such as “Liberty Leading the People to Happy Hour,” which depicts French Romantic artist Eugène Delacriox’s “Liberty” sitting with local patrons at a bar in Downtown USA, while the French Revolution explodes outside. McCord is thrilled when viewers understand her historical references.

With a passion not only for art history but also for animals, she comments, “What a terrible place our world would be without animals, so I’m constantly depicting them in my art.”

McCord remains particularly proud of her “Rainforest Project,” which over the course of six months was drawn with graphite as a 6-foot-by-18-foot mural depicting the flora and fauna of the earth’s great rainforests. During a San Diego ArtWalk weekend, she methodically erased a section of the drawing each hour, which corresponded to the amount of rainforest actually being destroyed during that same amount of time. By the end of the two-and-a-half day event, the drawing had completely disappeared. Portions of the project were shown on CNN and local news broadcasts, delivering to the public her poignant message that mindfulness is necessary in managing this valuable and finite resource.

More than thirty years ago a New York artists’ agent on vacation in San Diego discovered McCord’s artwork in a local gallery and enlisted McCord as an illustrator of children’s books. For the following three decades McCord illustrated approximately 50 books, giving her the expertise required to teach her book illustration course at UCSD for more than 20 years.

McCord reflects, “I am finally comfortable with my humor. I always thought people thought I wasn’t a serious artist because some found my work to be funny, which I meant it to be. Add that to being a children’s book illustrator and you tend to get pats on the head.”

However, having recently settled into a new home, complete with a newly built working studio, she says, “Now I’m in Encinitas and I feel free to be me.” McCord says she has found her true home in our community, and we are fortunate that she has joined us here.

McCord’s Arts Alive banner “The Magic of Books,” currently on display at 625 S. Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas, pays homage to libraries and the treasures that they hold. Her banner image captures the moment in which her whimsical creatures open books to release their magical contents for all to enjoy.

Fifteen of McCord’s delightful book illustrations, including collections from “Musical Alphabetland” and “Joy at Mount Rushmore” are on display in the lobby area of the Encinitas Library through June 10.

Kay Colvin is director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, serves as an arts commissioner for the City of Encinitas, and specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists. Contact her at kaycolvin@lstreetfineart.com.

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