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Classic Fables Get a Colorful Twist in Caitlin McDonagh’s Illustrations

These gilded illustrations tell us about a playful and surreal world.
Protectors. All images courtesy the artist

With unabashed color and closely blended forms, the parables of yesterday see a new bit of light in a series of finely-wrought illustrations rooted in themes of folklore and tradition. Creaturs of a bygone fiction era get enhanced in a new version of reality. British Columbia artist Caitlin McDonagh incorporates creatures from fables, upgrading human characters and breathing life into animal avatars straight from a storybook.


Following along the themes of storytelling, an undercurrent of religious imagery is woven throughout. The visual artist drapes her avatars in silken robes, headdresses, and rounds them with halos of moonlight, flora, and higher-power light. A bursting palette of color and unique patterns pulls the faith-based illustrations into a surreal and playful world.

McDonagh explores dualities in her art and "looks to find the balance of all things—Life/Death, Day/Night, Good/Evil and everything in between." She describes her style, "I like to create wordless narratives that evoke mystery, are open for interpretation, as well as exploring their own storylines." The artist, who counts Hieronymous Bosch and René Magritte as favorites, notes the many artistic and environmental inspirations in her life, "most of my inspiration comes from color, Renaissance art, surrealism, architecture—specifically facades, ornate details, the shapes and interiors of cathedrals and religious buildings. Costumes, folklore and traditions from different cultures flood me with inspirations, too. "

McDonagh's complex, watercolor-esque pieces keep the imagination alive, unafraid to meditate on the fantasy and the fateful workings of the universe. Take a look at a few of the artist's works below:

Better Than One

In The Center

In the Grasses

The Juggler

The Mountain

The artist tells The Creators Project about a large change in her artistic career: discovering acrylagouache paint. She says, "About four or so years ago I fell in love with Holbein acrylagouache paint. I had tried out various mediums and wasn’t really finding what I was looking for. Using an acrylic-gouache hybrid was a like a breath of fresh air—it gave me the elements of acrylic paint that I enjoy while keeping the fun and delicate aspects of watercolors or gouache that I love."


The artist is developing an accordion-folding zine with Valley Cruise Press, soon to show in the Québec City Biennial, and diving into creating larger pieces while retaining her love for fine detail.

Worlds In Worlds

Thoughts Like Patchwork


The Frolicking

To view more of Caitlin McDonagh's artwork, head on over to her Instagram account, here, and her website, here.


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