Cathy Conner Brings Pastry Skills To Decorative Arts

ART + CULTURE | BY | April 14, 2018
Conner paints at one of the long work tables in her studio.
Conner paints at one of the long work tables in her studio.

hether working with plaster or ganache, decorative painter Cathy Conner knows her way around a spatula. At her Seattle-based Studio C, Conner has adapted skills from her former life as a pastry chef, becoming the go-to expert for decorative surfaces. Think delicate Chinoiserie murals, or gilded gesso reliefs. “For me, the process is intertwined,” says Conner. “It’s still about creating interesting compositions with the material.” We chatted with the decor pro about finding inspiration in her favorite things–edible or otherwise.

My three-step creative process consists of…

I start with an idea, then a recipe, then it’s test, test, test. I have to have in my mind what I’m going for so I can start playing with materials. But I will probably change the recipe as I test. I’m always trying to come up with something new.

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

I just start looking. I go to a museum, or read through a design magazine. You can get so many ideas. Seeing a beautiful pattern or color composition — even a glimpse of something — gets me excited. It’s like candy.

The piece that turned out differently than expected:

Every install is different. If they always came out as expected, then we would be failing. One that does come to mind was a gilded burlap install that was tough to execute and impossible to hang. I think the wallpaper hanger and I both lost a few pounds on that one.

Most treasured project:

Definitely the painted back and gilded burlap murals we did for the Nell Thorn restaurant in La Conner, Washington. Another one was a full-scale bas relief for a Florida install. It was our first time using that technique, and we fell in love with both the process and results.

Last ridiculous Google search?

We were asked to do some antique mirrors and glass. We Googled and found an antique mirror kit and instructions. This was so corny. We never thought it would work out, but it came out well.

Do you have a muse?

The decorative painter Pierre Finkelstein, because he is so good and tough. Then the artist and designer Miriam Ellner, because she has accomplished so much. Her work is beautiful and she is generous with her techniques. On the culinary side, it’s Shirley Collins of Sur La Table. She has the best eye and the best wit.

Tell us your favorite family tradition and what makes it so special.

As a family we make wine together, about four barrels each year in my garage. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. It pulls the neighborhood together. We hold a big event to invite people to help us called the driveway dinner party. We all bottle the wine, then set up a thirty-foot long table down the drive and sit down on wine cases for a lovely meal.

What was the last thing you personally cooked in your kitchen? How did it turn out?

I still bake a lot. The last big recipe I made was what I call the infinity cake, because it had 20 pages of instructions. It was an almond cake, enrobed in a chocolate merengue, then it had a layer of ganache inserted in a really tricky manner. You have to layer it in a particular way to create these lovely striations.


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