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Datebook: Artist Makes A Splash In 'Drawn To The Water'

Artist Cathy Engberg celebrates life’s simple, everyday moments.  

In her paintings, Engberg takes viewers by the pool or close to the sea. She hopes those who gaze at her works can hear the roar of the surf, the splash of water, wet feet running, slapping against the pavement, and peals of children’s laughter. 

The Peoria-based painter’s works are currently on display at the McLean County Arts Centerin downtown Bloomington in an exhibition entitled, “Drawn to the Water.” It’s up through Oct. 9. 

Balancing realism with abstraction, Engberg revealed she’s inspired by many things, but the way light falls on a subject most often has her reaching for her paint brush. The artist looks for the contrast and the shadows that light creates. She also searches for colors and shapes that are unexpected. But most of all, Engberg likes to paint happy, high-spirited moments from everyday life. 

“The beach is the perfect place to find sun shadows and people having fun,” she explained. “People being happy, people having fun--it’s not very often that you're at the beach and people aren’t happy.” 

To create a narrative of fun in her paintings, Engberg relies on photos.

tubers in paintings
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Totally tubular, dude! Engberg highlights fun at the beach with a trio of tuber paintings.


“In order to capture movement, I stop action in a photo.  I take a lot of photos, but they aren’t great photos. I don’t compose the composition in the camera; I just take tons of photos and put them in Photoshop and then spend a lot of time cropping and combining.” 

The mood is an important part of her work, she said. 

“It’s the feeling. Maybe to spark somebody’s memory of how they felt in something that they experienced," she said. "I like that and I like texture. I like to play with the texture and the mood. I’m thinking of a lot of different things when I’m doing the work. It’s not just the composition, it’s how the surface looks.” 

Engberg employs a cold wax medium in her paintings. Mixing the cold wax into oil paints results in a beeswax consistency that gives the paint texture and body. 

“I like to paint in thin layers,’ Engberg revealed. “Starting with brighter colors and covering those up. And then I’ll scratch in to reveal previous layers of color.  I’ll either use a solvent or scratching to do this. It all depends on how dry your paint is and how long you leave the solvent on as to what will happen. 

painting of swimmer
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Utilizing a cold wax with her oil paints, Engberg achieves great texture and a sense of movement. This is called "Flip."

  “They’re unexpected results, which I love. You never know what's going to happen.” 

Engberg’s works in “Drawn to the Water” hang alongside a collection of pastels from artist Mandy Roeing, who also explores the seaside in her works.  

“They’re just so different,” Engberg exclaimed. “She has the beautiful seascapes that are just so elegant. And mine are just people jumping and doing crazy things. They complement each other well because they’re so different. I think it’s just a really good combination.” 

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.