How to Use caricature to remember a loved one

Using Caricature to Remember a Loved One

Every now and again I get smacked in the head with a really good idea. Wow that was really visual and slightly violent, but that is precisely what happened just a little under a month ago when I was sitting in a conference in Lima, OH, Social Media Week Lima 2019. I realized I could use caricature to remember a loved one.

This light bulb moment happened as I was listening to Angus Nelson talk about worth, work, and the work is worth doing when we put worth into it. It was a small moment in a larger talk that helped me re-frame a problem in my head. The problem I had been mulling over in my head was how to create something to remember my Dad and gift to my Mom. This is where caricatures and the wonderful Cathy Nolan comes in.

In her infinite wisdom and dedication to creating a unique and customized speaker experience for her speakers, Jessika Phillips (the organizer of the conference), brought in Cathy to create caricatures of the speakers. Thankfully for the attendees, Cathy came prepared to draw more than just the speakers. More than a few attendees took advantage of Cathy being on site.

After watching her process for working from the speaker’s images to create the caricature, I had a small flame of an idea that I could enlist her help to create a gift for my mom. I still wasn’t sure exactly how it would work, but I knew I had always loved the idea of having a caricature. I especially loved how the artist re-imagines the subject and puts her own twist on their likeness.

Gael Gilliland and Cathy Nolan

Back to that moment where I got smacked in the head. When I read that line on Angus’s slide, the small flame of an idea roared to an inferno and I immediately jumped up from my seat (sorry Angus!) and went to find Cathy. I had put all the pieces together of what I wanted to ask for and needed to ask before the idea in my head flared out.

Creating a Gift with Caricature

The first thing you need to know is that Cathy is a wonderful human. I was a blubbering mess and couldn’t get my words out. Instead of running for the hills or telling me to come back later when I was coherent, she wrapped me up in a hug and calmly talked me through the state I was in.

After I had calmed down enough to get real words out, we had an amazing discussion about what I was looking for, needed, and how I thought it could be accomplished. Cathy was immediately intrigued and completely game to try putting this gift together for my mom.

Some background for those of you who haven’t been reading this blog since 2015 or haven’t read my book yet…

My dad passed away in 2006 just a few weeks after my first child was born and right after my 18th birthday. If you have experienced this type of loss you know that, in short, it sucks. One of the things that doesn’t hit until later is that there won’t be any new pictures of them, no new moments captured with their likeness in them.

Other things to know, my family is outdoor oriented and we love to travel. My spouse has affectionately dubbed us “international hobos” and he’s not wrong. A few of the highlights

  • River rafting through the Grand Canyon for 21 days (we had 4 generations on that trip)
  • Month long trips to foreign countries
  • Year long extended stays in Europe
  • Traveling through Europe with two babies in the late 80s early 90s (go Mom & Dad)

My parents enjoyed traveling and being outdoors together and I’m so thankful they passed that on to me. We have an itch and a desire to be moving, traveling, and meeting new people along the way. Some of the coolest people we know we have met out in the wild. One of the things I love about SMWL is that Jessika manages to bring in people from all over the globe. So even though I’m not traveling as much as I want to in this season of my life, I’m still meeting amazing people.

Back to the story…

My brilliant idea was to take two images of my parents and create a mashup to illustrate a photo that was never taken. The photos I shared with Cathy were images of them taken 22 years apart, the first while they were first dating and the second just months before my Dad would pass away. The second photo was taken in the Grand Canyon.

Ann and Pat Connolly collage Grand Canyon
Top is a picture of Patrick & Ann Connolly in 1983 when they first started dating. Bottom photo is Patrick & Ann Connolly in 2005 during one of their last big adventures. White water rafting through the Grand Canyon with four generations of family for 21 days. Pat will pass away a few months after this trip.

Here is the resulting caricature by Cathy, I think it’s amazing!

pat and ann connolly caricature

I loved watching Cathy create this for me and her attention to detail. I can’t wait for my mom to get it in the mail!

Thank you Cathy for helping me bring my idea to life! Thank you Jessika for bringing Cathy to SMLW19!

So how can you do this too? Start by reaching out to Cathy and sharing your story!

Gael holding the caricature

About Cathy Nolan – from her website

Cathy Nolan has been a caricaturist and illustrator for over twenty years. With her love for art and making people smile, Cathy’s work has brought joy to clients worldwide. Originally from Chicago, she studied art at Siena Heights University and then moved to New York City. The big apple taught her how to be professionally polished, meet deadlines and collaborate projects with clients.

Cathy also has had years of experience working in art licensing and product development. With her knowledge and experience she has helped other artists build their businesses and has consulted on their portfolios. Cathy understands the business from an artist and company’s perspective regarding the following: developing and managing a brand, seeking out potential licensees, negotiating contracts, handling brand management, creating marketing and sale opportunities, and getting product to the retail shelf.


Her clients include: ABC News, Macy’s, Zyloware, Dick Blick Holdings, Cisco, Citibank, McGarry Bowen, Scholastic, HSBC, Citibank, London City Airport, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, The Illinois State Fair, The New York Rangers Charity Events at Madison Square Garden, Ice Hockey for Harlem in NYC, American Airlines, Race for the Cure in Central Park (NYC), Scholastic Inc., Highlights for Children Magazine, Scholastic Media and WEBEX just to name a few. She also illustrated live interviews and guests on the Emmy Award Winning televised livestream show The Never Settle Show hosted by Mario Armstrong.

Her artwork has been showcased worldwide such as in cities like Singapore, Bali, Shanghai, Qatar, Paris, and London. As a great storyteller and teacher Cathy has taught storytelling and cartooning workshops worldwide to children and adults.


Cathy can be seen on LIVE on her Periscope, Instagram and FaceBook Live channels @CathyNolanArt.

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