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Cat Photographer Kate Funk Talks Costumes + Creativity

Jan 12, 2016

by Aleksa Brown

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Cat photographer, card-maker and all-around-creative genius Kate Funk fell into her dream profession by accident. One day, while working at a Milwaukee paper store, she created a tiny party hat for her recently-acquired rescue cat, AC. That night, Kate took the hat home and put it on AC’s head – to her surprise, he didn’t seem to mind wearing it. Before long, she was crafting a faux cake out of construction paper and photographing AC in a bright party scene: the perfect birthday card for a friend.

When Kate’s boss at the paper store saw the finished birthday card, she was intrigued and inquired if Kate had any other designs. So, Kate did what any driven creative person would do: she went home and got to work shooting five additional cards – each featuring a costumed AC and his trademark look of disdain – to add to her collection. Things snowballed from there.

Eight years, one book (and another due out this fall!) and hundreds of AC photos later, Kate works on her business full time. We were curious about her creative process (not to mention totally obsessed with her photographs), so we got in touch to hear a little bit more about how it all works. Scroll on for the full interview, along with an exclusive photo from her forthcoming book.

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Adam Ryan Morris/Milwaukee Magazine

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Kate Funk

The props in your photos are incredible – from the kitty wigs and weights in your new calendar to the bright paper dioramas in many of your greeting cards. Do you make everything yourself?

Kate: I make the majority of my props and costumes myself. When I first began, I would purchase costumes at stores and then create a photograph around them. It reached a point where I realized there were only so many cat costumes out there, and there were ideas that I wanted to do that required costumes and props that I wasn’t able to find. So I taught myself how to sew by pulling costumes apart and looking at how they were constructed.

In terms of costume design, wigs are the hardest part for me. I still buy kitty-sized wigs anytime I see one for sale on the off-chance that I can use it one day; generally, I have to buy normal wigs, cut them apart, and re-sew them onto black skull caps that I sew in AC’s size.

As for the dioramas, they’re all handmade out of foam core sheets and acrylic spray paint. I never know what I’m going to have to try and make next – when I come up with an idea for a photo, the first step is spending a lot of time brainstorming how I’m going to actually create it all. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, as I usually don’t know what I’m doing. I have to teach myself new things every week. If I had to try and put a rough estimate on it, though, I’d say one photo takes approximately two weeks to do from start to finish.

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Michael Patterson

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Michael Patterson

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Kate Funk

You’ve explored a lot of themes over the years – from magical creatures and monsters to the zodiac. Do you have a favorite shoot or series? Does AC?

Kate: My two favorite themes that I’ve explored so far are magical creatures and the ’80s. The magical creatures series contained some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken of AC. I loved the bright colors and fun costumes I got to make for it, and I think it’s some of my best work.

The unicorn photograph, in particular, was one of the first photos that I put a huge amount of time and effort into creating and I love, love, love how it turned out. The crazy bright colors and rainbow and glitter, combined with AC’s expression of pure hatred for everything in it is perfect.

I think for the ’80s one, it was just exciting to be able to pay homage to a lot of the things that I loved from my childhood. It’s pretty awesome to spend a day watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and convincing yourself it’s for the sake of research!

As for AC, I couldn’t tell you what his favorite theme would be, but I have a sneaking suspicion he’s just in it for the treats.

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Michael Patterson

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Michael Patterson

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Kate Funk

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

Kate: One of my favorite materials by far is felt, which I use to make AC’s costumes. The majority of the magical creatures calendar had costumes made of felt, including the Chinese Dragon and the mermaid. So much work went into those costumes! It could be that I’m not the best sewer in the world, but I love how easy it is to work with. It doesn’t require you to finish your edges, and it has so much structure. There are tons of great felt sellers on Etsy, too. (Felt on the Fly is the shop I’ve ordered from the most, though I’ve also shopped from Wool Hearts.)

Acrylic spray paint is definitely my other favorite material. I’m by no means a painter, but it blends so easily and comes in a bunch of amazing matte colors that I can photograph without getting any light reflections. I love using stencils rather than just straight painting – one of my favorite moments is when I’ve finished painting a layer and I get to pick up the stencils to see if it worked. It’s similar to the feeling when you take photographs on film and have to wait to see if they turned out or not.

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Kate Funk

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Kate Funk

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Kate Funk

A new image from Kate’s forthcoming book; published with permission from St. Martin’s Press.

What inspires you?

Kate: Everything. I feel like I spend a lot of my life just taking in everything around me. I think that’s why I love photography so much: rather than creating my own art, I’m just trying to capture all of the beautiful things that already exist so I can remember them forever.

Going through the photo album on my phone, there are a massive number of photos I’ve taken of color combinations or patterns I’ve been entranced by. Whenever I’m feeling creatively drained, I find that I can pick myself up again by going through them all and rediscovering something to use as an inspiration.

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Michael Patterson

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Kate Funk

How has your work evolved since you started?

Kate: The amount of time and effort that I’m willing to put into each photograph is the biggest thing that has evolved in my work. When I started, it was really just a joke, and I had no idea that it would turn into anything. Those beginning photos were made with lots of construction paper, string, glue sticks and scotch tape, but there was a certain point where I realized this is actually my career now, and I need to put more effort into making the costumes and dioramas. When I go back and look at those original photographs they make me cringe a bit – although I think that’s something most artists feel about their early work.

I’ll never get rid of that first, original photograph (above). Luckily it’s still one of my best sellers, because I’m far too sentimental to ever stop carrying it.

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Kate Funk

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Kate Funk

Thanks to Kate Funk for sharing more about her process. Shop her collection here – including her 2016 calendar, featuring a very ’80s AC.

2018 World's Most Super-Amazing 100% Awesome Cat Calendar
2018 World's Most Super-Amazing 100% Awesome Cat Calendar
katefunk
$16.00 USD
AC is a Witch Greeting Card
AC is a Witch Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Ready for Some Ultra-Violence Greeting Card
AC is Ready for Some Ultra-Violence Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC's Baby Greeting Card
AC's Baby Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC, AC, AC Greeting Card
AC, AC, AC Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Little Red Riding Hood Greeting Card
AC is Little Red Riding Hood Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is the Devil Prayer Candle
AC is the Devil Prayer Candle
katefunk
$10.00 USD
5 Greeting Cards for 16 Dollars
5 Greeting Cards for 16 Dollars
katefunk
$16.00 USD
15 Greeting Cards for 40 Dollars
15 Greeting Cards for 40 Dollars
katefunk
$40.00 USD
AC Likes Boring Things Greeting Card
AC Likes Boring Things Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC the Scout Greeting Card
AC the Scout Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Gets Crafty Greeting Card
AC Gets Crafty Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
80s Boxed Set
80s Boxed Set
katefunk
$16.00 USD
In AC's Eyes
In AC's Eyes
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Wild Greeting Card
AC is Wild Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Fantastical Boxed Set
Fantastical Boxed Set
katefunk
$16.00 USD
AC in the Rain Greeting Card
AC in the Rain Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Happy Birthday Greeting Card
AC Happy Birthday Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Paints Happy Trees Greeting Card
AC Paints Happy Trees Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is the Danger Greeting Card
AC is the Danger Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Ninja Greeting Card
AC is a Ninja Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Viking Greeting Card
AC is a Viking Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Catzilla Greeting Card
AC is Catzilla Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Christmas Boxed Set
Christmas Boxed Set
katefunk
$16.00 USD
AC and his Snowcat Greeting Card
AC and his Snowcat Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Santa's Helper Greeting Card
AC is Santa's Helper Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Santa Claus Greeting Card
AC is Santa Claus Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC's Krampuskarten Greeting Card
AC's Krampuskarten Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is the Abominable Snowman Greeting Card
AC is the Abominable Snowman Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is the Christmas Tree Greeting Card
AC is the Christmas Tree Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is an Angel Greeting Card
AC is an Angel Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Scorpio Greeting Card
Scorpio Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Bon Voyage Greeting Card
AC Bon Voyage Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Zodiac Boxed Set
Zodiac Boxed Set
katefunk
$12.00 USD
AC is in Miami Greeting Card
AC is in Miami Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Our Gentleman of Guadalupe Greeting Card
AC is Our Gentleman of Guadalupe Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC's Portrait '82 Greeting Card
AC's Portrait '82 Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Lumberjack Greeting Card
AC is a Lumberjack Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Leo Greeting Card
Leo Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is Zeus Greeting Card
AC is Zeus Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is an Orange Piece of Human Garbage
AC is an Orange Piece of Human Garbage
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC's Playhouse Greeting Card
AC's Playhouse Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Aquarius Greeting Card
Aquarius Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Zodiac Birthday Boxed Set
Zodiac Birthday Boxed Set
katefunk
$32.00 USD
Libra Greeting Card
Libra Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Gemini Greeting Card
Gemini Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Virgo Greeting Card
Virgo Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Clown Greeting Card
AC is a Clown Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Unicorn Prayer Candle
AC is a Unicorn Prayer Candle
katefunk
$10.00 USD
Capricorn Greeting Card
Capricorn Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Unicorn Greeting Card
AC is a Unicorn Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is a Mermaid Greeting Card
AC is a Mermaid Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC the Sea Captain
AC the Sea Captain
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Attacks Greeting Card
AC Attacks Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
Taurus Greeting Card
Taurus Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Hits 88 MPH Greeting Card
AC Hits 88 MPH Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC is an Angel Prayer Candle
AC is an Angel Prayer Candle
katefunk
$10.00 USD
Bad Kitty Boxed Set
Bad Kitty Boxed Set
katefunk
$16.00 USD
AC Pities Fools Greeting Card
AC Pities Fools Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD
AC Party Time Greeting Card
AC Party Time Greeting Card
katefunk
$4.00 USD

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