UT alum Cait Zellers on making it in the art world: It’s all about community

Grace Barnes

Since graduating from UT in 2012, comic artist Cait Zellers has been telling “angry feminist stories.”

Zellers sells prints, fan art, stickers and comic books under the brand name “Miss Mayhem,” named for the central character in many of her works. Although breaking into the art industry can be difficult, Cait said she found a strong and supportive community through comics.

“(Comic art is) a very collaborative process,” Zellers said. “Having that community, and having creative people around you is one of the best parts about being in comics.”

Zellers studied studio art and printmaking at UT, but chose to pursue comics after working at The Daily Texan.

“Traditional oil painting is fantastic, but it’s not very relatable,” Zellers said. “With comics, there’s no limit to what you can do. Words and pictures are so accessible.”

Zellers said finding friends in comics that were supportive was very important to her.

“I met my first connections in the comics community through the Texan, and we started a micropress in Austin called Pomegranate Magazine,” Zellers said. “Spending time with them at the Texan solidified what I wanted to do.”

Rachel Tyler graduated from UT last year, and like Zellers, worked for the Texan Comics department. Tyler said she wanted to pursue illustration after graduation, because of the way she views illustration as a profession.

“One of my favorite experiences in college was working with the newspaper.” Tyler said. “I would love to find some kind of publication like that where I had (a role with) more responsibility. The energy and the deadlines of (the Texan) was scary and exciting.”

But Tyler said making it as an illustrator is very difficult in the current scene.

“Illustration is so saturated — everybody and their dog is on Society6 trying to sell pillows,” Tyler said. “It’s really hard to make a name for yourself.”

Tyler said she was advised not to wait around for the perfect job after graduation, but to just find something at a gallery or a museum. Tyler currently works in security at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth.

“It’s not really with the art, but it’s an art environment,” Tyler said.

Beverly Acha, assistant professor of studio art and print, said even after finding a place in the industry, artists choose to have an alternative lifestyle and accept a certain amount of financial instability.

“Choosing to be an artist means you believe in making art and are willing to accept the drawbacks,” Acha said. “What helps is that, in choosing art, you are also choosing to be part of a community of artists who have made this choice. It’s your community that helps you ‘break into’ the art world.”

While making a living as an artist can be difficult, Zellers said that the “starving artist” stereotype is ridiculous and there’s no shame in a day job.

“I actually recommend (a day job) to people,” Zellers said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing your art as a side hustle until you can support yourself. I freelance right now, and it’s unpredictable. Sometimes it’s feast, sometimes it’s famine.”