“If I could move there tomorrow, I would,” says Cara Deming Butler, the American-born, England-based illustrator of the vivid and fanciful Saint Delphine neighborhood she has constructed and populated with her quixotic characters. The artist, who graduated from the University of Texas, Austin in 2016 and spent much of the childhood moving, longed for a sense of home in a place she couldn’t seem to find. “I didn’t know where to go when I graduated. Saint Delphine was a way for me to deal with that frustration and desire for a place to be that I thought was beautiful and that I was at home in.”
In lieu of creating distinct but separate characters as most illustrators do, Deming Butler created Saint Delphine to catalogue and connect a fil rouge amongst the various personalities that spout from her mind to her painterly hand, including her marquee star, Scheherazade Keith. “She is the character through whose eyes we see Saint Delphine,” and who can be found on her own Instagram handle, @scheherazada_keith. Equal parts socialite and journalist, the character (whose profile is vaguely reminiscent of Diana Vreeland with a teetering bouffant), mines the world of her neighbors, like “legendary interior designer” Cristóbal Renata who “eats blueberry Danish in the salon under his Diebenkorn” when he is sad, or Daphne Astor, a 24-year-old astronomical archaeologist whose defining moment is “Climbing on top of Apollo at the Villa Borghese, screaming “I’m the real Daphne, I’m the laurel now.” Deming Butler is influenced in equal parts Slim Aarons and Maira Kalman—and her sensibility could be seen as a hybrid of the two.
Entwined in all of these personalities are elements of science fiction and the space race, both of which are a fount of inspiration for the illustrator. Deming Butler’s grandfather worked for NASA for several decades, including in the 1960s, a bit of history reflected in the sartorial flavor of her characters. It is her interiors, however, that are one of the most compelling elements of her work. Colorful and graphic, they channel a David Hicks-ian sense of pattern and contrast. Her story lines chronicle the likes of upholstery dilemmas.
“In homes, there are so many patterns and shapes and I always wanted to bring that into my work,” she says, noting that one of her favorite things to do is visit National Trust houses. “It’s wonderful to get lost in those. There’s something breathtaking about beautiful interior, especially the Neoclassical period. It’s fun to imagine what happened in those rooms at that time, and who was talking about what.”
Deming Butler lives in the countryside outside of London, fixing up a family home. She works on a number of projects for smaller independent brands who have a yen for her winsome and lyrical sensibility, and recently wrapped up a collaboration with the Los Angeles-based Sugarhigh Lovestoned for their Fall line with a distinctly ‘70s-groove feel. But Saint Delphine is the world she continues to mine. “I’d love to do a book on Saint Delphine and develop a larger story line. It’s the most important part of my work. When all my characters live together, I can keep revisiting them. There’s so much potential.”