As we’re all set to hit the contemporary streets of Berlin for another year at the highly-rated Pictoplasma we felt commanded to highlight member Laura Callaghan as guest speaker at the festival
From divine print products to striking murals, Laura is a celebrated Illustrator with a significant online following. By building presence at international art festivals like Treviso and SOMArts, to a period as Editor at the celebrated Oh Comely Indie mag, it’s easy to be captivated by Laura’s rich portfolio!
Exploring themes such as Gender, Identity and reflections on society, Callaghan’s clients include MTV, The Body Shop, and Refinery29. We sat down with Laura to discuss her recent Illustration, dream commissions and experimenting with new formats, in this vibrant artist feature.
Can you introduce yourself to those who may not be aware of who you are?
Hello! I’m an Illustrator originally from Ireland, but I’ve been living in London for the past nine years. I’m most known for my colourful super detailed watercolour and pen illustrations of women in maximalist environments.
As featured on your curated story highlights where do you source material for inspiration? How much time do you put into the research of your pieces?
For an illustrator I have an incredibly boring sketchbook because I always start with words not pictures. I find if I start researching visually straight off the bat I latch on to certain imagery too much and it muddies the waters a bit. So a lot of my initial inspiration just comes from….living I suppose? What’s around me and rattling around my brain.
Once I have a clear idea of what I want to convey and where I’m going I’ll do the rest of my research online. I use Pinterest to organise my thoughts but try to source the material I’m pinning more organically as I get the feeling we are all looking at the same 10 pictures on Pinterest. I put a lot of time into initial research but it’s the basis of everything I do and I hope the amount of thought and detail that goes into the end result makes for a richer narrative. It’s the thing that makes my work mine, other people can mimic your drawing style but nobody else has your brain (lucky them)!
From sketch to lightbox painting (with meticulous attention to detail) how important is a high-quality finish to you? What does this say about you as an artist?
I’m a perfectionist which can be a hindrance sometimes! Recently I’ve tried being a bit less tightly wound and focus on form rather than getting bogged down in all the details, but honestly drawing the tiny details is where the real enjoyment comes from. There is something very satisfying about drawing a perfect little rip off of a Lilt can or a Colin the caterpillar cake. It’s a cliche, but I feel if I’m going to do something I might as well do it right, even if the level of finish is something that can only really be appreciated when you are looking at the painting in real life. It probably says more about me as a person than as an artist, my life and environment can be very chaotic so this is something I have total control over!
You use your profile to articulate social and cultural themes inside and outside of your illustration work. How has this appealed the level of clients and projects you are working with now?
It’s something I explore a lot in my personal work where I’m conveying the feelings and anxieties I have about the world around us. That work feels true to who I actually am, so making personal work is an essential part of what I do.
One of my favourite paintings was a piece called ‘Deluge’ made in 2017 I wanted to raise money for the Abortion Campaign (ARC) in Ireland and also I suppose commit my feelings about it to paper.
The print raised money for the campaign but also I got to make a personal statement. While I think this kind of work and the reception it’s had has drawn clients to me, it’s very rare to get the opportunity to make work that accurately reflects my outlook. Often I think clients want the clout of working with illustrators under the guise of empowerment but with a very prescriptive and diluted message. Which is not really surprising I suppose, ultimately they are brands and businesses and the main goal is to make money not ruffle feathers.
More recently, I had a dream commission painting a huge mural for FACT in Liverpool which they wanted to reflect the issues explored in their gallery programming this year, quite weighty themes of gender, female archetypes, invisible labour etc. The team gave me total freedom over what the piece would look like, there were no suggested changes to the characters (‘maybe she could look a bit less angry’ is one I get a lot). The end result was something I was really proud of and I think the reason it works so well is because the client trusted me enough to work in the way I do with my personal pieces.
We’re seeing you push the boundaries of your illustration, experimenting from collaged GIFS to ceramic pots and large scale displays. What have you learned from these new materials? Which formats haven’t you explored that you are keen to?
It’s hugely important for me to keep trying new things, particularly in the last few years where commissioned work has been quite busy. Clients want to know exactly what they are getting from you so there’s not a lot of room for experimentation and it can be very easy to settle into a rhythm of making what you know time and time again.
Working at a larger scale and with clay has taught be to be a bit looser and to trust my instinct when it comes to mark making, it’s good to have no expectations; nobody’s watching you, you are new to the medium so it doesn’t have to be perfect. There is real unbridled joy in being a bit shit at something but just doing it because it’s fun! I would love to do some more ceramic work when I figure out where to do it, and I’ve done some printed textiles in the past but would like to take them a bit further.
We’re looking forward to catching you at Pictoplasma for your debut as a headliner at the festival. Alongside contributing to the character walk, can you give us a little snippet on what you are going to discuss at your talk?
I’m looking forward to it too! I just finished up some large scale paintings for my exhibition so can’t wait to see them on the walls. I’m in the process of working on my talk, so when I know I’ll let you know! I hope to talk through my process and how I use my characters to tell a one shot narrative, and I’ll show some old (bad) work because that’s always good for a laugh.
Next to work for notable clients like Urban Decay and MTV, you also manage your own product sales online. This is a significant aspect of what you offer as an illustrator, but personally what does this draw in for you?
The shop is a hugely important part of what I do. From a purely financial standpoint it makes up about 60% of my income, which in turns gives me some creative independence and the freedom to turn down work which doesn’t interest me. The shop has allowed me to take months out of the year to make exhibition work, and having a few different revenue streams and things I can fall back on when client work is slow helps stem my anxiety about money.
From a holistic standpoint I genuinely enjoy designing products for the shop, it’s fun and low pressure and running the shop allows me to connect with people – it’s a big thrill to see pictures of my prints on people’s walls or customers wearing t-shirts I’ve designed. Although packing orders and hauling parcels to the post office can be stressful during busy periods, I like running things myself and feeling productive without having to be creative, it’s a brain break!
Many thanks to Laura for taking part in this article. If you find yourself in Berlin be sure to show your support by catching her talk as a guest speaker, and encountering her impressive bespoke murals created for the festival. Also make sure to catch up with our team members Marianna and Lou!
See more of Laura’s work on her Website and Instagram.
If you also caught onto the Irish theme in our highlights don’t miss last months feature on Illustrator Ruan Van Vliet!