Girls at work. Girls at play. Girls giving the world a side-eye - we’re obsessed with Laura Callaghan’s illustrations!
Harriet first spotted Callaghan’s work at Pick Me Up last year, but it was the tongue in cheek watercolours from her first solo ‘Aspirational’ exhibition which really caught our eye. A few months later, Callaghan’s hyper-detailed illustrations have been transformed into playful jewellery for our latest collaboration.
We caught up with Laura to discuss ‘aspirational’ quotes on social media, her creative process and to get to know the more about the four girls in the collection...
Tell us how you got into illustration… I studied Visual Communications in college in Dublin, there was no Illustration BA available and to be honest at that time I'm not even sure I knew that you could have a career as an illustrator. Whilst on the course my work always leaned towards illustration rather than traditional graphic design. I graduated in 2009 which coincided with the height of the recession in Ireland - getting any full time job, never mind one in the creative industries, was incredibly difficult, so I saved some money and applied for a one year MA in Illustration at Kingston University. Once I graduated from the MA I worked full time in a biscuit factory for two years illustrating on the side and slowly I began getting a few clients, all the while posting things online and finally felt confident enough to go freelance full time. It's been 6 years since I graduated and it's only in the past year that I feel like I can breathe a little easier, it takes an inordinate amount of time to build up a profile and a steady amount of work with illustration (which I don't think was something we were made aware of while we were studying) but it can be done!
How did the concept of your recent Aspirational exhibition come to you? The jumping off point was the abundance of inspirational quotes used on social media. These ‘profound’ phrases, intended to motivate and inspire are revealed to be meaningless when applied to real life, they serve as a kind of rent-a-philosophy, as though copying and pasting something is a statement on your own personality and beliefs. While I was researching this further I came across so many inspirational quotes being used by brands on social media to try to engage with customers on a 'personal level'. Some were so absurd and cringe-inducing, big businesses trying to cultivate a personality and essentially market people's lives back to them - but these motivational posts are often the ones people react to the most. So each piece in the exhibition was a play on a particular quote, it's funny because since the exhibition I've seen some of the pieces used by brands and blogs on Instagram along with their titles as absolutely sincere motivational posts. It's the circle of life!
What’s your illustration aesthetic? I'm really drawn to images that are full of hidden detail and symbolism so I try to recreate that in my own work, creating really maximalist environments and applying pattern and embellishment to clothing and objects. Basically I love to make things as difficult for myself as possible! Colour is a really important component of my work, I don't have a natural talent for putting together colour palettes so I'm still learning. I work in two different ways depending on what the illustration is for and how much time I have to complete it. I draw everything by hand using an isograph pen but for client work where time and money is a factor I tend to colour using Photoshop. For personal pieces I love to use watercolour, it's a very slow and laborious process (the way I use it anyway!) so I really only paint when I have the time and the piece really means something to me.
Does your work environment affect your creative process? I work from home - we live in the last cheap flat in Peckham, it's on the intersection of two busy roads across from a park so there's always lots of outside noise but I really like that. I worked in a studio on my own last year while I was preparing for an exhibition and sometimes would spend 16 hour days working without seeing or talking to another person, it wasn't much fun so working from home suits me much better. Half the week I work in an office which is a three hour round journey from my home so all that pent up commuter frustration is a real motivator at the end of the week when I finally get to stay at home and draw and not shower or get dressed :)
We love how you depict such a diverse mix of women in your work, why is this important to you? The pieces I'm drawing are based in reality, in the everyday and the banal, so I don’t think it would make any sense NOT to draw diverse characters. My work is very narrative in nature and how tedious and limited would it be if those stories only included one kind of woman?
How did you find collaborating with Harriet and Rosie on creating a range of jewellery? It was great, I never imagined how my work would translate to jewellery I'm not great at figuring out how things will work in a 3D capacity but luckily Harriet knew which elements to zone in on and which patterns to pull out. It's really exciting to see how they turned out! We went through my illustrations old and new and settled on using the most recent batch of watercolour illustrations as a starting point, I think the painted pieces have an added dimension of depth and texture that suits the jewellery really well.
Describe the four girls [L-R] in the Tatty Devine x Laura Callaghan ‘Girls’ jewellery collection… Ida works as an unpaid graphic design intern, but the company covers her Pret lunches every day, how cool is that!!? When you have a job in any creative industry the comment you hear most often is 'wow you're so lucky to work at something you love, it must not feel like work at all!'. You're fulfilling your dreams! In an office cubicle! When really, every job is still a job. So pay people what they deserve! And why can't a job just be a job? Not everybody is going to find something they love that they can also turn into a career and even less people are going to be able to make a liveable wage from it.
Thea is the goddess of light and the mother of the sun. She is ready to face the new day, she isn't afraid to fly too close to the sun but knows a high SPF is essential. As in the Garden of Eden, Eden means 'delight'. She has decided to embrace the cactus that is life! Needles and all! Go get 'em tigerrrrr.
Sienna is having her ear talked off by someone. She figures if she looks in the other direction for long enough they'll take the hint but probably not.
Females you admire in the industry? Ah god, too many to name. For comic artists I really admire Celine Loup and Jillian Tamaki, for illustrators I love Sara Andreasson, she uses such bold colours and shapes. Carly Jean Andrews draws the most beautiful sensual characters so skilfully.
What’s your go-to playlist when you are getting creative? I don't really listen to much music when I'm working, I watch a lot of Netflix. An obscene amount. I'm watching Bojack Horseman right now it's very very good. Or I listen to true crime Podcasts, Sword and Scale is great, as is Generation Why.
What’s next for you? To be honest I don't really know! I have a stall at Safari Festival on Sat 27th August so I'm printing some new zines for that. I just finished up two little animation type jobs which were fun and something quite different. I took on quite a lot of client work just after my exhibition and even though it's only been two and a half months I feel a bit fatigued by it so I might make some personal work or a comic to feel like a sane person again!