Laura Callaghan is an Irish illustrator whose work is hand-drawn using a mixture of watercolour, Indian ink and isograph pen. Her clients include Tate, Adidas and MTV. She is the illustrator of Find Frida, The World of Frida Kahlo and Feminist Oracles.
We catch up to discuss the creative process behind Laura’s work and how she has navigated her way through her career.
Your subject matter depicts fearless women in colourful, maximalist environments. Tell us more about this and what drew you to this area of interest?
I started drawing women as the characters in my pieces unconsciously, I can’t really pinpoint why other than I was drawing narratives and I wanted women to be at the centre of them. It’s become almost a reflex now. I was nervous about using colour at the beginning of my career, it seemed so complicated and unknowable but as soon as I started using watercolours colour crept into my work very naturally. I still feel like my approach to colour is amateurish but I feel comfortable experimenting! I love to pack pieces with detail and symbols, it is obsessive and meditative, painting tiny details is when I feel most relaxed.
What influences your practice most?
There is no one thing really, I always find this a hard question to answer! It sounds like a very trite thing to say but life and living are the biggest influences. What is happening in the world around us, conversations I have, articles I read online, things I notice on my government mandated daily walk – they are all little pieces of a bigger picture that I can file away and use when needed!
Have you faced any challenges or discrimination being a female in the creative industry?
I haven’t faced any discrimination while working as an illustrator thankfully, I faced more challenges working in office jobs prior to going full time freelance so perhaps it’s the fact that I work alone now and predominantly communicate with clients over email! I would say because illustration is such a solitary profession it can be hard to gauge what my peers are earning so I won’t necessarily be aware of any pay disparity between genders, it is something I’ve been curious about and illustrators are having more public discussions around contracts and pay, transparency breeds equality so hopefully this will mean more fairness across the board.
Who was your favourite feminist from the Oracle deck to illustrate and why?
The one that comes to mind is Agnes Varda. She was one of the first subjects I drew for the project and she had such a distinctive look, all the photos of her are so captivating!
Who are the inspiring and influential women in your life?
It’s very cliche but my Mam, my sister and my friends – the people I know on a personal level hold the most influence in my life.
And finally, has lockdown given you inspiration fatigue? Do you have any tips to help people with a creative block?
I wouldn’t say it’s affected my inspiration, if anything it’s given me a bit of breathing room to mull over new ideas. I have felt general fatigue and a serious lack of motivation to make work however, I think everyone has experienced lockdown burnout at this stage.
As far as creative block goes, it is very normal and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. We can’t be creative, expressive people on demand 24/7 so give yourself a break. Realising that time out and relaxation is as crucial to the creative process as sitting at a desk has helped me a lot. Going for a walk, watching films, reading and podcasts or just chatting with other people – all of it feeds into my work in some way or another, nobody works in a vacuum so I think it’s important to allow yourself to step away sometimes!
Laura’s latest project with Laurence King Publishing, Feminist Oracles is available to buy now.