February 14, 2013

Spotlight: Laura Callaghan

 There's a lot to each of Laura Callghan's illustrations. We tried to cover every detail, but I'm fairly certain we've only scratched the surface.

My first question to Irish illustrator Laura Callaghan asked if there was anything she wanted readers to know about her that couldn't be found on the Internet. Her response: "I'm very tall (5'11 to be exact) and 90% of my wardrobe is black so I end up looking like a very conspicuous cat burglar most of the time. I am very bad at bowling, pooling, and ice skating." I swooned. It was love at first bio. As if that isn't enough, Laura's illustrations certainly bring about tons more to gawk at; in each of her pieces, viewers can infer wild back stories based on the intricate details, vivid colors, and bold facial expressions lacing each image. There's more personality in one of her images than most American pop stars have in their entire bodies.

Laura Callaghan currently lives in London, where she draws sixteen hours a day, Monday through Friday most weeks (she drinks a lot of coffee). While she has been commissioned for murals, menus, and advertisements, her work can also be found on the lovely pages of Oh Comely magazine, where she works as an illustrator. She took the time to answer my seemingly unending fan girl questions with the same poise and quirk exploding from her illustrations.

THE LE SIGH: Each of your illustrations are really detailed, often with a lot of features that help flesh out the situation presented. Do you come up with a back story for each of your images, that allow you to create such detailed pictures?

LC: Yes, definitely. My illustrations are very characters-based, so I always begin with an idea of who that person might be, their back story or mood - it keeps things interesting for me and I think it adds to the final atmosphere of a piece. I try to cram as many details as possible into an illustration: photographs, handwritten notes, hidden details and clues about the characters that occupy them. It makes the viewer look closely at the image and perhaps come up with a back story of their own. Some of the details are in-jokes for myself, like the "Library" (pictured at top) image, for example. Ostensibly it's quite a sweet image; a bookish, pretty girl with a cute bird skirt exchanging coy glances with an attractive man across the bookshelves. He's reading Wuthering Heights and she's reading Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman by Edward Lee, one of the most fucked up books I've ever read. So he's imagining a wistful romance yet she may want to take him home, chain him to a bed and torture him. I make my own fun!

THE LE SIGH: Which of your pieces is your favorite?

LC: I think I suffer from something that affects a lot of illustrators; I dislike a piece almost immediately after finishing it. There's a strange catharsis that happens; I'll really love something I've worked on right up until the end and then once it's there, fully finished, I'll focus on everything that's wrong with it! That feeling fades over time, though. I think once I'm more removed from it and it's online, I can look at an illustration with fresh eyes again. I like "Wiccans" (above) because it was the first time I felt I nailed everything: the shapes of the figures, the details in the clothing and surroundings and the general atmosphere of the piece.

THE LE SIGH: I absolutely adore the work you and the rest of the staff do on Oh Comely - it's a gorgeous editorial. How are the illustrations you do on your own time different than those you create for the magazine? 

LC: Obviously it's very tempting to squirrel away the most exciting illustration job for myself every issue but you have to think long and hard about what style would be appropriate and also what features are going to be the most fun for contributors to illustrate as that tends to produce the best results. I mostly illustrate the last minute features of bits and pieces for craft or recipe features. The lead time is short but I'm in a very fortunate position as I can try out different styles dependent on the article and work on pieces that I wouldn't usually get commissioned for.

THE LE SIGH: Which of your illustrations would you say best resembles you personally, if any? Do you ever create images based on your own life?

LC: A few people have said I put myself in my illustrations but it's not an intentional thing. I just draw a lot of fringes and girls who spend the majority of their time indoors! I guess on a subconscious level I'm probably putting aspects of myself and those I know in there, whether it be their mood or surroundings. A running joke among friends and family is that I'm the creep in the mirror in "The Pink Room" (pictured left). She was really supposed to be a doppelganger, the darker alternate side to the girl on the couch and was intended to tie in with the lifeless hand emerging from the door frame. But yeah, everyone has a doppelganger and I do have dark hair and a fringe, so perhaps it's me!
THE LE SIGH: If you could no longer be an illustrator and had to choose something else, what would you be?

LC: Ideally I'd like to do something creative. I studied Graphic Design and interned in studios in the past, so I wouldn't be adverse to getting back into it. If that wasn't an option, I would have loved to work in medicine. I was always interested in Midiwifery and as weird as it sounds, I like the hospital environment. I worked on the (Emergency Room) desk for a summer when I was 18 and loved it. Failing all of that, I'd be a chef. Food is my everything.

Fish around Laura's site and Tumblr for other wonderful illustrations, or her shop for prints of your own.

Written by Molly Morris