Thursday, 30 September 2010

Laura McKellar interview

This interview with Laura McKellar first appeared on the Pikaland webiste in August 2010.

Online Shop:
Zine blog:

Hi Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself, and what are you currently working on?
I am a freelance graphic designer living in Melbourne, Australia. I’m currently working on artwork for exhibitions, album artwork, illustrated ceramic brooches, some logos and thinking about my next issue of my zine Okay.

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
As a little girl I was encouraged to be creative. My sisters and I would spend a lot of time drawing and painting and using mum’s Derwents.

My uncle and grandfather were both photographers and I was influenced at an early age by them. I collect film cameras and use my photographs with illustrations. I am drawn to images I find in old 50s & 60s pattern books and have collected many which have had a significant effect on my work.

I studied graphic design for 5 years at college but I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. Learning to use design programs on the computer has definitely influenced how I design my artwork.

How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career?
I grew up in a very creative environment. My aunt is a professional illustrator so from a very early age I learned with a lot of hard work and dedication that it is possible to make art your career. I also learned at school that I could make a living from being creative and have since pursued it!

Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
Creating is a natural occurrence in my life. It makes me feel good and it is the best way for me to express who I am and how I think. I love making pictures whether they are for a job or an artwork, it is the most fulfilling time I use.

Where did your interest in collage, retro/found images, and mixed media come from, and how has your art developed over the years to incorporate it?
I have been collecting second hand picture books and dress pattern books for two reasons: 1. To use in my design + art work and 2. Because I can’t leave an op shop without one! I like the desaturated colours, detailed illustrations and the dreamy landscapes. The photographs in pattern books are so classic and I like the beautiful handmade clothing.

Although my work looks nothing like his I was influenced by Fred Free’s use of found images. Through making my own zine ‘Okay’ I have experimented with ways to use these images and right now am really enjoying using the found images with embroidery.

Where and how did you learn of your skills and interest in textiles and embroidery, and come to use these techniques within your work?
How do you actually construct each embroidered piece – do you sew directly onto paper?
I learned about sewing at a young age, my mum used to make all of our clothes and we were given hand-embroidered singlets for birthdays as children.

I have collected a lot of second hand sewing reference books and embroidery was something that appealed to me. You don’t have to be a master at it to make it look special. I transferred my drawings onto fabrics and started embroidering small details and have continued working like this.

Do you enjoy the processes of ‘handmade’?
As a child I received handmade birthday and Christmas presents which always felt so special to me. They had this very unique quality and aesthetic that felt so personal. I don’t think you can have the same emotional connection with another bought object that you can with a handmade present you receive from a loved one. It holds a much higher sentimental value that cannot be replaced. The time someone puts into handmade work is very precious and I value that.

How and why do you self-publish your artwork within your handmade zine, Okay?‘Okay’ is a personal project that I can have total freedom over everything! I love putting together in their special order. I send it to people I admire and people who are special to me. It’s also a great self-promotional piece.

Does each issue allow you to follow a unique theme?
I base the issue on something I am dreaming about. The theme of the last issue was Exploring and it is made up of pictures of places in my dreams and things I will do when I go exploring.

What is your history in independent self-publishing? Is Okay your first zine?‘Okay’ is my first attempt at self-publishing my own work. With the evolution of the Internet it is continually becoming easier to market yourself online and reach a broad audience. Through my zine I have connected with other people who self-publish from all over the world.

Do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
I think putting together a zine is a personal experience because you put in so much time and effort with the content and then to go ahead with printing and publishing. In Australia zines are becoming popular and lots more people are starting to make them using their own artwork or featuring other artists. It’s very easy to get your work out there through online art and social communities. Okay has been featured on some respectable websites and blogs, it has allowed me to connect people who may have never seen it in a specialist zine shop.

Have you employed skills learned via self-publishing/ DIY publishing (skills perhaps of networking; working independently – utilising the skills and talents you have; creating/printing things yourself, from scratch; working in a handmade way; honing your skills, interests and ways of working outside of mainstream constraints; approaching interested and interesting parties yourself; exhibiting in communal ways, on collaborative projects and exhibitions, etc) in your everyday artistic practice? Do you find the worlds of art and DIY self-publishing intersect in such ways?
Through self-publishing Okay I have learned to push the boundaries and experiment with different stocks and printing techniques that I can do myself. It has influenced my approach to materials I use for my artwork. I learned to print on fabric this way.

I like to hold craft days with my friends in my studio. We make our own creative environment to inspire each other when we’re working on our projects.

Amelia Gragory, recently interviewed on Pikaland was asked, ‘What do you think is the biggest challenge for illustrators today?’ to which she replied: “There are just so many illustrators out there that the biggest challenge is getting your work seen and known. There isn’t a massive market for commercial illustration – at least not of the type that most illustrators enjoy creating.”What are your thoughts on this, from your own experience, and how do you personally approach this challenge?
I do agree with Amelia, she is right that it can be very tough. I have personally dealt with clients who take advantage of my skills and expect me to work for free. They think they’re doing me a favor by letting me do a job for them, to get my name out there. In the past I have done the work purely because it will look good in my folio, but to be honest it was the start of a bad reputation.
The thing about being creative is you never stop using that skill, it is inbuilt and if you are motivated enough you can focus on personal work to send around, put up on an online shop, and keep on your website.

Nature and fauna, alongside the human form often intersect within your work, (I’m thinking here of the animal mask portraits, and of your images of humans with animal heads -and visa versa.)
Is this as an exploration of identity? A comment on animals and humans sharing the same earth? Or, like me, do you just think people look funny, beautiful, and rad with animal heads and animal features?

Anthropomorphism (animals adopting human characteristics), humans with animal features and human interacting with animals are reoccurring themes in my work. I grew up watching Disney and more recently Studio Ghibli and reading picture books like Beatrix Potter stories which show similar concepts. The way children have relationships with the animals with no inhibitions and with free imagination, they live in harmony together. I am very interested in the relationship and I very strongly believe animals should be given a voice. This is the reason I express these concepts in my work. It does make me smile looking at an illustration of a Hare wearing a cable knit jumper or a gorgeous girl with a bird nest for hair!

What’s your favorite art project that you’ve worked on so far?
My favorite project is collecting and making images for my zine. I’ve taken Polaroids in Indonesia and Japan, found some beautiful second hand picture books in op shops, made stickers on my typewriter. When I have no jobs on I like to sit on my computer and play with pictures and compositions, combining different papers for the pages and putting them in a perfect order.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Katy Horan interview

This interview first appeared on Pikaland in August 2010

Katy Horan is a painter, drawer, crafter, and maker-of-things. She loves all things folky, spooky and crafty. Katy lives in Austin, Texas.


Hi Katy, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?
I am great, thanks! I’m experimenting quite a bit these days. I am trying to balance the tiny details with more texture and looseness. I am hoping to make some large scale figures that incorporate ghost and widow imagery…should be pretty spooky.

How would you describe your art?
I would say I make bizarro lady monsters out of tiny lace patterns that make my hands hurt. That’s the casual version.

Here’s the formal version: I intuitively combine fragmented visual references with imagery from my own memory to create something that is both ambiguous and familiar. I do this to filter images from my own subconscious while raising questions of what we visually identify as feminine.

What are your daily inspirations?
I get a lot of inspiration from things I read, listen to and watch. I like to use my work as a filter for all the tiny pieces of inspiration I absorb in my everyday life and that remain from my childhood. Folk and ghost stories are a source that I return to regularly.

I am also really into history, so I like to incorporate visual details from the eras that interest me. Right now, I am really into Victorian mourning customs, so there is a lot of widow imagery floating around my head and studio.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?
How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
I always drew. As a kid, I did all kinds of other activities… dance, theater, piano…but art was the only thing that I never got bored with. It always felt more natural to me than anything else.

I always wanted to do something visual. I went to college initially to study costume design, but became more interested in children’s books than theater. I then transferred to RISD to study Illustration. After I graduated, my work gradually began shifting towards fine arts, so when galleries began showing interest and publishers weren’t, I decided to pursue a more fine art sort of path. Since then (around 2006) I have been pushing my work and process, trying to find deeper concepts and create more dynamic imagery.

How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art and creative expression your career?
My work is at it’s best when I work completely intuitively. I have always sought that place where the conscious mind shuts up and the work becomes meditative. I listen to audio books to distract the nagging, judgmental part of my brain, so that I can work without thought. It’s been a lot of trial and error to find the best way to get around my neurosis and ADD, so that I can just work and not worry about it!

As far as confidence goes…I am not sure how I kept that up. I am just so self conscious about everything else that it was a natural choice to pursue the art instead of another career.

And, what daily things give you the incentive/confidence/push to continue?
My work suffers when I remain attached to preconceived notions of what each piece should be. It is scary, but when I allow an image to go into unfamiliar territory, exciting and surprising things happen and I feel good about what I have made.

My studio is the safest place for me and I feel the most peaceful when I am engaged in the work. It’s my need for that peace that keeps me going. That said, it really is a hard road and many of us as artists seek some form of success or validation. I have been blessed with some great opportunities, but there have also been a lot of rejections. To keep myself grounded and my work honest, I try to keep everything in perspective, and focus on the enjoyment I get from making the work as opposed to any idea of artistic glory that I may have.

I have read of your work that you really value the connection between people and nature – hence why your art shows characters often performing ‘traditional’ tasks within their everyday environments.
How important to you is referencing ‘the everyday’ and ‘the personal’ – those simple everyday nuances of life that perhaps connect us all?

That was a central theme in my older work. I was living in New York City at the time and I think I was reacting to my extreme urban environment by creating extremely natural worlds for my characters.

My current work focus much more on singular characters. I went through a big change last year and decided to simplify my compositions so I could develop a new method of working. These characters allow me to explore historical and mythical ideas of femininity which is something that intrigues me everyday.

You have created work in many different ways, from acrylic and gouache painting on wood, to pencil drawings and work on paper, to brown pastel paper and tiny brushes. How liberating to your work is the ability for you to work with different materials and explore many different mediums?
It’s very important. It keeps me interested. All mediums have their pros and cons, so eventually with each medium, I get tired of the limitations. It’s refreshing to find a new way to execute my imagery and let go of the hassles of other medium.

I worked for a while on stained wood with acrylic and gouache. When I started exploring a new process, I turned to paper because it is so immediate and allowed me to experiment more freely and quickly.

Magic, domesticity, and femininity are all main focuses in your art; is this a direct influence from your love for folk art, and interest in what art and history can teach us about culture and heritage, or is there a more contemporary aspect and comment being made of current society through your depictions?
Honestly, I think it is because I want to escape reality. I have always been a sucker for anything that allowed me to enter another world. I totally indulge this need with my work. I have never really been interested in cultural or social commentary. Even when I am investigating ideas of femininity, it is not overtly critical. It is in part my love of feminine beauty and decoration that my work explores these themes. I think in the end my motivations are purely personal. I just want to connect to the things I find beautiful and magical!

How important do you think it is to include and represent traditional ‘folk’ art forms in contemporary artwork like yours?
I think it is very important. All these art forms that at one point may have been considered outside or less than by the contemporary art world can make our work so much more interesting and dynamic! There has been a noticeable acceptance of (for lack of a better term) “low brow” art forms such as illustration and folk art lately, and I think it’s a very exciting development for the art world.

Speaking of the nature and culture of folk art, how important is the role of ‘story telling’ in your artwork – I ask this, as I think the centrality of ‘the everyday’ in your work adds story to your images.
Story telling was very important in my older work. That stuff was extremely narrative and literal in a way. It is still important to me, but I am trying to use it in a much more abstract way. My hope is that the viewer comes up with their own narratives when looking at my current pieces.

Your work primarily contains female subjects. What is it about femininity that draws you to capture its many guises within your work?
I grew up in Texas and although the pressure to be a feminine female is everywhere, Texas excels at it! I grew up wanting to be like the pretty women in the magazine, but I was also aware that the pressure to conform to preconceived notions of what women look like was wrong. I always felt at odds with the idea that most of the pressure on girls was related to their physical appearance. I think my current work is a direct result of this. I think am trying to reconcile my personal issues with this and my visual attraction to certain feminine aesthetics.

How much fun do you have creating and painting costumes? (I’m thinking here of my favourite work of yours, the incredibly intricate lace ladies in the ‘Lady Monsters’ series)
Um, I completely love it! I have always been drawn to costume and decoration. I actually wanted to be a costume designer for a long time. From childhood to high school, all I drew were ladies in crazy outfits.

You have said that it is comforting to you to reference ‘old fashioned’ “women’s work” (quilting/sewing/sacred ritual/gathering/domestic arts and crafts/etc) within your art. Why is this?
There’s something about the gathering of women to make something for a home that is both beautiful and comforting to me. They developed these art forms as a means to express themselves when they were expected to maintain a home. I love the intricacy and humility in all of it.

Your work is incredibly intricate and precise, and you are very particular about the muting of colour and the role that that plays in your images. On the flipside, I read that you are fond of experimentation and a relaxed exploration of ideas.
What role, therefore, does the notion of ‘perfection’ play in your artwork?

Experimentation allows me to discover new imagery. I then like to filter my discoveries through my ridiculous, perfectionist process. I like to see just how precise I can be with my line work, it’s a fun challenge and it can also be pretty meditative, which is nice.

That said, I am trying to be less of a perfectionist. I worry that the evolution of my images are limited by my need for precision. I want to see what I come up with if I experiment more with the finished pieces.

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of working as an artist?
Being alone with my thoughts and interests are probably the best part. In my studio, I am free to explore whatever pops into my head. If I want to learn more about the Civil War, for example, I can just research it and incorporate it into my work…Not that we need excuses to learn something new, but I love using my work as a platform to explore random interests.