Ladies in power, ladies in repose, ladies painted in everyday settings—such are the themes of London-based illustrator Laura Callaghan. Her colorful female characters pop to life in layers of personalised details. In the Library, a reader in cat-eye specs stands mid-aisle in a red blouse with a parakeet skirt while reading Edward Lee’s Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman. The bookcase in the background is ripe with novels and each book is precisely drawn. Or take the illustration of two ladies boxing in pink motel parking lot being captured in action by another lady’s smartphone.
Her illustrations are reminiscent of scenes from a movie, excellently stylised with props that inform the viewer about the subject’s intimate storyline. Callaghan’s scenes lend the females she draws power, conviction, and notoriety. The characters are not to be taken lightly, they very much command attention, through their clothing, hair color, and settings—furthering the feminist notions penned by Carol Hanisch's 1969 essay, “The Personal is Political.”
Underneath the purple bobs and in the privacy of their own apartments, Callaghan’s illustrated ladies make examples of themselves through their earnestness. The Creators Project interviewed Callaghan to get a better sense of her inspirations and how she collects fodder for her ladies:
The Creators Project: When did you start working on the style that you'd come to be known for today?
Laura Callaghan: Probably about five years ago after leaving my Masters. I initially thought I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator and was making work in that vein while I was studying but once I left, I realised it wasn't for me. I took on a full-time office job in a biscuit factory to make some money and that left little time for commissions so I was just making pieces for myself. Once I stopped thinking about what style clients wanted or what would get me work and started drawing purely for pleasure that’s when my style really began to develop.
Who were you inspired by back then? Who inspires you today?
Artists like Stacey Rozich and Hellen Jo were doing really interesting, modern, creepy things with watercolors, which made me realise there's no right or wrong ways of doing something. Nowadays I mostly gravitate toward films or comics for inspiration. I like to watch things that are sad or gory or shocking, that's what I get the most from!
There's a daydreamy quality to your illustrations. When do you get your ideas?
I'm always thinking of bits and pieces of ideas, just a word or a location or an expression. I have a long commute to and from work three times a week so I think about ideas on the bus home in the evening. I have a page in the 'notes' function on my phone that reads like the ramblings of a madwoman but having a catalyst for an idea is half the work, once I start sketching things having a way of fleshing themselves out. Sometimes I'll hold onto a kernel of an idea for months before I see a way of making it work.
Do you consider yourself a feminist artist?
Well I consider myself a feminist so yes.
What's one comic you think everyone should read, and why?
Anything from the Love and Rockets series by Jaime Hernandez. His comics are so beautifully drawn, the linework is amazing, but also the protagonists are mostly female and are written so well—as complex, living, breathing, flawed characters. Flies on the Ceiling is one of those stories that will stick with you for a long, long time.
What are you working on now?
I'm taking a step back from commissioned work for a little bit to make some new paintings for an exhibition next year and getting ready to do my first every big talk at Cut Out Fest in Mexico this November. I'm also collaborating with a designer to make some accessories. It'll be fun to branch out a bit and try something I've never done before!
To see more of Laura Callaghan's illustrations click here.