'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 14 September 2023

Meet The Illustrator: Simon O'Carrigan

Simon O'Carrigan

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Energetic and versatile – but always partly a study of light!

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
My plants! No, first and foremost my favourite headphones. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working digitally, with watercolour, with ink, or anything else — I can’t work without music.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
For artwork, watercolour or ink – it’s a tight contest. Either way, pigment floating in water that evaporates! (Even though a lot of my published work is digital). For publishing, I love to work on my iPad so I can make quick changes. (The ‘MaxPack’ brushes by Max Ulichney are amazing for anyone looking for good watercolour brushes.)

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Bill Watterson, Ella Okstad, and Sydney Smith.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
Tomorrow! Because either I can keep working on something that is going well; or I can try again if it wasn’t working today!

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I’ve always loved art, drawing, and painting. I also have always loved reading and writing stories, so I like to use my artwork in a narrative format one way or another.
While I like to make artwork for exhibitions so people can own an original artwork by me, I also like to make my art accessible to people with less money, through art prints and published books and things like that. When I was young, I spent so much time in my local library looking at all the art books, magazines and comics. I still spend a lot of time in my local library! I feel that illustration is a very accessible artform, and that means a lot to me.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
I have a studio in a shared building full of about thirty artists, in Melbourne’s inner north. It’s my home away from home and I spend a lot of time here! A lot of my creative working time is not drawing, but thinking, so it’s important my space is comfortable for sitting and napping and feeling relaxed. I have a working table, a reading table, and a nice green rug to nap on if my mind needs a break.

My studio has a big north facing window, which helps me feel like I’m not stuck inside (I find it very hard to stay at my desk on sunny days when I could be running through parklands, kayaking on the river, or swimming at the pool!). It helps me to keep lots of plants in my studio which is very grounding, because sometimes being a freelancer and submitting artwork to clients can be very anxiety inducing!

One of my favourite things about my studio is my pinboards covered in swatches of watercolour, these are scraps from testing colour mixes as I work. It makes me happy to have this much colour floating behind my screen! I also like to collect all of my pencil shavings and have jars and jars of them stacked up! It reminds me that good work comes out of just making lots of work, and then choosing the good bits.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I love scratching out early roughs with pencil, black ink, or on the iPad. I can spend weeks trying to “get to know” a character for a book and when they finally “click” and feel like a real person to me it is very exciting.

On the other hand, I love mixing colours on my enamel watercolour palette, and watching them run together and transform. I am fascinated by making a colour warmer, cooler, more or less saturated, until it is just right.
But honestly the best bit about it about my work is getting to listen to music all day! I listen to music about eight hours a day and I am always finding new music to inspire me.
When I am starting a project, and thinking deeply, I listen to my local community classical radio station, 3MBS. Once I know where the project is going and need the energy to make the work, then I switch over to my favourite music — noisy punk music from the 70s and 80s! There are some great radio shows on PBS FM that I stream while working.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Be nice to yourself and don’t spend too much trying to find a style! It’s really easy to be overwhelmed by all the great work you see others do. It’s also easy to think you need to have “one style” and try to force it. But your style will slowly and organically evolve the more work you do. So it’s best not to be too precious, let yourself make mistakes, know that each project will be better than your last and just keeping to try and make it fun for yourself. Once you have work you are very proud of, it will be much less intimidating to show it to potential clients.

Simon loves being an illustrator because it allows him to learn about, engage with, and reflect on the world around him. He works with ink, watercolour, and sometimes Photoshop. His illustrations are sketchy and loose – just like real life.

For more information, please visit Simon's website or follow him on instagram.