YB Talks: Emma Gallacher

05-11-2020 Design, Interview

Met onze interview serie YB Talks schijnen we ons licht op getalenteerde jonge creatieven, muzikanten en ondernemers die naar ons idee het verschil maken in deze rare tijden. Talent waarvan de wereld het bestaan moet weten, met verhalen waarvan we hopen dat ze jullie inspireren. Dit keer spraken we met illustrator Emma Gallacher die twee jaar geleden vanuit Londen naar Rotterdam kwam voor haar opleiding aan de WDKA. We spraken met Emma over haar inspiratiebronnen, hoe ze haar hoofd koel houdt tijdens Corona en wat haar doelen zijn voor de komende jaren. Interview en foto’s door Floor Besuijen.

Hi Emma, who do we have the honor of interviewing today?

My name is Emma, I am an illustrator from London, I moved to Rotterdam 2 years ago. I Study at WDKA.

How did your artistic career begin?

I’ve been making art and fashion since I can remember really, always did it in high school and college afterwards because they were actually the only two things I enjoyed and felt like I was good at. Both of my schools were very classical training, so a lot of realistic stuff and acrylic paintings. It’s something I still have big respect for but it’s not what I like to do. So I always knew I wanted to do something with art but I never really knew I wanted to be an illustrator or wanted to make the work that I make now.

I feel like I only really got a style after moving to Rotterdam because it’s more of a free city and I feel like people can be themselves more. That inspired me to open up a bit more and do what I want and not care about people’s opinions. Since then I’ve been just making better work and work that I feel is more accurate to me as a person and in a style that I really like. So everything really started for me when I moved here.

How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it before?

My art is in such a cute, childish, and bright style, but I like to draw about adult topics. I really like to draw about sex, drug culture, and taboo subjects. Kind of the more grittier elements of youth and pop culture because that’s kind of looked down upon. I like presenting it in a sweet way. I think it’s a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s interesting to have a softer take on stuff that people usually, especially the older generation, just disregards. I like including these things in my work cause I feel like it’s relatable as well, like, everyone does all these taboo things but it’s frowned upon to talk about it. I think it’s nice to make it a relatable thing.  

What kind of art do you make?

I really like to make prints but I can only do that when my school is open. I like to make riso prints, that’s my favorite kind of medium to print in. For the most part I draw things I wanna draw; I get inspiration somewhere, on Instagram, or in a store or whatever. I see something and I’m like ‘ok I wanna draw this’, I sketch it out and then I put it on my laptop and draw it out nicely. As I’m drawing, other elements of what I can include pop into my head. That’s also why my work is quite random. Then the structure changes, it gets busier and it gets brighter and then I do the colors.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

It sounds so dead to say, but from everything. I did a drawing from a guy who was holding a broccoli once and it was literally because I was on my Instagram and someone had taken a really beautiful photo of a broccoli. Very random things, but sometimes I come up with a theme. When I was super homesick in the quarantine period, despite being so much happier in Rotterdam, I’m quite nostalgic about London. Being away from London, because it’s quite an intense city, gives you this chance to be like ‘Oh that wasn’t so bad.’ You’re able to look back at it more positively. Sometimes I have this whole idea and other times it’s a random individual thing.

Can you name some artists that have inspired you?

Jean Paul Gaultier, because he’s a fashion designer but everything he does, from the commercials he makes, the photographs of his pieces, the perfume bottles he designs, it’s all just so incredible. And the clothes of course.

Madonna, my dad got me into Madonna from a very early age so I always listened to her music. I don’t necessarily think she’s a good person and she’s pretty embarrassing now. Her fashion and her kind of ‘I’m old and no one likes what I’m making and I don’t give a fuck, I’m still gonna do it’, is admirable. 

Also, there’s an illustrator called Simon Landrein. He makes quite cynical comics in simple shapes and flat colors. I remember finding him when I first moved here and didn’t have a style yet, I looked at his work and thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. I didn’t wanna make work like the work I had been making in high school. He’s a big inspiration for why I make things the way I do. 


What have you learned since taking on an artistic career?

I’ve learned that not enough people recognize how much effort goes into making illustrations and work. I’ve also noticed that thinking creatively is just as complex as thinking academically in a way. Creative thinking is a complicated way of thinking, it takes a lot of effort and it can also be very frustrating when people don’t recognize that. But I also learned that the creative field is the nicest field for me, this is the field that I wanna work in, these are the people I wanna work with. It’s just a nice little bubble and being able to have people around you that understand what you make, is I think even more valuable than being able to show someone who doesn’t make or create creative work and have them commenting on it. Having another creatives’ opinion means a lot more.

Any important lessons learned?

Sign your work, I did a commission when I first moved here when I was eighteen for a collective and I didn’t sign any of my work, and just generally didn’t know what I was doing. If you don’t sign your work, people will take advantage of it. Art materials are expensive as fuck. And also, If you push something enough, it can happen. I kind of converted my personal Instagram into a creative account and now, people started to like it and the more and more stuff I put out the more people get to know about it. I feel like when I push it hard enough people will eventually come around with it.

What project are you most proud of?

It’s not necessarily a project that I’m most proud of. But the first few weeks of Corona, I was completely slacking on school work. I was just really happy to be able to sleep and not do work or school. Then I came to a point that I got bored and got one commission from a guy in Australia, who wanted me to make something for his music project. That was the third illustration I had done in the style that I have on my Instagram, the style that I was really happy with. After I was like, ‘okay that only took like two days and I have a really detailed piece that I’m super proud of’. Since then, for the whole ‘lockdown’ period I was trying to push one illustration a week and just keep on making work because people seemed to really like it. Over corona, I think I made like 15 illustrations that I can still look back on now and where I’m still super happy with. To keep working and making stuff for me and for no one else was just super fundamental to being able to function and develop my skill. Also working with other people and making work for other people meant I was able to make things I wanted to make and make work that other people wanted me to. It gave me more confidence and I feel much more comfortable about what I make because of it.

How did the pandemic affect you?

I’ve been planning to make prints for seven months and because of corona I was able to practice more and make prints I’m really proud of. Honestly, corona didn’t affect me negatively. The whole quarantine was quite nice, it was nice to not work for a bit. 

Although, the flip in routine challenged me. I didn’t really have to do stuff anymore and suddenly I had all this space in my brain to think about other things, so I had a couple of months where I was losing a lot of weight and wasn’t looking after myself properly. I’ve always had issues with eating and body image, but I managed to get really on top of that when I moved here. Because I was at home all the time when the corona period started, the thought of not eating was there all the time. 

I used to be really horrified with how I looked and since I moved here I have no longer had that. I still have these elements of the disorder. There are definitely things I have completely recovered from, but there are also things I haven’t. Now I’m able to cope with it, I’m not suffering from it now.  It’s not really about appearance anymore. The thing I noticed the most about it getting bad again, was not being able to think about anything else. It controlled me in the past and now it was coming back and I was doing everything to make the thoughts go away. Literally just walking massive amounts to try and distract myself. 

It was quite upsetting when that came back, because I’ve had to deal with it for a long time, and I thought I had left it behind me. But it was also why I made so much work because I didn’t want to think about it. I had way better things to do and way more productive things to do with my time. It was just a blip due to the change in my routine, which I’m relieved about.

How do you make sure you remain grounded and healthy?

I have such an amazing group of friends since I moved here, and I live with my two best friends. I’m most grateful for that. It’s an environment I feel very safe in. Realizing that and being grateful for my life here feels really good. Drawing is a really good practice I have too. Friends, drawing, watching movies, listening to music, and finding new music. Calling my mum and dad as well. I have a good relationship with them. Calling them is the best compromise to seeing them in person, and helps me miss them less. Those things definitely keep me down to earth.

Best advice someone in the industry has given you?

You don’t have to make something that looks nice. When I’m super angry, I can just draw something. It makes me feel better and I can just throw it in the bin, you don’t have to make stuff that you’re happy with, you don’t have to make stuff that looks nice and you don’t need to show it to people. It’s already really grounding to just make something because you can. It doesn’t have to be for an audience. 

How does your heritage inform your work?

I used to think I wasn’t British at all. And then I moved here and I realized I’m quite British, but I feel really connected to London, not to England. I feel like I connected because I moved somewhere else. I can look back at all these guys wearing their North Face jackets, seeing elements from your culture that people over here are super into. My style is quite British and I like to draw about London. It does have an influence, whether I like it or not.

Favorite venues in Rotterdam?

I used to love Now & Wow but it got too expensive for me to go. Weelde, because you can just chill outside, I mean everything is a bit different now. Bakeliet, my favorite bar.

What places in Rotterdam mean the most to you?

Bas bakt. When my dad and I came here for the first time in 2017, it was snowing heavily and it was so cold and my dad just had a call that our boiler had broken in London and there was no one home. He was pretty stressed, so we went to Bas Bakt to have a coffee and a cake and then we were fine, just looking at the snow. So every time my dad visits Rotterdam, we always go to Bas Bakt and every time I go there, I send him a photo.

Museumpark because the past two years it’s the place where everyone is. There would be days where I go there by myself, some days I would be left alone to read my book, and then other times everyone I know comes by coincidence,  and we just spend all day there.  Kralingse Plas in summer as well.

What creatives in Rotterdam have you been impressed by?

Daniel, (Bananiel) he really got me out of my shell. I love the things he makes and that inspired my style a lot. Bee, my roommate, the stuff she makes blows my mind. She inspired me to make more work and she’s very critical at her own work, which made me be more critical at my own. Also Victor, one of my teachers who makes you really go out of your comfort zone. It was really helpful how he made me see that I could have my own style and things I want to make, but that it’s still important to play and experiment and make other things as well.

What impact would you like your work to have?

I want my work to brighten up people’s lives in a way, even if it’s still quite dark and adult. I want it to be something they want to have on their wall. As much as work with a meaning is very important, I like to make work that looks nice. I kind of want my work to stand out from what other people usually like and encourage a level of acceptance with stuff that goes against the norm. 

What are your plans for the next year?

I have no idea. I’m meant to be doing an internship but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen because of Miss Rona. I’d like to do that in Barcelona, there’s a printing studio called Jumbo Press that makes such nice prints and sells independent work. I want to make prints, t-shirts, stickers, get more followers on Instagram. I want to keep making things, I just want to keep up the creative steps that I made this year as I still feel I’ve only just started.