Interview with Illustrator, Kate O’Hara

How did you get started doing what you do?
I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for a couple years now, since graduating from art school. I grew up in a very creative family, my mother is a graphic designer and my father worked in printing. So I spent a lot of time watching my Mum work in her studio and drawing with her. As I got older I continued to draw a lot and started taking different art classes. I went to art school planning on majoring in film and animation, but as soon as I took an illustration class I realized that was what I wanted to pursue. Illustration allows me to combine drawing and my personal aesthetic, with working commercially with clients. That gives me a starting point for each piece and I like that I get to research a new topic for each project. It keeps my work diverse and it’s exciting to always be working on different things.

How would you describe your creative style?
I’m drawn to animals and the flow and detail of organic things. I like creating miniature worlds, each with its own story and animals interacting with plants, flowers, and bugs. It allows me to put each piece exactly where I want it and make the composition flow. With my pieces I often start with what would be normal animal behavior, but juxtapose that with human introspection. There also are some re-occurring themes in my work, like nostalgia, loneliness, and vulnerability. My personal work is usually darker and often revolves around death, regeneration and symbiotic relationships.

Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
My work is highly influenced by nature. I spend a lot of my free time hiking and camping around Reno and Tahoe, taking pictures of wildlife I come across. This often serves as later inspiration for work. I also love traveling and backpacking, I recently took a trip to Iceland which was really amazing.

I’m also inspired by other artists and illustrators. Some of my favorites are scientific illustrators like John James Audubon and Ernst Haeckel. I love their compositions and the life they gave to the animals they drew. I’ve always been drawn to scientific illustration in general, how it categorizes and breaks down parts of nature to show the whole. Then there are a bunch of contemporary illustrators who’s work I find really inspiring like, Jason Holley, Victo Ngai, Jonathan Bartlett and Sterling Hundley, to name a few.

What does your typical day look like?
Since my studio is out of my house, I generally start by drinking coffee and answering emails. Then I’ll get working on whatever project I have for that day, whether it’s sketching, drawing or coloring a piece. Depending on what needs to get done I might work on some personal stuff later on. My schedule isn’t set in stone because the hours I work are usually dictated by deadlines and client time-zones. So, sometimes I stop work at 6 and sometimes I work until 11. It’s nice to be able to set my own hours as a freelancer, but I have to keep myself from getting lazy, since there’s no one else keeping track of my time.

Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
Typically it takes me a day to come up with ideas and work through the sketching process of a piece, depending on how many sketches a client needs. Then, I transfer my sketch to my drawing board and it takes a couple days on average to complete the drawing. After that I scan my drawing and spend another couple days in Photoshop cleaning it up and adding color. So I can usually finish a piece within a week depending on feedback time and back and forth with clients.

How do you keep motivated?
The finished project is usually what motivates me, I love finishing a piece and then being able to show that to the client and get their feedback. It’s great to be able to connect with people through my illustrations and see how my work speaks to people in different ways.

Sometimes there are moments when I feel unmotivated to work or hit a creative bock, especially during the sketching phase of an illustration. Then I try to take a step back and do something completely unrelated. Often, just drinking a beer or taking a nap or a shower can open up my brain and make it more receptive to ideas. If I’m in a funk and just don’t feel like drawing, then I just force myself to start and I’ll get over it pretty quick.

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I spent four years in Philadelphia going to school and I really missed having easy access to the outdoors and space away from people while I was there. Coming back to Reno was great, because I realized how important being able to spend time in nature is to my work. The landscape around where I live is very beautiful and diverse and so much more open and less claustrophobic than living on the east coast.

Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
My main goal has been to be able to support myself with my work and be continually producing work as an illustrator. Beyond that I’d love to start creating more personal work and be able to put together some more comprehensive gallery shows. And beyond is just to keep creating and sharing with people.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
A teacher at my art school would always say that you have to put in ten thousand hours of work to become a successful professional in any field. That really spoke to me and I try to see every hour of work I put in as going towards that. It helps make even the frustrating parts of the job seem worth something.

What are your thoughts on art school?
Although many artists are self taught and successful without attending art school, I’m very glad I decided to go and can honestly say I would not be making art for a living if I hadn’t. Art school pushed me to find my personal style and my art became much more focused and consistent than it was before. A big part of it was being part of an artistic community, where everyone was interested in similar pursuits. It created a competitive atmosphere, which made me push my art more than I would have on my own.

Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Kate O'Hara on Jung Katz

What’s your dream project?
I’d love to do a big ad campaign for a company, like Jonathan Bartlett did for Ralph Lauren’s Denim & Supply store. Something that incorporated clothes and pattern designs with print design and murals.

What’s your process like?
I draw all of my pieces in colored pencil, then I color the drawings digitally in Photoshop and incorporate textures. I like to work with a combination of traditional and digital media. It gives my work a hand done feel, but lets me have more freedom to play with colors and make changes later on. Sometimes with personal work I experiment with traditional mediums, like watercolor and ink. I’m more of a drawer than a painter though, so I like mediums that are more drawing based.

Follow Kate O’Hara on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.

 

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