We recently stumbled upon Carol Mahon’s illustrations on Instagram after she illustrated a picture from our Fall 2011 Lookbook, Castaway. We were blown away by the drawing and how beautifully she captured our model’s expression and delicate features. After seeing her illustrations constantly all over Tumblr, we were so honored to have been the subject of one of her pieces. So, of course, we couldn’t help but reach out and send her a few questions to get to know the woman behind the pencil a little better.
1) How do you like living in Ireland? (We’ve always wanted to visit!) Would you ever consider living anywhere else?
Despite the weather (it rains a lot) Ireland is great. I would definitely urge you to visit, the people here are the best (bias I know), but really there’s just a great sense of familiarity and community with Irish people; the way they speak, their sense of humour – it’s the thing I’d miss most if I left. I live in Dublin, which is the capital and as a city it’s come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. The art and fashion scene is really taking off and lots of positive things are happening. It’s a very exciting time to be working here creatively. As much as I do love it, I’d definitely consider living elsewhere, for a while anyway. Ireland will always be home and I definitely want to settle here, but while you’re young I think it’s good to broaden your horizons and experience different places, it can be very inspirational. Also my boyfriend’s American so you never know!
2) How did your love for drawing begin?
Honestly, I don’t really remember. From the time I was very small, I was one of those children that was always drawing or scribbling on something. My Mam encouraged us to draw and read a lot as kids, and for as long as I can remember it was just something that was second nature to me that I happened to really love and enjoy. It sounds ridiculous but I guess it was a bit of a vocation.
3) What is your absolute favorite thing to draw?
This is a tough one, there’s so many things! I think if I had to choose it would have to be hair. I get really lost in drawing hair. All that texture; the softness and the way it flows, it’s just so romantic and ethereal. It conjures up an image of this beautiful, floating woman with masses of long flowing hair, much like Botticelli’s “Venus”. I adored that picture growing up. I think that had a lot to do with where I got this romantic notion from. It makes me feel a bit dreamy just thinking about it.
4) Which of your illustrations are you most proud of? Why?
I think it would have to be my illustration “Featherhead”. It was the first illustration I created where I felt like everything just fit exactly how I wanted it to. I drew the girl in that image almost entirely from my head and I loved how her expression was slightly ambiguous. There was a shyness to her but also a kind of silent strength. I try to embody that in most of the people I draw, I like them to look like they have secrets. Around that time, there were lots of elements I was working on simultaneously that I wanted to bring together and with that piece it just seemed to click. It was then that I really found my feet and knew the type of work I wanted to create. It was also the first of my illustrations that got quite a bit of press so it means a lot on many different levels.
5) Where do you draw inspiration from when you choose what to draw?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. A song lyric, an unusual face, nature, fashion, textiles, fairytales – you name it! If I’m looking at a lot of catwalk shows or street style blogs, my work will feature a lot more fashion inspired imagery, similarly sometimes I ‘ll find a models face that I love and will create a lot of work that features that as the focus. Generally though, it’s an amalgamation of influences from nature, faces, fashion and textiles.
6) What attracted you to our picture of Cambria that made you want to illustrate it?
When I saw that picture of Cambria the first thing I fell in love with was the expression she had on her face. It was quite honest and dreamlike. She looked like she was elsewhere – in her own little world. I loved it. That, coupled with the gorgeous styling of the headband and the beautiful hazy light, created the perfect backdrop that I immediately knew I wanted to recreate with my pencil.
7) Is there a reason you do all of your artwork in pencil?
I create the majority of my work primarily in pencil; it’s not the only medium I work with, but it’s definitely my favourite. I love pencil because of it’s simplicity. I like the idea that you can create something beautiful and intricate from just a pencil and paper. It feels like a very honest way of working for me, but again, it’s almost second nature, I’ve always worked with pencil. I feel very at home with a pencil in my hand and as a medium it’s really what suits me best. I like how controlled I can be with it, I’m a sucker for detail so that’s important for me. I usually begin by drawing all my illustrations in pencil and then add a combination of different mediums like watercolour, gouache and ink, which are a lot more fluid and free, before finishing the artwork digitally in either Photoshop or Illustrator. I love how innovative and endless the possibilities are with computer programs like these, but more so, I like the idea of juxtaposing traditional mediums like pencil in combination with more modern techniques like Illustrator and Photoshop. It’s like merging old and new. I love that through combining these different processes, an interesting mix between hand drawn and digital emerges.
8 ) Have you ever dabbled in other forms of art?
Most definitely! I grew up in a house where sewing, knitting, crocheting, cross stitch, (the list goes on) were the norm and this really influenced me and nurtured my love for making and craft. When I left school I went on to study Textile Design in Art college because it encompassed my love of drawing, fashion and textiles. Here I experimented with every and any material I could get my hands on and created a range of art from large scale Textile pieces that were embroidered and screen printed, to a collection of impeccably styled garments, with a large focus on print. For quite a while I was convinced I wanted to work in the fashion design industry. It was only through actually working in it that I realized that what I actually wanted to do was illustrate it!
9) Do you listen to music while you draw? What kind/who do you like to listen to?
There’s the odd day where if I’m really into something I’ll start it straight away and then won’t even realize that hours have passed and I’m in complete silence! But most of the time I listen to music while I draw. The National is a firm favourite, a lot of the time their albums are on repeat… I’m a bit obsessed. Other than them, you’ll hear a lot of Lykke Li, Future Islands, Beach House, Bon Iver and She & Him being played around my little studio.
10) Other than drawing, what else do you like to do in your free time?
In my downtime I really love just chilling out with my friends and my boyfriend. I work a lot so when I’m not busy I love nothing more than relaxing with some good food and some nice drinks. Going out for breakfast and watching lots of films are high on my covet list too.
11) What are you most excited for this fall?
Fall has always been my favourite season and this time round it’s even better because a lot of projects that I’ve been working on are coming to fruition very soon and I finally get to see the finished results which is very exciting! I’m also really excited for Halloween! It’s my favourite holiday and every year I go all out with my costume (I’m talking days of preparation) and normally get roped into making everyone else’s too. I just love all the dressing up and theatrics, it’s so much fun! I’m also going to see The National play in a couple of weeks time so I’m besides myself waiting for that!
12 ) Do you have any big plans/projects for the upcoming year?
There’s been a lot of interest shown in my work and lots of things are happening for me right now . It’s definitely a very exciting time for me! I’ve a number of projects coming up, some upcoming editorial work, as well as a collaboration with a well known Irish jewellery designer that I’m very excited about. I’ve also designed some illustrations for a new home ware brand that will be out soon, as well as a few features about my work if all goes according to plan! It’s a very exciting time for me and opportunities are definitely opening up. Let’s just say 2014 is set to be a busy year!
Thank you so much for sharing with us Carol! Until next time.
Crazy for Carol Mahon,