Cats, wolves, butts and beer… and Ladyhawke… and T-shirts for Haiti. Illustrator Sarah Larnach shares some thoughts on her profession. From ProDesign 106 with additional images.
ProDesign \\ Sarah, how did you get into illustration?
Sarah Larnach \\ Two years ago I found myself simultaneously making ‘fan art’ portraits for a book by Amanda Maxwell, and embarking on the My Delirium Video for Ladyhawke. It didn’t occur to me that these were ‘illustration jobs’, perhaps because they were collaborative, rather than being client initiated. The directors on the ‘My Delirium’ video for Ladyhawke had a background in illustration, and working with them showed me that there was more to illustration than I was aware of. In London on that project, it seemed like everyday I was being asked what agency I was with, and what other jobs I had done. Illustration wasn’t something I had really thought about, but it reached out and grabbed me by the throat. While I was investigating potential artist agencies, I was approached by International Rescue in NZ, and I went with them because I dug their vision and attitude.
PD \\ Tell me a little about the Haiti t-shirt project?
SL \\ Dave from Closet Tee’s approached me to contribute an image. I believe that Dave was aware of the ‘Art Loves Haiti’ auctions I had facilitated to raise funds, and was aware of the personal link that I had to Haiti – my stepsister Emily Sanson-Rejouis lost her dear husband and two young daughters in the tragedy. Contributing to the Closet fundraiser was a desperate necessity for me. I commend Closet for the huge amount of time and resources they donated to raise funds, and for the smart idea which gives folks a great quality tee shirt in return for a donation to Oxfam.
PD \\ Looking at some of your work it seems you have a thing for watercolours, wolves, cats and dinosaurs…
SL \\ Well, I respond the most to figurative image, so that’s what I like to paint. I use ‘creatures’ a lot as they have less baggage than humans; it’s unlikely that you’re going too look at a Triceratops and think, “would you just look at those sad eyes… I wonder – did he have a rough childhood? Such a shame”. Unless that’s what I want you to see. The cats were an early Ladyhawke thing, and were done because Eleanor Abernathy, aka The Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons, shares an uncanny likeness with Ladyhawke, and it was the eccentricity of a cat lady that we hoped to suggest. The cats got fun when I started making them do stuff; like dressing as ghosts… but we soon ventured too close to cutes-ville. The logical and mature progression was to wolves – way more tough than cats, and dinosaurs – who invented tough. It is very difficult to get too cute on a dinosaur, even if it’s dressed up for Halloween.
PD \\ How did you get involved with Ladyhawke?
SL \\ Pip (Ladyhawke) and I have enjoyed a collaborative relationship for years; we DJ’d together when I was in art school, and moved to Sydney together when she was creating Ladyhawke. Pip has been my muse and has always helped me to identify the strengths in my work. She has a degree in design, so her visual representation was always very important to her and as we worked well together and she had a lot of faith in my work… I guess that my working on Ladyhawke projects was a given. I helped her and now she’s helping me.
PD \\ What’s the concept behind the work?
SL \\ We were looking to portray a woman isolated in her unique version of reality. Always, she is a bit disturbed and above all, alone. All the writing on the album is done by hand, in a messy scratchy scrawl. The album and its singles were to have conscious synergy; when you picked up a copy of the Ladyhawke album, you should find that the only thing not hand-done is the barcode. I even re-painted the record company logos. We had hoped that the craft, devotion and dedication would shine through, adding a physical weight to a record that people would love to paw over and hold as they listened… as we have done with our favourite records.
Creating a record for collectors was important to Pip and I, as we have both been obsessive about collections ourselves. There’s no romance in checking out someone’s digital collection, and less potential to educate your kids, or let them explore for themselves, without a physical/visual dimension to music – this is how we both got into music, and album cover obsession. The Ladyhawke vinyl comes with an iTunes download code, which I believe is a very smart way to combine the interests of the visual collector with aural convenience.
The first artwork done was the cover piece; Pip alone in her chaotic utopian apartment, surrounded by the cables powering her games and music studio. Some pieces reference movies we like, for example, the one of Pip dressed in a sheet-as-cheap-ghost-costume is from Beetlejuice. When I couldn’t have Pip model for a picture, I would bring in a cat as her body double. The album booklet is one continuous image; in reality it’s a two-metre wide painting, where the cast of characters from the album single covers are revisited.
PD \\ Your work is also gracing beer bottles these days? How did that happen?
SL \\ Becks Bier UK has been releasing an artist series annually for the last 22 years. The theme for the 2009 series was ‘Music Inspired Art’, and Becks sought out two known artist\musician collaborators who have represented that theme. I think that Pip saw this as terrific exposure for my work, so she accepted the opportunity on my behalf. My paintings were based on taxidermy tableau, as you would see in natural history museums, there are some diorama style paintings with display case frames, and other ominous scenes with wolves and falcons and creepy trees. Where Pip appears she’s blindfolded and looking rather ‘hunted’. It might be appropriate to suggest that the series is a little gothic. I was commissioned to do six paintings, which became two labels on a run of 20 million bottles, six-pack and slab boxes, billboard, phone booth and taxicab decal adverts. I left London the day after the launch party and never saw the campaign in person… nor do I have a single bottle from those millions!