From a huggable grizzly bear hanging decorations on his Christmas tree, to dashingly handsome red foxes dressed in country attire; illustrator Katie O’Hagan could give the deadliest of animals a sweet temperament and make it seem natural. After commissioning her to create the urban fox standing elegantly at the top of this page, I have been totally enthralled by her ability to capture such character in a two-dimensional painting. On Monday, I managed to steal five minutes from Katie’s busy schedule to ask her about her work and her techniques…
Urban Fox: Katie, you studied Illustration and Printmaking at University in Dundee, did you always know that illustration was what you wanted to do?
Katie: Absolutely – I went to school in Luxembourg where there was a heavy focus of Maths and Science and Art wasn’t really taken seriously at all. I was always really interested in drawing and began attending art lessons outside of school where I built a portfolio which secured me a place at University.
Urban Fox: All your paintings have a very unique feel – did it take you a long time to solidify a distinguishable style?
Katie: It took me years! Even when I started University I was playing around with different styles and techniques. It was only really in my final year that I felt I had developed a unique and definitive style.
Urban Fox: The soft colour palette that you use is one of the most distinctive features of your work, how do you achieve such consistency and what is your favourite medium to use?
Katie: My favourite medium is acrylic paint. I use a specific brand of fluid acrylics which have a particularly high pigmentation because the colours are amazing! I have experimented with oil paints and watercolours but have always returned to acrylics – they are much more forgiving. I also use an ink pen. I tend not to start out with a pencil drawing because I find it can make the drawing look stale. It’s risky, but instead, I go straight in with an ink pen to add fine detail and outlines and I think the animals seem more spontaneous and lively as a result.
Urban Fox: Do you have a favourite place to sit and paint?
Katie: Not really – my paintings are relatively small scale and I don’t make too much of a mess so I mostly work at home. I have a desk where I keep all of my materials, but I prefer to spread out onto the kitchen table and I’ll sit and draw there.
Urban Fox: Your paintings of animals are full of character. How do you begin a drawing, do you decide on their personality first?
Katie: It really depends on the job. When I develop a character for a book, it is all about the personality. I will do a lot of character sketches in so many different sizes, positions and situations. By the end, drawing the animal is so natural to me, I can envisage it doing anything! Commissions I approach differently and I tend to only do one version. The paintings and prints I make for my online shop are influenced by beautiful animals – whenever I see one, I am immediately inspired to draw it and facial portraits of animals are one of my favourite formats.
Urban Fox: You’ve illustrated a book about an ambitious goldfish (“What I think about when I think about…swimming”) and you’ve painted an array of animals. Where else can we find your designs?
Katie: Yes, at the minute I mostly make gift cards, paintings and prints which I sell online from my website and my Etsy shop. I have also recently discovered the hidden world of London craft fairs. I am considering how else to use my illustrations on products and have thought about expanding to use my designs on ceramics. But, for now, these keep me busy alongside commissions. Actually, I have been getting commissions from all over the world for some weird and wonderful illustrations…
Katie’s illustrations can be found in Indiana, on the label of goats milk soap, in Novia Scotia, on a gig poster, on a German Shiba Inu Breeders’ website and, perhaps soon, on a large jigsaw puzzle for French toy company Djeco.
Excitingly, Katie will be at a craft fair a little closer to home. Find her charming prints, gift cards and paintings at the Crafty Fox Christmas Market on 14th December in the Bussey Building, Peckham.
A very big thank-you to Katie for bringing the urban fox to The Urban Fox Blog, for her time and for answering all my questions!