Shamefully, there was a period where I was overwrought with cynicism for Dublin and its people, more specifically in the creative spectrum. Nothing was exciting, everything was mundane and lacklustre, it was a though there was a constant winter with no prospect of the colourful newness that ensues with the anticipated arrival of Spring. Why were people afraid to be bold, bright and experimental in shaping Dublin’s aesthetic? Of course, my stance was a highly arrogant one especially as I can scarcely draw a smiling match stick man! I was merely desperate to feel inspired by my city.
One day as I was walking to work in an extremely sleepy daze past the Woolen Mills after it was the fabric shop and before it became the hamtastic restaurant, it happened. I was mesmerised by a marvellously massive pink and black map of Dublin, a collaborative piece by Fatti Burke and Shane Kenna. What was initially conceived as a piece to make a temporary wall look pleasing during structural refurbishments transformed into a really cool piece of public art. Namely, I was familiar with Fatti Burke, and unconsciously familiar with a small portion her portfolio. As I researched Burke to lose myself in her work and learn more about the artist behind these captivating creations (curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat, it sometimes make it more cultured, hence the phrase; cool cat). I was shocked to realise that I was more acquainted with Burke’s work than I had anticipated.
Her use of long type, playful portrayal of Irish idiosyncrasies and masterful use of colour, experimenting with different textures was known to me from the cute illustrations in the window of Kaph coffee shop, and posters from flea markets past.
Her passion for Dublin as demonstrated in a selection of her work reignited my own love for my city.Burke has made it exciting to enjoy a coffee in 3Fe having completed an amazing mural recently for their interior, she has encouraged me to learn how to cook with her colourfully informative world recipes, and most importantly Burke has thought me to keep my eyes open at all times when rambling around Dublin. I instantly became a huge fan of her work and I really wanted to know more about the lady who shamelessly calls herself Fatti (despite the fact she is sweetly petite) and is known to her friends as Kathi. When I spoke to her I was struck by her honesty and pragmatism with her career, this humble realism intensified my love and appreciation for her work. I have boundless respect for Burke as she is someone who has achieved a tremendous feat in shaping Dublin’s creative aesthetic. She effortlessly eradicated my cynicism (something I never thought possible) and replaced it with excitement, joy and wonderfully colourful images! Before I ramble myself into a crazed fan-girl status, I will stop and allow you to become enthralled with the beautifully authentic and inspiring work of Fatti Burke.
Did you grow up in a creative household, destined to be one of those kids who spent their after school downtime constantly drawing and lost in their imagination?
FB: Pretty much, yeah! It has always been the thing I was most interested in, closely followed by music. My sister is my best friend, and growing up with her was so much fun because we basically had these insane imaginations that led us to writing plays, films, painting, embroidering and writing song lyrics to accompany the demo songs on our dad’s keyboard. My parents were probably pretty happy about that, as it meant we were constantly quiet and occupied.
When did you realise that you wanted to become an Illustrator?
FB: I wanted to be a fine artist initially, more specifically a painter. I was also really interested in becoming a graphic designer since I was about 15, so when I discovered that I could basically combine the two through illustration, I was hooked. Now, I look back at most of my favourite artists and realise that their work is very illustrative.
Where do you find inspiration for your work and who are your main influences? Do you have a typical “go-to” source when you are starting a new project?
FB: It’s funny; I’m not influenced as much by other illustrators as I should be, I guess. Naturally, I’m inspired by beautiful work, but when I’m feeling crazy unmotivated or in need of new ideas I tend to turn to music. My friends will tell you that I’m a sucker for proper cheesy Mam hits, and my Spotify is a terribly confused mix between Michael Jackson, Kendrick Lamar and Badly Drawn Boy. Everything Ilike is very contradictory, in hindsight.
You have such a beautiful and uniquely distinct style of Illustration that gives an amazing cohesiveness to your work. How did you develop your style and did you always feel confident adapting this aesthetic to your work?
FB: It’s weird, I feel like my style is changing every week, or goes in and out of phases that I think are really obvious to other people, but maybe it’s just clear to me. I used to have a lot more of a painterly style, whilst still being very crude. I went through a stage in college where I insisted on drawing things as I remembered them rather than looking up reference material, which led me to the kind of blobby shapes and not-quite-rightness that I still have today. I’m becoming more confident in my style now, but I’ve placed less limitations on my work in the past year, which I think made me enjoy it that bit more.
What does your typical working day entail?
FB: I usually wake up late, like 9 or half past. I’d walk the dog, if it’s my day (my partner and I share that job) and have a cup of disgusting instant coffee because I keep forgetting to buy actually beans. I usually check a couple websites for news or pseudo-news. (It’s a waking up ritual). Then I reply to all the emails I have, as some of my clients are international and we are always emailing each other in the wrong time-zone. I work up until lunchtime with podcasts on in the background and depending on the day, I try to do some personal work in the afternoon. Obviously some weeks I can’t fit as much in as I’d like, but when I have a quiet week it keeps me excited and motivated. I feel myself getting very weary when I don’t work for myself.
How important is it for you to focus and work on personal projects?
FB: Extremely important, and it’s something I have to keep reminding myself to do. I feel you can get quite bogged down with working for pay only, and although that’s great, your work can’t grow or excite you when you’re solely working to other people’s approval and concepts.
What is the design community in Dublin like? Is it a supportive or competitive environment?
FB: It is wonderfully supportive and friendly. Maybe I’m biased because I don’t have enough fingers for the amount of my close friends who are sickeningly talented, but you would never meet a more welcoming and helpful bunch of people. Everybody knows how tough it is to get the right jobs, everyone has had those hungry months and we are the first to recommend each other for work or collaborations.
What have you found most challenging whilst establishing yourself as an Illustrator in such a small place like Dublin?
FB: I think getting pigeonholed can become a bit frustrating. When you’re known for one thing, especially one thing you don’t want to keep doing forever, it gets irksome. But the best thing in that situation is to not show off those jobs and you’ll get fewer calls about them. Also, since we’re a small enough community it can be easy for others to pit you against each other like it’s a competition. But really our only competitors are ourselves.
You illustrate a lot of (gorgeous) maps and recipes, dedicating the same level of attention to every little detail within these pieces from grains of basmati rice to a hearty leg of lamb. What is it that attracts you to this deconstruction and informative approach to certain foods, and places that we are both familiar with and connected to in one way or another?
FB: I mentioned earlier that I used a method in college that stopped me from using reference images, and I still do this, unless it’s a bodily position because I’m terrible at drawing limbs correctly.
I know food. It’s basically all I think about, so when I draw my recipes I draw things as I would most easily recognise them. I mean, cuts of meat are hard and mine are probably very inaccurate, but details like the shape of a certain herb leaf or the shade of green on an olive are very important to me as a food lover.
Has there been any project(s) you have worked on that you felt particularly passionate about and proud to have contributed to?
FB: Working with Cara magazine is really wonderful. There’s just a great openness there and it’s been a relationship that I’m really happy with. But there are not many jobs I’m unhappy with! I just get lucky with lovely clients I guess.
What would be the ultimate dream opportunity/ piece to work on in the future for Fatti Burke Illustration?
FB: I’m obsessed with getting a picture book published so now I just have to write one and make the time to do it. That and working with more food publications, I’m really enjoying food illustration for personal projects and would love to focus on more of that in my commercial work too.
As well as having an amazing eye for detail in designing your work, you have incredible personal style. What are your feelings towards fashion? Who/What inspires your outfits?
FB: Wow I never think of myself as any way fashionable! I like simple things that I’m comfortable in, basically. And I like to have fun with my clothes – my wardrobe is filled with colours and patterns I only really wear when I’m locked!
How does it feel to pursue something you love as a career?
FB: It’s heart-breaking and stressful and extremely difficult at times. But it’s the best decision you’ll ever make.
Words Zara Hedderman
Illustrations via www.fattiburke.com.