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A talk with… Steve Doogan

By Mindo - 21st Apr 2020

Irish Pharmacist talks with Steve Doogan — an award-winning Scottish-born illustrator living in Ireland.

Steve creates work for a variety of clients and commercial applications: From coffee packaging to posters, book covers to billboards. He is also a printmaker, specialising in etching and linocut techniques.

Poster for Druid’s major production of John B Keane’s play Sive at the Gaiety Theatre

What’s the biggest perk of being in your profession?

I get to set my own hours, work where I want to, be very mobile if required, and make some pretty stuff from time-to-time that get seen by a lot of people.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what do you think you would have done? 

I have no idea. I’ve been a gardener in a Buddhist co-operative, a drama teacher in schools; a gallery attendant;  a kitchen worker; and a busker. It took me years to discover the thing that I do well and I’m very grateful to be doing it.

Illustration for debut album from Little Green Cars

How has your practIce changed over time?

When I got into illustration, I was an art director in advertising, which then became a storyboard artist for TV adverts, a very soul-sapping job that often involved working all night to deliver work that was then discarded. So I’ve tried hard to move away from advertising towards illustrating for packaging, posters and books — objects that can be beautiful, seductive and tactile. I also try to make personal work as much as I can, which can be linocuts, etching, large-scale drawing. Real images made with real materials, as opposed to digital work that only exists on a hard drive somewhere.

What is your dream project?

Book covers, record sleeves, theatre posters. I’d love to do a series of really dramatic, out-there theatre posters. I think Dublin suffers needlessly from too many bad poster designs.

What are you working on now?

Historical illustrations for Wexford County Council. I just finished a big, elaborate image of the Black Death in the town of Bannow, complete with plague victims with open sores, really nasty stuff — and of course they had to pull it in the current crisis. Nobody needs to see any more of that!  They now want a peaceful medieval town in bright sunshine, everyone happily going about their business. Fair enough. I’m also illustrating chapter headings for an Irish language book.

Where do you find your ideas?

For personal exploratory work, I love playing with different media, whether its carving lino, etching copper with chemicals, making huge wall-size sketches, forming heads from clay or plasticine, photographing things, playing with digital effects — the more you enjoy messing with a medium, the more you will stumble upon things that just work out better than others. You have to be willing to spend a lot of time and energy on stuff that may seem ludicrous at first (and will often end with nothing decent) but might throw up something you can genuinely call your own. You must be willing to accept that mistakes are instructive, to stop worrying about being a bit rubbish. Keep at it and things will happen.

Biggest regret?

Dressing so badly all through my 20s. Tracksuit bottoms tucked into socks, Chinese slippers, trench coats, bouffant hair under Breton caps. Bad glasses. Clueless.

Best piece of advice you could give?

See above. Just make stuff. Let it accumulate. If you work hard enough and get over your need to look cool all the time, you will get results.

What’s good about living in Ireland?

It’s a gorgeous, warm, friendly country. The people have very little time for aggro and shoutiness, which sadly is still something that can ambush you in Glasgow, my home town, which is lovely in so many other ways. Ireland’s west coast is paradise, I love it. My favourite getaway break is a weekend cycling on the Ring of Kerry by myself, staying at Mrs Clifford’s bed and breakfast.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

David Thewlis as he was in Mike Leigh’s Naked

What was the last book you read?

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks.

Which book changed your life?

Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I was 17 and thought Scotland could be like America in the 50s, so I took off hitch-hiking my way around the country. I didn’t meet many doe-eyed Mexican beauties though. Just sullen drunks in drizzly towns. But his brand of wild, exuberant optimism and adventurousness infected me for life. 

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