Written by Colleen Jones, Regional Advisor
(I’m a little late getting this one out for “winter”, though it has been rather Arctic this past week!)
Find out more about our featured member, Martin Fahy, Waterford-based illustrator and director of Southpaw Book Arts Studio, a small mobile art studio in Waterford city. He is also the volunteer social liaison for SCBWI Ireland in the Southeast.
I asked Martin some questions so that we could learn more about him and his many projects.
SCBWI: Tell us a bit about yourself and your training in illustration and art. How did you become interested in picture books?
Martin: I graduated from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) with a Bachelor of Art Honours in Design (Visual Communication) in 2011. My final-year project was illustration based. I studied illustration as part of the course and illustrated “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles for a third-year module and made a dummy book of it too. This is where my love of picture books and illustration really took off. My ever-expanding collection of picture books is proof.
SCBWI: Who are your influences, mentors, or inspirational role models for illustration?
Martin: I was lucky enough to attend the first Offset Conference in 2009, where I met artist Oliver Jeffers. (I’m slightly obsessed with him.)
SCBWI: What was your first major project?
Martin: In 2012, I was the Artist-in-Residence in the Waterford Healing Arts Trust.
I created a series of collage illustrations for an art book as part of a collaboration with the patients and staff of the University Hospital of Waterford.
SCBWI: What other illustration projects have you or are you currently involved in?
Martin: Since 2015, I have been taking part in the Inktober illustration project every October, which can involve doing an ink drawing every day for 31 days.
Image: An illustration by Martin for Inktober
SCBWI: I enjoyed doing a book-making workshop with you in Waterford a few years ago, and the Beanstalk Doodle that you brought to our SCBWI South social in Cork. Will you be doing more workshops?
Martin: This year, I’m planning events for National Drawing Day, developed by the National Gallery of Ireland, on May 18th, and then Cruinniú na nÓg on June 15th. I will also be running more workshops on picture-book art and writing as well as giving monthly talks at the library on picture books and other related topics.
Image: Martin’s beanstalk doodle at a Cork social event
SCBWI: What are some of your favourite picture books (besides everything by Oliver Jeffers)?
Martin: There are many, but a few that stand out are: Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus; Jon Klassen’s That’s Not My Hat; Yasmeen Ismail’s Specs for Rex; Tatyana Freeney’s Socks for Mr Wolf; and Michael Fewer and Melissa Doran’s Naturama.
SCBWI: Are you working on any picture books of your own?
Martin: I am starting a year-long book-art project and will also start writing my picture book ideas and developing them.
SCBWI: What is the best or most fun aspect of being an illustrator/artist?
Martin: Getting to draw and colour images, and grabbing ideas from the air! And hopefully getting paid to do it all day. What’s not to like?
SCBWI: What is the worst or most difficult aspect of being an illustrator/artist?
Martin: Finding those elusive ideas in the air, trying to be original but yet consistent in my work, and ignoring that little nagging demon of self doubt that sits on my shoulder.
SCBWI: Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Martin: I’m like every other creative. I do get those days where nothing appears on that blank sheet, and the pencil in hand just won’t move. I deal with slumps by talking a break and getting outside in the fresh air. Sometimes a change of scenery can work wonders; other times a nap is enough!
Image: One of Martin’s #100daysofselfies drawings on Instagram
SCBWI: What advice would you give to anyone getting started as an illustrator/artist?
Martin: Get as much practice as possible, look at as much art and picture books as you can, take risks with your own style, be inspired by your idols but don’t imitate them. Above all, do it because you love it, not to make money. Money comes and goes, while creativity is constant.
SCBWI: You joined the SCBWI in 2013 and have been a volunteer since 2016. What do you find most beneficial about organizations such as the SCBWI? Why?
Martin: If you can afford it, join Illustrators Ireland or the SCBWI. Go to the Children’s Books Ireland conference in September (I’m hoping to attend this year). Go to a SCBWI conference (British Isles or Europolitan are the closest) in the near future. If that’s not in your budget, find a local group or start your own. Getting together with other creatives can be very satisfying.
SCBWI: When did you set up Southpaw Book Arts Studio and how did that come about?
Martin: In 2013, I received a grant from Waterford City Council to set up Southpaw, a book-art and writing workshop.
SCBWI: Tell us more about Southpaw and your long-term plans for it.
Martin: I run the Southpaw Book Arts Studio as a non-profit volunteer arts studio. The goal of Southpaw is to become a multi-functional creative space that provides a wide range of facilities for the general public and for people in the creative arts. They can use the space to discover and expand their creative skill set without the academic or financial restrictions of other institutions. The studio will also house a gallery/performance space that is accessible to all regardless of their experience or social status. Southpaw will provide workshops and classes in a wide range of mediums and for all ages, from beginner art classes to creative writing groups.
The studio will also eventually have an extensively stocked art supply shop and a gift shop. All proceeds from the classes and workshops, and any commissions from exhibitions, would go directly back into funding or subsidizing the classes and workshops, keeping the cost at an affordable level for all.
Image: Paper cut-outs window display for Halloween
It has been fantastic learning more about your and your creative endeavours, Martin! Thank-you for being such an active part of the Waterford creative community and for running the socials for SCBWI Ireland in your area.
You can find Martin Fahy in Waterford city or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/southpaw.bookarts/