To say that an Instagram post can change a young woman’s life, is a very modern statement. In Holly Shortall’s case, that is exactly what happened. For the past few years this young Dublin creative had been building up a distinctive portfolio of playful fashion portraiture. However, when Kim Kardashian shared an illustration that Holly drew of her and husband Kanye’s famous Vogue cover on Instagram, the Irish girl’s whole world was transformed. In the aftermath of such attention, her clients expanded to include Cosmopolitan.com, as well as an influx of private commissions. We caught up with Holly to talk about her career and how she’s managed to make it in such a difficult industry.
Who was the first celebrity you drew?
I was always sketching and drawing celebrities since I first set eyes on my granny’s copies of Hello and Ok! magazines. I’m a 90s kid so I loved the glamour of Liz Hurley, Paula Yates and The Spice Girls when I was growing up. But in terms of my career as an illustrator, as in using a computer program to colour my drawings, I think it was Victoria Beckham. She’s so instantly recognisable because she has one pose, the cute upturned nose, distinguishable cheekbones and the huge sunglasses. It was one of the first illustrations I tweeted back in early 2013 and led to a commission from her number one fansite to do some illustrations of one her fashion collections, which was the start of me thinking I might actually be able to make some kind of career out of drawing. When I look at them now though I’m like ‘Oh my God, they are so bad!’
Your mother is an artist and writer, was she a huge influence on your career choice?
Oh 100%, both of my parents, and my boyfriend of 6 years, who’s a musician, have been paramount in me becoming an illustrator. My parents have always worked for themselves too, and I always envied and wanted that type of lifestyle. My parents were and are so encouraging, always telling me to enter competitions, buying me art supplies and praising my work, while my boyfriend bought me a laptop, scanner and photoshop in order for me to teach myself how turn my sketches into illustrations. Even now, I’ll text my mum the illustrations before I upload them to my social media just to make sure they are okay, she might send something back like ‘do her feet look a bit small compared to her body?’ and I’ll be like ‘Yes! You’re dead right’ and fix it up before posting on my social media accounts. She’s just gotten a second book deal too, so I am beyond proud of her.
Did you ever want to be anything else?
Since I could draw, I designed clothes, so naturally I thought I was meant to be a fashion designer. I got into a two year fashion design course after I left school and I knew pretty much on the first day that it wasn’t for me. In terms of creativity it was so strict, and very mathematical, something I am horrendously bad at, so it felt wrong from the off. I only enjoyed the drawing class! I stayed for one year. At the time I would have never, ever considered illustration as a career so it was incredibly hard to accept that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t be a designer.
What inspires you?
I guess the media inspires me a lot, and always did. Current topics like a celebrity wedding, awards ceremonies and fashion week make me sit down and draw. I love doing controversial illustrations, such as the Kim and Kanye Vogue cover, as they always divide opinion and evoke a response!
How do you approach illustrating someone?
With the celebrity illustrations I do for my social media pages , there’s some people I could at this stage draw with my eyes closed, like Victoria and Kim. We see photos of them on the internet every day so I automatically know their poses and traits. I try to keep them a little bit funny too, like if I was drawing Anna Wintour for example, I would never draw her with a smile.
For something like a birthday commission, I would always rather be sent about 5 photos of the person, as opposed to one photo to copy from, as you get a real sense of their personality and what they like, how they pose, etc. It’s really important to me that the customer is overjoyed when they see the illustration so I have no problem making tweaks and changes as they might wish me to do.
What is your workspace like?
At the moment, its just a desk and a computer in my house. As much as I’d love a little studio, I’m just not quite there yet. However, I do live in the centre of town so at the same time it would seem a little extravagant to be paying two sets of rent! My work will always be of the same quality whether I’m working from my own home or a desk in a studio, so although it would be lovely, it’s not something I would put myself under too much pressure to have.
What’s your go-to playlist for when you settle down to work?
I have the most hilarious and random Spotify playslist. I have one called ‘HollWork’ and it has about 50 different artists on ranging from Gwen Stefani and Tears For Fears to N*ysnc and Marilyn Manson, and beyond! I generally like to keep it relatively upbeat though, working in a room by yourself five days a week can be a little bit lonely so you wouldn’t want to be putting Morrisey on or anything grim like that.
Kim Kardashian sharing your illustration boosted your career on a massive scale. What were your emotions when you got the notification she had liked and shared your work?
It was literally the most incredible high. I woke up at 6am to go get ready for work (at the time I was still doing a couple of days a week as a visual merchandiser), and when I realised what had happened I just screamed out loud. My other half was on tour in the States at the time so I rang my mum, God love her, at 6am, roaring crying down the phone, she didn’t know what was happening.
I couldn’t concentrate on a thing all day and my phone was ringing for days after. It was incredible. I was at a stage where I was about to give up on my dream of becoming an illustrator so it was an incredible boost having my work seen by so many people and I’ll be forever grateful to Kim for that.
You have a massive following online – what tips would you give to someone looking to market their work on social media?
I think you need to have a really good attitude, accept that you’ll have to work for free for a few months, and aim to post new work at least three or four times a week. Hashtags are vital if you want people to see your work, as is contacting fan pages (if what you do is celebrity-based) and asking them to share your work. Always sign your work, adding your contact details, and not at the bottom, literally in the middle of the drawing because sometimes someone might repost your work and if its not signed, and they don’t tag you, no one will know you did it. I was blessed that Kim actually tagged me in the drawing so people could find me.
Your work with Cosmopolitan is always crazy in a good way with Disney princesses getting a pop culture twist. How did the relationship with Cosmo come about?
Cosmopolitan’s photo editor, Kathleen Kamphausen, started following me on Instagram when Kim shared my work and contacted me directly a few months lately to ask if I was interested in working with them, which I couldn’t believe.
We got on, through email, like a house on fire, and I am so thankful for the opportunity.
She sent me a wonderful email when I’d finished my second set of illustrations for Cosmo saying ‘You are seriously so fabulous to work with in so many ways: so pleasant, ridiculously quick and accepting of changes, and SO FAST’ which was so cute and amazing coming from one of the most read magazines in the world.
They’ve also shared two illustrations I did of their magazines covers on Instagram already this year, which was a first for them and drew loads of new followers to my page.
Do you pitch or is it mostly commissions?
It’s all commissions. I have sent a few ideas to Kathleen to keep on file and I’d love to work for them again. To be honest I’ve not had one week where I’ve thought ‘I’m so quiet, I’m going to pitch something to someone’. I was really worried about January and February as they are notoriously quiet months but I haven’t had a day where I’m not doing something!
I have an exciting commission for online version of the Irish Independent which will be out this week and I’m so excited about them. It’s great to be getting commissioned by a big Irish publication.
You’ve spoken in interviews about the expectation in Irish society for creative to work for free. When should someone draw the line and demand to be paid for work?
Well, let me put it this way, if the person, publication, or company can afford to pay you, then they should. I wouldn’t dream of asking someone to do something for me for free.
The reason I am now a full time illustrator is because I spent a year sending people free illustrations and trying to get my name and my work out there. People ask you to do unpaid work and say ‘it would be really good for you, we’ll share it and you’ll get loads of new followers’, but unfortunately I can’t pay my rent with Instagram followers.
It’s hard to say when one should stop doing work for free. I think the person will know themselves. But the way I look at it, I can’t charge the average person for an illustration and then not charge a huge company or magazine. That’s just not fair.
You divide up your working days with fashion illustrations for your social media pages and commissions from the public. Do you ever switch off?
Unless there’s a bottle of white wine involved, no! Generally, I work from about 10am to 5pm, and then have the dinner before sitting down and doing something topical for my social media pages, like my favourite Grammys dresses or something like that. Some weeks, like this one, I have so much on I can’t do anything but my commissions and in those situations I will be working from about 7am to 11pm! It really depends what I have on, but it rarely feels like work. I just love drawing.
Working in the fashion industry is a lot of people’s dream career. Do you have any advice on cracking it?
You need to have a thick skin definitely, especially in this day and age where people would think nothing of leaving a comment saying ‘that’s crap’ under your work. At the same time you need to be fully accepting of constructive criticism. That’s something I learned from my five years as Visual Merchandiser. I use to have to listen to five different opinions and try to find a balance between them all, to make everyone happy.
I also think its what you do before you leave school that can give you a leg up over others in future interviews for jobs, colleges or internships, which the next generation of creative school leavers will inevitably have to do.
I recently did a workshop at my old school for students interested in fashion and art and I encouraged them to set up social media pages and blogs to showcase their talents. There was no social media when I was in school, but by the time I left 6th year I’d worked for four different fashion retailers and had made ‘fashion’ the subject of both my Leaving and Junior Cert art projects. It shows a high level of passion and a life long love of your chosen subject.
Do you think you’ll leave Dublin in the coming years?
I don’t have any plans to. I love Dublin and I am so close to my family too. I am very lucky that I don’t even have to leave my apartment to do my work, let alone the country. I was on a TV show in 2010 called Style Wars, which was a little bit thrown together and made up as it went along, so it was only when I got to the final three that I was told the ‘prize’ was a job in London. I burst out crying, there was no way I was going to go if I’d won.
I suppose you should never say never but I am very happy where I am right now.
Which celebrity is the most fun to draw? And which is the most difficult?
Anna Wintour is the most fun because she is instantly recognisable and respected. The great thing about art is its translatable across the world, so when you draw someone that famous everyone knows who it is.
In terms of the most difficult, definitely Beyoncé. It’s hard to describe why, but I think its because while she is obviously so incredibly beautiful, she doesn’t have any defining features. Kim has the tiny nose and the big lips, and Victoria has the big sunglasses, cute nose and killer cheekbones. So it’s very hard to capture Beyoncé, but I’ll keep trying!
#CuteSketch #Vogue @hollywoulddublin
A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on Apr 15, 2014 at 9:39pm PDT
If we had to follow any five people on Instagram, who should they be?
I’d be silly if I didn’t say me! My illustrations get lost on Twitter and don’t show up on peoples Facebook pages half the time unless I pay to promote them, so if I am running a special offer or anything like that, you’ll only know if you follow me on Instagram! (@hollywoulddublin)
@Cosmopolitan is a hugely fun account and their posts always raise a smile. Their New York HQ looks like the most fun place to work, ever, and I think if given the opportunity they’re possibly one of the only companies I’d abandon Ireland for.
@JamieTuohy, my best friend and also my ‘Partner in Wine’, is one of the the most hilarious people I’ve ever met. Both his Twitter and Instagram accounts are choc-a-block with notions and his obsession with all things Beckham and Kardashian always give me a laugh.
@MikeGibsonArtwork is an amazing Irish artist who uses pencils. His work is out of this world and he’s been getting great recognition lately.
@Stacey_Foxy is one of my favourite artists. I discovered her work last year on Facebook and although we’ve never met I would consider her a friend. We are both very encouraging of each others work and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow both personally and artistically. She’s so talented so I would definitely encourage you to ‘watch this space’.
@StyleMeCurvy, otherwise known as Irish model Louise O’Reilly, is a fabulous blogger to follow for anyone, but especially for those, like myself, who wouldn’t be a size 10. Although I dislike the term ‘plus-size model’, that’s what Louise is and I love how she showcases different outfits to flatter the fuller figure. She’s also a gorgeous person inside and out.
Visit HollyShortall.com for more details.
Questions: Jeanne Sutton