Work / International Women's Day

Laura Callaghan on how she created this year’s inclusive, powerful and all embracing IWD illustrations

Laura Callaghan has cultivated an audience of devoted illustration fans. From art directors of prestigious publications to fashion houses, Laura’s female-focused work is adored for its ornate line work and carefully chosen patterns which build a unique narrative.

Following on from our site takeover for International Women’s Day last year, It’s Nice That has commissioned Laura to use her illustration style to create the tone of this year’s celebrations. The result is an all-embracing piece, which tells the story of multiple women in one powerful swoop.

Below, we chat to Laura about how she approached the brief and how she’s hit the nail on the head for International Women’s Day this year.


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day

What were your initial thoughts on receiving the brief for this International Women’s Day takeover?

I was delighted to be asked, I loved Kate Prior’s illustration from last year’s International Women’s Day and was excited to create my own.

The brief was to show a group of diverse women with strong body language to echo the tone of the day. One of the points mentioned in the brief was that this year is also the centenary celebration of the women’s right to vote in the UK. While this is a milestone to be celebrated, I think it’s also important to remember that the right to vote was only given to women over 30 with certain property rights, not all women. Intersectionality and inclusion is still a glaring problem in modern feminism so I felt it was important to represent women from a broad section of society to serve as a reminder that a voice for some, not all is not good enough.

Can you talk us through the process of creating these illustrations? 

I sketched out a few initial ideas super quickly in a sketchbook, I start out with scribbles which probably wouldn’t make sense to anyone looking at it, but it helps me get a feel for the composition. Once I had narrowed it down to four compositions I worked these up as small pencil sketches and sent them over to the It’s Nice That team for feedback. I made a few tweaks to the chosen design and sketched up the characters more fully, adding clothing details and refining facial features. Once I was happy with the sketch I enlarged it and printed it out so I could use a lightbox to ink the final illustration onto Bristol board – this just means there are no messy pencil lines to rub out and, if I mess up the inking, I still have an intact pencil sketch to work from if I need to restart. Once I inked in the characters using an Isograph pen, I scanned the image and coloured it digitally in Photoshop using the purple, white and green colours associated with the suffragette movement.


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day

What character traits have you tried to include in the illustrations and why these in particular?

I wanted the characters to appear comfortable in their own skin, exuding confidence and defiance.

What sort of feeling do you want your work to evoke in someone looking at it?

I’m happy for a viewer to feel anything, we’re exposed to so many visual stimuli on a daily basis I think just someone taking the time to stop at look at something I’ve made is amazing! 

Are there ways in which you think the illustration industry could display a better representation of women? 

There has been a trend over the past few years for features on “female illustrators” or panels featuring “women in comics” and while this has undoubtedly brought more attention to some creators work (I mean, I’ve been part of some of those talks and exhibitions!), it’s still categorising women creators as the "other"’ rather than viewing or celebrating their work on its own merits and on the same plain as their male counterparts. I feel like a very basic start would be to stop referring to women in the industry as "female" illustrators.


Laura Callaghan: International Women’s Day

As this is in celebration of International Women’s Day, what are your thoughts on the importance of this day?

In recent years it’s a day that has been co-opted by companies to sell stuff and appear politically aware so it’s easy to feel fatigued by all the self-congratulatory Instagram posts, but it still holds importance if we see it as a chance to reflect on all that remains to be done. It can be an opportunity to amplify marginalised women’s voices, to listen to what they need and share their stories with as much concern as we have shown the women of Hollywood in recent months.

This year is historic for the women of Ireland (where I’m from) as the Irish people will vote this Summer on whether to repeal the eighth amendment, which would lift the constitutional ban on abortion and make safe and legal terminations accessible to its citizens. There is a real feeling of change and possibility so I’ll be feeling hopeful about the future this International Women’s Day!