Tallulah Pomeroy has been Catapult ’s in-house illustrator since its launch. She has drawn girls in baths and women in bed, made gifs of hermit crabs and rabbits, illustrated the Fifteen Minutes series, designed banners for our special topics including At Work and Adopted and Losing My Religion, and written her own story about a sheep that meets an unfortunate end. While continuing to delight us every week with her talent and her range, she’s now at work on a new project: A Girl’s Guide to Personal Hygiene, an illustrated book to be published by Soft Skull Press next year. Here she answers questions about what it’s like to draw for us and explains how the new book came to be.
Your weekly illustrations have defined Catapult ’s aesthetic. There are a lot of words I can use, and have used, to describe your work (playful; joyous; daring; sensitive; not to embarrass you I have exclaimed that you’re genius several times after opening an email in which you sent me a drawing) but I wonder how you would describe it. What are you striving for with your work?
I guess we’ve grown together. C atapult was my first big illustration job after university, and it’s taught me so much. I don’t know how I’d describe my work. I’m still at the beginning, just exploring, a nd it seems to change all the time. I try to be honest and intuitive in my approach. I am happiest when the line is coming straight from inside, or straight from my eyes, and there’s no brain in the way. Sometimes I get there but it’s elusive. I wish I could summon that state of mind whenever. I want my drawings to feel alive. I think Quentin Blake has that down; he captures people so simply, and his line is totally his own.
In your illustrations for us, you’re working with existing material—a short story, an essay, sometimes a topic. What’s your process when engaging with a text or illustrating an idea and how does it differ from your approach when you’re starting from scratch?
It’s an interesting process, and it’s taken a while to get the hang of. The first reading of the piece is just to get the feel—images and ideas bubble away but I don’t look at them too closely. I read it again the next day, so it’s had time to sink in, and as I’m reading the right idea will normally swim up to the surface. That might be my favorite part of the whole thing, the moment when it clicks. The idea will usually be a combination of feel and imagery, nothing concrete. I begin with a rough draft, and often I end up going for the rough draft in the end, because it’s fresher and less self-conscious than the final.
At the moment I prefer this process to starting from scratch. It pushes me to draw things I wouldn’t choose to. I like reading the pieces closely and getting inside the heads of the writers.
What have been some of your favorite pieces or types of pieces to work on for us?
Tracy O’Neill’s writing is great to illustrate, because she’s thinking about people and behavior, which I like to think about too. Drawing people and faces is my favorite thing, and because her pieces are essays rather than fiction, I have freedom to explore body language without thinking about specific characters. Her writing is curious and thoughtful and open. I also loved Emily Flamm ’s piece. It’s free and indirect, so I felt I could be more abstract in my approach too. I had loads of fun illustrating Nancy Matson’s story too, because I could really get into the atmosphere of the circus with all the weird characters, and I loved the sense of awkwardness and anticlimax.
What has been the most challenging?
Political pieces are the ones I find hardest, because politics are often associated with symbols, and it’s not about the atmosphere or the feel so much as about the issue. I guess I find it hard when it’s a serious piece, as I’m not usually very serious in my work. I like to reflect the style of writing in my drawing, so it’s hard when the style isn’t an important part of the piece. I’ll do some research if it’s something I don’t know much about, and something always comes in the end.
Does the fact that your illustrations for Catapult exist primarily online change your approach?
It takes the pressure off, in a way. My drawings come and go so quickly, which gives me the confidence and freedom to try different approaches. I love the short deadlines that keep me on my toes. Maybe the fact that it’s online gives Catapult the freedom to publish more unusual writing, too. It’s strange in a way, because the drawings get emailed off into the ether and I don't have much to do with them again. That’s the nature of illustration, I guess. On the other hand, with Catapult I can work from anywhere and in my own time, which is brilliant.
Do you think your work has changed as we’ve worked together? How have you evolved?
I’ve definitely become more confident. At first I used to try and imagine what an “illustrator” would do in my position; now I’m braver about doing what feels right. Hopefully this is visible in my drawing. Sometimes I feel like doing long slow pieces, and at other times I want to be loose and fast, and now I’m comfortable with going with that rather than worrying I need to stick to a specific “style.” Catapult has never made me feel like I need to be one particular thing, which I appreciate.
You studied drawing, and there are artists in your family. Where and when and how would you say you learned to draw, and how did you become an illustrator?
Like everyone, I drew when I was little, and was lucky enough to have parents who were supportive and interested in my drawings. I’d come home from school and draw the playground, who was happy and sad and what games everyone was playing, who was being mean. Not much has changed. I still draw people, I’m still trying to figure them out. I’ve always been interested in what goes on in people’s private lives. In primary school I made cartoons about all my teachers, what they did when they went home. I loved reading and drawing, so it seemed obvious to do illustration, which I studied at Falmouth University. When I was younger I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books—I don’t have those stories to tell right now, but I’d still love to make children’s books one day. Weird ones.
You w ork with ceramics, and you’re a writer as well. How do you see these creative practices informing each other?
Some people have one channel where they can let everything out and really get in deep with it, but I don’t think I’m like that. I have a couple of smaller outlets, and ideally one works when the others are blocked. Maybe it’s because I get quickly frustrated if something isn’t coming easily. I’m not a potter, I’m never going to throw perfect shapes except on the dance floor thankyouverymuch but I do love drawing on bowls. Essentially, you eat your cereal out of it, so it doesn’t matter what’s on it: very freeing. So many limitations are already set in place, decisions are made for me by the shape of the bowl, so I can play with the space. Drawing has always been something I show people, which can make it difficult, and if I didn’t have the bowls I think I’d have over-analyzed it by now. Writing’s different; I write a lot, but I’m more wary of showing people, so I don’t have that self-conscious thing with it, and anyway it’s mostly about people I fancy. Writing kind of feels like making ceramics, though. You write something quick and rough, like throwing a bowl, then give it time to dry, and come back and chisel it into shape.
Let’s talk about A Girl’s Guide to Personal Hygiene. Can you explain the project, and what inspired it?
It started in the summer when I overheard two girls talking about a friend of theirs who’d done something obscene involving feces and a sink. One of the girls said, “She’s not a girl if she did that. She may have a vagina, but she’s not a girl.” I thought that was pretty funny, and wondered what gross things my friends had done that might mean they weren’t girls; it turns out quite a lot. I made a Facebook group where I asked girls to submit stories about their “unladylike” behaviors, and soon this pungent flood of stories was coming out, with us all admitting terrible things. It’s been very entertaining reading. One I got recently was someone with lovely long acrylic nails who uses them to scrape out her earwax. I love that because it subverts our idea of what a girl with long acrylic nails is like. I’m making a book with a selection of the stories, fully illustrated. It’s not too late to submit your own dirty habit!
Submit a story to A Girl’s Guide to Personal Hygiene here.