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Colouring Ireland in with Illustrator Fatti Burke

Words: Ciarán Howley
Images: George Voronov, Hen’s Teeth

With nearly a decade’s experience and having established herself as one of Ireland’s most omnipresent creatives, Fatti Burke is showing no signs of slowing down. The Waterford illustrator, designer and artist made waves with in 2015 with her debut novel and has since won literary prizes, worked with Ireland’s biggest brands and is even finishing her Masters at Trinity College. With a new collaboration landing at All Together Now with Hen’s Teeth and Guinness, Fatti spoke to Ciarán Howley about her career highs and lows and overcoming imposter syndrome.

Fatti Burke is everywhere. Since her literary debut in 2015, co-written with her father John Burke, Burke has broken out as one of Ireland’s most beloved artists with her signature pop visuals becoming part of the nation’s DNA.

In the near-decade since, Fatti has signed her name on twenty-five publications. This includes a trilogy co-written with her father John. This was the first of many times that Burke would use her talent for design to share Irish culture with her readers. Consistent in her work as an illustrator-author and her commercial branding work is an amiable sense of humour centred around cornerstones of Irish culture.

This summer sees the launch of a very special project. In collaboration with some absolute giants, a Fatti Burke x Hen’s Teeth x Guinness merch collection is set to hit shelves at All Together Now. Ahead of the launch, District spoke to Fatti about her career and forthcoming collaboration.

Fatti Burke
Tote from the Guinness x Fatti Burke collection (available here)

When did you first start drawing? 

Working in visual arts was always what I had in my head at school, I just didn’t know in what sort of capacity, if I was going to be a graphic designer or an art teacher. I didn’t even know illustration was a job until I got to college. It was through studying visual communications with that foundation of graphic design that I could kind of make my own niche in that community. 

I was really determined to be a graphic designer until I actually practised in studios and realised this isn’t for me. I much prefer cute and funny pictures. I found myself just doing that in my spare time and when I got home from work I would be doing illustration work for clients. My first book came out in 2015 but I was freelance illustrating pretty much full time. Drawing pictures is what I’ve always wanted to do. Working with books is a passion of mine too; it worked out really well that I get to do both. 

Your work has a really distinctive sense of humour and joy. Where do you think you get it from? 

I don’t know, it kind of comes naturally to me. I’m not really a very talkative person but when I use my words I try to tell jokes. Watching too much television growing up and being obsessed with the Simpsons and stand-up comedy later on. I probably see more comedians than bands. I just love laughing, making observations and jokes. 

I used to be quite prolific on Twitter. I would save my quips for work but found I was just wasting all the good material. 

I got such a laugh from your infographic for The Snug pub you designed for Hen’s Teeth about the fade hairstyle. 

Actually, when I moved back home to Ireland during the pandemic I had to say to my sister: “What is going on with all the lads having the same haircut!”

Returning from Portugal to Waterford, I noticed every lad had one of three haircuts. So I had to make that graphic. 

I feel like the mullet is big right now. 

It is so difficult to tell who is an art student anymore. 

It’s hard to be proud almost, like in any creative job. You’re always thinking about the next thing. You have to be changing and learning all the time.

On the topic of pubs, tell us a little bit about ‘A Lovely Day for a Pint’, your new collab with Guinness and Hen’s Teeth. 

It’s actually inspired by the Snug collection from last year. It was essentially a bootleg Guinness exhibition which they gave me permission for at the last minute. This year it’s more of a public collaboration, with me and Hen’s Teeth producing merch to show that you can enjoy a pint of Guinness in the sun. So I’ve created a series of funny prints, T-shirts, a bucket hat and a tote bag with the slogan “A Lovely Day for a Guinness.” Pints in the sun! 

Prints from the Guinness x Fatti Burke collection (available here)

I love Guinness on a warm day. It’s like a creamy, adult milkshake. 

Yeah! That’s one of the things I touched on, the crossover point between a Guinness and an ice cream. One of my images is about finding a spot in the sun, when it’s five o’clock and one of your friends is off early and they find a great spot in your favourite pub. That’s kind of a special skill that should be encouraged, finding a good spot in the sun, with a pint, and getting a cheeky tan. 

When and where can we get our hands on this exquisite merch? 

Today is the press launch in Hen’s Teeth but the official launch will be at Altogether Now, the week after next. It’ll then be available from the Hen’s Teeth Store, from the Guinness storehouse and other Guinness distributors. There’s two white tees and two black tees, and they’re the ones I actually wear. I really designed them for myself! 

It’s a relief having these comforts back post lockdown. Did it have a big impact on you as an artist?  

Oh, it completely changed everything. I didn’t realise how much of my inspiration I got from interacting with people, observing them or listening to silly things people say and keeping them for later. And when I didn’t have that I really did have to go back into my old note folders, trying to think of things I missed and bring them to my work. 

That’s what inspired the Snug collection; going to a snug pub, playing a bit of music. It was hard, and I’m still kind of recovering from that. Trying to find inspiration in everyday life. I guess I learned that they’re one of my biggest inspirations. It’s hard to make work when you’re lonely.

You forget how much creativity is fuelled from other people and different experiences, rather than your own thoughts. 

And I didn’t want to be making lots of work about the pandemic. I was waiting for it to be over. The bit of time alone was good and I got to make stuff I never would otherwise, at like 2am in my house. Making ashtrays, changing the materials I was working with and having nothing to lose. 

So it was good for that, and I also decided to go back to college at that time. 

That’s amazing, you’re doing a Masters in Trinity College right? 

I’m in my second year now, going back in September. That was something I would not have done if it was just normal life. So being back here and being in Trinity now, that’s something I wouldn’t have known I needed. That’s the pandemic. It’s helping me fix a little bit of my imposter syndrome in publishing. It’s not something I studied, I just sort of fell into it and I just want to make sure I’m doing the best job I can. 

I’m amazed that you suffer from imposter syndrome. 

I find it all still quite hard to believe, and if I do accomplish something that I’ve been aiming for, as soon as it’s finished I’m onto the next thing. It’s hard to be proud almost, like in any creative job. You’re always thinking about the next thing. You have to be changing and learning all the time. Saying new things to people, and changing up your style a little bit. I haven’t stopped yet to take it in.

Sketches
The fabled Garfield phone

Are there any disciplines you haven’t tried your hand at yet that you would like to? 

Well, I definitely want to start writing more fiction. I would love to do fiction for younger readers, but I’d also love to try my hand at writing a novel for teen readers that I’ve been starting as well. I love writing poetry. 

And I’m working on the first animation at the moment. I’m working with an animation studio right now, just kind of doing storylines with an animation studio. I’ve always loved television, so I’d love to be a TV writer as well. It kind of feels like a step into that. 

Because not every idea or story I have can translate into a poster or a print. Some are a bit more complex, and need the format of a book or a TV show. 

I feel like my most successful projects were a success because I didn’t do them with anybody else in mind.

Right, some stories need motion. But you’re saying you want to try everything? 

I do! Even with hobbies. I got really into buying and upcycling furniture from online adverts. Just buying loads of things; weird knick-knacks collected in my house from trawling ad boards at night time. I love buying furniture and doing it up. 

I love that. So if someone was to walk into your house what would immediately stand out? 

Okay, well there’s two. One is my Garfield phone. I got that on Adverts and it’s just such a steal. 

Our photographer was very impressed with the Garfield phone. 

It’s so cool. The eyes open and close when you pick up the receiver. I just don’t have a landline to plug him into yet. But I also have an old Shell petrol pump. It’s at my parent’s house. I got it in an antique shop during a pandemic-related-manic-episode. It’s too big for my flat but maybe for the next place. 

But yeah, I’d say I’m a bit of a magpie.

Current obsessions? 

You know what, it’s only out once a week but Tony Cantwell and Michael Fry’s new short Up to F*ck. It’s a fake morning talk show, but I look forward to that every week. I’m also watching RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 7. 

I got a new pair of runners I’m obsessed with. They’re black with a triple platform, but when they move they’re iridescent! They’ve got this big buckle on them, it’s very 2000s, very emo…kind of recluse look. They make me feel very tall, emo baby spice. 

Last question, but do you have any advice to anyone looking to break into the creative industries? 

I actually heard good advice at the first ever Offset design festival. The artist told us, “anything you wish existed in the world, that’s the thing you should be making” and not making art for other people.

I feel like my most successful projects were a success because I didn’t do them with anybody else in mind.

Full collection of merch available here

The Guinness x Fatti Burke collection launches officially at All Together Now July 29 and is available to buy now here.

Please drink Guinness responsibly.

Visit drinkaware.ie for more info