Rachal Duggan is a funny lady. The 23-year-old, Chicago-based illustrator creates a cast of characters as diverse as her influences, but each and every one share a similar air of eccentricity. That isn’t to call Rachal eccentric, she isn’t. She is an artist with a talent for taking the everyday oddities of life, and infusing them into her portraits. Her style, which mixes clean composition with complex texture and pattern, is surreal and occasionally grotesque–but its also really fun.
I’m going to kick this off with a wholly generic and uninspired question, but I’m genuinely curious about what got you into illustration?
Well, I have always drawn but I had no idea where I was going with it. Then, when I was a junior in college, I realized I should try to get better at something I already enjoyed instead of worrying about finding something new. It sounds so simple now, but it was quite the epiphany for me at the time.
You went to school in Chicago, right? Are you originally from there?
I grew up in a town (see: Tom Waits song “Johnsburg, Illinois”) which is way north of Chicago. But yeah, I moved to Chicago about 5 years ago to study art. I see every walk of life every day. It’s a good environment; I see strange things often.
Does that stuff find its way into your work? The strange things you see from day to day? Or is it more based on people you know?
I definitely think it’s a combination. Imperfections on people are probably my greatest source of inspiration but I also incorporate patterns, textures and shapes that I see.
Your drawings are often fantastical, odd and at times grotesque (in the best, dictionary sense of the word). I was wondering what amount of that, you think, is that a conscious decision.
It’s definitely not a conscious decision I make before drawing; it seems to just happen. I grew up on Stephen Gammell, Ren & Stimpy and The Three Stooges. My mind gravitates there.
Early on, your work seemed to fall into two distinct groups: people, and more creature-esque creations. The more I see of your recent work, I notice that line blurring. Is that accurate?
I’ve always been a people watcher. I find facial features and body characteristics fascinating. So, I tend to draw people or parts of people. More recently I’ve begun merging those together with shapes and patterns. And yes, they have been getting more abstract and creature-esque lately. I’m glad you noticed.
Your blog is regularly updated with work in black and white, but your portfolio is primarily in color. Do you prefer to work in one or the other?
It’s funny. I started off black and white, then moved into color and now I am back to no color. I find something so simplistic yet compelling about black and white. I draw daily and I think that helps me keep on top of that.
Tell me a little bit about your creative process.
I am super impatient and tend to get frustrated if I try to plan out what I want something to look like. So, I begin most drawings with a simple shape and then try to make a person or a face out of it. I find that abstract shapes and blind-doodling help free any expectations. My goal is to stay fresh.
You mentioned Stephen Gammell earlier, what other illustrators inspire you?
On the comic side of things, I’m a lover of Ivan Brunetti, Chris Ware and David Heatley. As for editorial, fine art and commercial illustrators, I enjoy Travis Lampe, Edward Gorey, Henry Darger, Sophie Alda, Al Hirschfield and Kyle Pellet.
You recently contributed to the Featherproof Light Reading mini-book series. How did that come about?
Last year I received some great advice from Zach Dodson, of Featherproof, and he graciously asked if he could add my mini-book Dads to the Light Reading section of the site. I love the idea of having my book be so accessible. I think printable books are great.
Any other projects in the works?
For the past year I have been compiling stories to be translated in comic form. I’ve found illustrating narratives to be both therapeutic and insanely stressful. While it is a challenge, comics are something I am eager to pursue. Otherwise, I draw daily to keep myself sane. I don’t see that changing.
Don’t see what changing? Drawing daily, or the need to keep yourself sane?
[laughs] Drawing daily.