Original Interview: May 2017

Fatti Burke

Ever wanted to design a kids book with your dad!? We had a chat with Kathi the wonderful illustrator also known as Fatti Burke, ex DJ and Irelands number one fan! If you’re an emerging illustrator read on.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
I went to college in NCAD (Dublin) studying Viscom, and I started taking on the odd client from about second year. My first jobs (that I did for disgustingly little money) were posters and flyers for a boyfriend’s club night, artwork for friend’s bands, gig posters for pubs and nightclubs, all that sort of work. Me and my friend Shane used to DJ throughout college so together we’d design the identity to our own club nights and then that led me to doing work for lots of different promoters during college. It was lots of Facebook event images and stuff like that, but it really got me used to working to tight deadlines and basically paid for my dinners during that time.

What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
My plan was a bit all over the place. By my final year, I hadn’t actually decided whether or not I wanted to be a graphic designer or an illustrator or a bit of both. I did a handful of great internships in design studios across Dublin and was given the opportunity to complete the Threex3 program here, doing 3 month internships in three of Dublin’s best design studios. After that time I made my mind up to focus on illustration, it comes more naturally to me and I just don’t think I have the logical mind to be a great designer. So yeah, once I made my mind up to be an illustrator (2013) I just did it I guess! Took a while to build up a client list, but I’m so glad I made that decision.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?
I normally start around 10 these days. I just handed in a book that I was working on for the past 7 months, so I can approach my days a bit more casually now. Mornings are for emails, meetings and edits to jobs from the day before. For example, this week I’m doing some personal projects, a private commission, a book pitch and two advertising/editorial pieces. So I normally divide my days up evenly between whatever I’m working on. I like to set myself milestones in each project so that they all get equal attention, so if it’s a book I’m working on it would be a page or an illustration per day, and if its a map or something I would break the project up into separate elements that need to be completed. I’m quite anal with my work and scheduling and once all my tasks for the day are ticked off I can just go home, which is super satisfying.

What has been your highlights since you started out?
It has to be the books I’ve done in the past 2 years, Irelandopedia and Historopedia with Gill Books. I always wanted to get into picture books, and I hadn’t really worked out how to get into the industry! With some good timing and luck, Gill found my work and approached me about the above. I got my Dad involved to write them, and it has been a bit of a dream since then. They have been so well received and Irish children have really connected to the works. That’s the dream really, inspiring children and getting them to enjoy learning about where they come from. Winning awards for our books is such a shock now too, it was something I never expected and is the cherry on the cake to what has been such an amazing introduction to the publishing world.

What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1) Never take criticism personally. Starting out, I would let edits and critiques get to my head, and I’d kind of beat myself up about not doing good enough. I mean, I still do this to a certain extent, but I would never take a clients feedback as a bad thing. I now thrive off criticism and changes, it helps me to grow as an artist for sure.
2) Listen to your gut. Normally the first solution you have is the strongest and I always find myself going back to the simplest idea cause it’s usually the best.
3) Notice what you like! I like to bookmark images that particularly appeal to me, whether they’re photos or illustrations or posters. These are the pictures that I turn to when I need inspiration — the colours in a particular piece might inspire me, or a certain approach to arranging images on a page or whatever. I just like to notice the things that I like in an image and then learn from it.
4) It’s hard work. I often off-handedly say things like ‘I just get to draw all day’ but it’s really not like that at all. I mean, technically it is, but it’s very difficult at times and can be quite mentally draining. You are expected to be creatively inspired every day of the week, from the moment you sit at your desk. Some days you really don’t have any great ideas at hand, but you have to get a page of a book done by the end of the day. Work has to get done whether you’re inspired or not basically and that’s hard to come to terms with at times. It’s a skill that you have to practice really, and that’s one of the hardest parts of what I do, more so than doing the work itself.

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?
I have a lot to look forward to actually! I have a few book projects starting soon so I’ll be working on those for the next year or so pretty much full time. I can’t talk too much about any of the books in question unfortunately, but there will be projects with Gill Books here in Ireland, Bloomsbury in the UK and Penguin Random House in NY. All kids books of course, and I’m really passionate about each of them so it’ll be a brilliant year if all goes to plan! My third book with Gill is coming out in October 2017 too, Focloiropedia! It is the third of the series and this one will be teaching children everyday words and phrases in Irish that they can use with their families and friends. Me and my dad (who wrote it) are so thrilled for this one to get into homes — hopefully it will encourage kids to dot their English with the odd Irish word, keeping the language alive in any small way we can.

Website: fattiburke.com
Twitter: @fattiburke
Instagram: @fattiburke