Dearbhla Ryan | “I had the audacity of being born a queer Irish woman”

Our featured artist this week is Dearbhla Ryan, a 3rd year Visual Communications student in NCAD working as a freelance illustrator and designer on the side. Her vibrant digital art focuses on topics ranging from the implications of being a queer Irish woman to more lighthearted subjects pulled from pop culture.

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Dearbhla Ryan

Did you always want to be an artist?
Honestly no, I mean I’ve been drawing and creating for as long as I can remember, but I was always torn between going into art or law. I really want to help people and always have, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, even had a secret desire to be a guard for a while. I quickly realised I’d be a terrible guard (honestly no one would ever take me seriously and I wouldn’t blame them) and I’d do better to stick to what I’m good at.

Were you drawn first to illustration or design?
Definitely design, though I suppose looking back I’ve always been an illustrator at heart. I was quite lost in first year and considered dropping out but found I really fitted in in the school of design, it just encouraged the way I already thought and worked as an artist, also it showed me that art really can have a purpose.

How has your experience in NCAD been?
I love NCAD to bits but honestly it’s been rough. In first year I had some pretty bad stuff happening in my personal life but you might remember the protests over how it was run too, we were all pretty angry at how we were treated. Our new director is great though, he’s changed the college for the better and we have better medical and mental health services now. I also would say the Vis Comm department is only getting better every day, the new head of department John Paul Dowling has been the change we needed, I can’t wait to see where it is in a few years. There are facilities in NCAD I wouldn’t have been able to access anywhere else, such as Distiller’s Press and NIVAL. More than that it’s the community of learning I suppose, I’ve never been so consistently and intensely inspired in my life, there’s a feeling you can do anything (cheesy I know). NCAD has its faults, miles of them, but I’m so glad I chose it.

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Dearbhla Ryan | Irish Women

What drew you to Vis Comm over any other art degree?
I actually came to NCAD with the intention of doing media, but once a friend showed me his studio in Vis Comm I knew that was what I wanted. I guess it’s just such a broad area of design that its ideal for someone indecisive like me, but there’s also a discipline to it. Nothing we do is without purpose. It just kind of clicks with me I guess? I really have the freedom to use whatever medium I want too, I never would have taught myself to animate outside of Vis Comm.

Do you think that attending a college course is necessary for being a successful illustrator/designer?
Definitely not, but it’s been absolutely invaluable for me. If you want to get into this area but can’t attend college there are great learning resources online, (I learned to use Photoshop and Illustrator entirely by myself, you can do it!) check out online design journals, go to exhibitions, learn about design rationale, talk to artist and designers you admire. Also I can’t stress enough how important YouTube and have been to me the last few years.

Can you talk a bit about the technical aspects of your work?
I spend a lot of time screaming into Adobe Creative Cloud, it’s not very interesting. Everyone complains about Adobe Illustrator but it’s my favourite program and one I lean heavily on. I also use a Huion 610 tablet and its great, pretty reasonably priced compared to a lot of graphics tablets and has all the specs you could want.

How do you find freelancing – is it a tough gig?
I mean yeah, it’s not great right now but I’ve got a few great clients and I really am delighted to sell ANY work at this point in my career. Pricing your work is pretty hard, I tend to undersell myself, but sometimes people won’t even pay me. I just learn from it though, it’s all good.

What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve done to date and why?
I honestly don’t know, I usually start disliking my work two hours after its gone up on my website. I guess the most meaningful ones to me would be‘All These Knives In My Back’ or ‘The Rope Round All Our Necks’ from Crutha as Bréaga is Fola, both interpreting the 8th amendment. My real favourite right this second is this lame pseudo religious portrait of Chance the Rapper I just finished – I like to do lighthearted stuff too.

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Who has been or currently is an influence on your work?
Visually, my influences are probably Jim Fitzpatrick, Matt Groening, Andy Ristaino, John Slade. I get a lot of inspiration from probably any acid rap and OFWGKTA, Lil Yachty, Tyler the Creator, Chance the Rapper, Tame Impala, Pond, a lot of colourful sounds haha.

How would you describe your own style?
I guess it’s colourful but it’s always got a dark undercurrent. (maybe that’s only obvious to me though? I don’t know) I guess I would say its angsty but trying to be fun.

What political/personal beliefs inform your work?
That’s a big question. A prevailing theme in my work would be discomfort, for want of a better word. I had
the audacity of being born a queer Irish woman so I’ve been a second class citizen my whole damn life. I’ve had my sexuality, right to marry, ability to raise a child debated on national tv, condemned by posters and flyers in college and work. Insulted by bigots who I can’t call homophobic because then I’m “just as bad as them”. I currently have less bodily autonomy than a corpse in my country. I see my friends suffer because they sought out the healthcare they needed. I see sisters who can’t report their rapist, because they know they will be blamed. The way our government has punished working people and cut vital services since the crash doesn’t even bear talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a pity party, but there’s a lot to be angry about, especially with how this country treats women. So I guess my goal, particularly with Crutha As Bréaga Is Fola, is to convey this discomfort, I want other people to feel the discomfort I feel and have to think about these things that they want to ignore.

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Dearbhla Ryan | The Rope Round All Our Necks

Do you think there is enough support out there for up-and-coming artists?
I guess since the crash no one’s worried about artists, which I get. I don’t know, as a community we’re all always trying to get each other gigs and letting each other know about jobs, we kinda have to rely on our connections with each other for opportunities sometimes.

What advice would you give to burgeoning artists?
I’ve thought about this a lot and I’m tryna think what I needed to hear when I was starting but it all sounds hollow and cheesy. The only advice I can give you is keep grinding, keep belting out work, keep making, keep thinking.

What are your long-term goals?
I mean I’d love to at least make enough money freelancing to support myself fully but that’s the millennial dream isn’t it, financial stability. I wanna get my masters, I wanna travel, I wanna get out to LA or Hong Kong or somewhere and join a collective or a studio or something, I wanna learn to paint better, animate better, I wanna make art for the rest of my life but honestly I don’t know, I just need to pay bills right now.