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Lisa O'Hara: Surrealist Manifestations

This month’s featured artist, Lisa O’Hara, is an illustrator and graphic designer living and working in the Sheffield area. Her work is a blend of new and old, taking inspiration from 50s advertisements and bric-a-brac that catches her attention, but with a unique twist that flirts with futuristic shapes and dives headlong into surrealist manifestations worthy of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, like Roy Lichtenstein in the throes of a fever dream.

Although your art seems primarily a product of your imagination, how does your real-life environment have an effect on the work you produce?

I’m happy that I live in Sheffield and I think my day-to-day plays a big part in what I tend to doodle at the end of it. It’s usually music-oriented, which influences how my day has gone. My day job title is Graphic Designer at Sheffield Hallam University, so I tend to stay within certain brand guidelines and structure. Illustration-wise, I tend to work with the opposite and keep it as more of a fun outlet for me to play with. It’s really important for me to let loose and work with unusual patterns, shapes and grids.

What are the defining characteristics of your art?

The go-to visuals I tend to begin with stem from facial features, usually eyes and the human face in profile. That tends to inspire patterns. And maybe dogs come into the equation somewhere along the line. I’m always looking to the 50s and 60s for inspiration in terms of colour and pattern, so I’d like to think I’m getting into the swing of that being inherent in what I do now. I do enjoy monochrome though. I’m really drawn to thick black line with white.

Often your work has an element of surrealism. Where do you find inspiration?

I’ve got a weird set of collections that inspire my work. My studio might seem like a bit of a nuts mix between 1950s American children’s toys, weird stamps and kitsch paintings. I worry sometimes when family come round, they might think I’ve gone a bit west, or Silence of the Lambs-style collector. But it’s organised chaos. I’m really into European match box covers at the moment though, and advertising pin badges from the 50s. There’s a big market for those in the collectors world. I’m probably pissing off a lot of ‘real’ collectors on eBay. I really enjoy the simplicity of block-print style and simple grid methods in tiny spaces.

How does your approach differ between commercial work and personal work?

It doesn’t really. Because I have a day job, all of my illustration work tends to incorporate the styles that I like and I’ve been really lucky in terms of clients. I’ve had a lot of trust in that sense. The commercial work that I do for the University is great though. I really enjoy my job.

Is 2018 a good time to be working as a designer and illustrator?

I think it is, especially in Sheffield. There are so many great outlets to get creative. I think things like George Law’s Doodle Club, Endless Love Creative and Girl Gang Sheffield, to name a few, are inspiring people to get creative, even if they feel like they’re not particularly that way inclined. I think creative problem-solving, especially in the illustration realm, is really important.

Sheffield is really rich in its culture and illustration can play a big part in multilingual communication.

What’s next? Anything exciting on the horizon?

I’m putting on an event with two really inspiring people: creative machine of a woman, Charly Calpin of Rainbow Heron and Girl Gang, and Charley Alcock, who is an all-round spiritual goddess. The event is called Burn The Witch. It addresses female persecution, but is an all-round celebration of the woman.

After this, I’m planning a large-scale mural in my studio. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, so I’m excited for that.

Next article in issue 54

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