An interview of Kati Lacey, the illustrator behind Uncomfortable Oxford’s visual. She reflects on how her illustrations reflect the organisation’s effort to generate productive debates by drawing attention to buried problems rather than singling out one of the views as correct.
Kati is a local illustrator and designer who specialises in editorial, publishing and portraits. Her work often explores the history of people and places. Originally from Budapest, where she received a degree in English, following eight years in North Wales, Kati did a second degree in Illustration and has established herself as a freelance illustrator in the Oxford area.
How did you come to create illustrations for UnOx?
I have a particular interest in cultural heritage and telling the stories of places so it was a great pleasure when we were introduced by a mutual friend, particularly, because I had just moved into the area and was getting familiar with things – that’s how it all started.
What challenges did you face during the project?
I would say the hardest thing is always the beginning when you get in tune with the project and carry out your research to understand the widest possible audience that the Uncomfortable Oxford is aiming to communicate with and what those people may be thinking about or interested in. Then obviously the challenge is to be able to address that audience in a captivating way.
For example, in the case of this project, the greatest task was to tread the delicate line of speaking the truth and creating thought-provoking imagery without taking sides. Having visited the Original Tour early on, I quickly got the sense that the driving force behind Uncomfortable Oxford is to generate debate in order to hear and respect all views. It was essential that the illustrations reflect this effort by drawing attention to buried problems rather than singling out one of the views as correct. This can be quite tricky, especially when it comes to the portrayal of controversial figures such as Cecil Rhodes.
What was the appeal of drawing the illustrations?
I love the fact that Uncomfortable Oxford is unveiling these forgotten tales that contribute to the fabric of our lives and local history. Being part of this process and telling these stories to the public in an accessible way was hugely appealing to me. Each illustration references a segment of the past with a link to the present – it was a delightful experience to come up with ideas to communicate these narratives – one that I hope to repeat in future work.
How would you sum up your style, in terms of the emotions you want to evoke in people, and the general approach to what you want to represent?
I think of my illustrations as thoughtful and joyful. I like the idea of addressing difficult topics and doing this in a playful way takes the edge off and makes the images more inviting. With this approach, I hope to evoke a moment of reflection and encourage the viewer to look again.
What kind of materials do you use to create your work?
I draw with all sorts of pens to ink my drawings, which I then photograph and colour digitally. My favourite stage in the process is applying textures that I often create by monoprinting but sometimes I use watercolour or mixed media. I feel that it is the textures that bring my illustrations to life and creating them gives me room to explore and experiment with a range of media to keep my style fresh.
Do you have more projects with Uncomfortable Oxford?
I am due to create an illustration for the Ashmolean Tour, which I look forward to doing as it is a tour full of fascinating facts – I’m sure there will be more to come as things get back to normal.
And what else have you got coming up at the moment?
As for many people, client work is a little quieter at the moment so I’m using this time to update my portfolio and create more products for my online shop.
During lockdown I started illustrating my daily life to keep up the family spirit. As things evolved, I decided to turn these joyful moments into a map of my household, which I have just finished. I’m also working on a series that will tell stories of various London parks as a continuation of my Postman’s Park illustration, focusing on the historical aspect and capturing the cultural significance of each place.