Melbourne-based illustrator Evie Cahir talks Instagram scroll holes, throwing away her work and dropping out of uni a semester before graduation.
Evie Cahir throws away a lot of her illustrations.
“I also sell or trade a lot, so thankfully I don’t have to see much of my old work,” she says half-jokingly.
For someone making a career from illustration, it might sound absurd to bin the fruits of your labour. But for Cahir, a finished work can quickly become a painful reminder of her continuous evolution as an artist.
“It‘s the fear of knowing that in a year or two months or a week the work will be really stale. It’s scary shit!” she admits.
“But I think it comes down to practising—trying really hard at getting better. If you create more, it’s not as scary.”
Witty, warm and quick to laugh, Cahir simultaneously seems wise beyond her years but has an endearing naivety that betrays her tender age. The twenty-something has made some impressive strides in her short career, with shows, residencies and an impressive portfolio of editorial work under her belt—she counts publications like Vice, Lucky Peach and Yen among her clients.
It‘s not hard to see the appeal in Cahir‘s distinctive work. Characterised by a deliberate composition and an expressive dichotomy between light and shadow, she sees the beauty in the banal; in the discarded and unobserved. Fast food, cartoon characters, lush pot plants and glistening fresh produce all feature repeatedly in her work, captured masterfully—and briskly—in watercolour and coloured pencil.
Having studied illustration at what‘s now known as Melbourne Polytechnic (“it was a choice between that or Europe”), Cahir’s decision to pursue the discipline was less conscious than it was just a natural progression from her childhood passion for drawing.
Cahir jokes that her dad once apologised to her for her inborn predilection towards creativity, “for the hard road ahead“.
“I think what he meant was that it would be easier for me if I had wanted to do something more stable,” she explains.
But while she balances her creative work with a job in hospitality, Cahir‘s expressive and dynamic illustrations have kept her in demand from the very beginning.
In fact, she dropped out of university a semester before graduation to focus on her growing career—a decision she stands by years later, with no intention to return to the books.
In 2015, Cahir‘s practice hit a high point with an art residency at the Arteles Creative Centre in Finland. She describes the experience as one of the biggest challenges of her career.
“I was shitting myself before I left,” she admits.
But in 2016, Cahir found herself particularly afflicted by insecurity, admitting she “just stewed on self-doubt”.
“[I would think things like], ‘Why would I share this with anyone? Why would I show it to anyone? Why would I try to be producing work if so much amazing work around me is similar?‘” she says.
“But I need to constantly check back in with myself. It’s honestly like a conversation with myself that’s like, ‘Look, you’re creating work to make yourself happy so you have to protect your happiness’.
“’Just put the work out there anyway, and just be at peace with making yourself happy’.”
A prolific Instagram user with close to 10k followers, Cahir acknowledges the platform can compound that self-doubt.
“It creates a strange paralysis and you get overstimulated—[you get stuck in what] I call ‘scroll holes’,” she says.
“The only way I can work through that is to save the images I’d like to look back on again, and just know when to shut it down.
“Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em—oh man!”
Cahir believes the same of the internet in general, which she says can be damaging to her work flow.
“I’m surrounded by screens and I hate it,” she says.
“The best time I had recently was at the beach when my phone died. It was incredible.
”Sometimes I forget the correlation between no screens and feeling good. So switch to flight mode when you can, and put the screens away.”
It’s a strategy that no doubt helps with procrastination, something with which Cahir says she struggles frequently.
“It really helps to set up small routines—it’s almost like I need to literally step out of it sometimes,“ she says.
“I’ll do star jumps—that’s drastic, that’s the big guns!”
Cahir also cites being motivated by her housemate and fellow illustrator Carla McRae, whom she calls “probably the most driven person I know”.
“It’s difficult to be lazy when you live with someone that driven because you know they’re constantly clocked on,” she says, joking that McRae runs around the apartment because she doesn’t have time to walk.
When it comes to her goals for the future, Cahir says she’s keen to explore fine art as a departure from commercial illustration.
“I would like to be an artist and create work on my own terms,” Cahir says.
“I have so many projects I’d like to start working on that are personal, and I can see them happening in the future.
“I feel like there’s a lot of ventures that all seem feasible, and that’s exciting.”
But since Cahir admits her definition of ‘future’ is the next two or so months, does she have any long-term dreams for her career?
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” she admits.
“I’m just a baby.”
Virtual pep talk
“I feel like I’m surrounded by mantras, advice and tips. There’s so many floating around but number one is simply surround yourself with hard-working people—people who are on the right track, who have a constant output.
And you need to be constantly practising. Never not practise. I’m starting to think I won’t ever reach a stage where I won’t need to practise.”