The dead of summer no longer looms upon us; it’s breathing down our necks with each passing day. The heat can make any outside trek seem like a walk into a pit of lava. So, if you’re like me and looking for places to tease Mother Nature from a place of air-conditioned goodness, check out the Hilliard Art Museum, specifically “A Teaspoon and a Bit of String: The Illustrations of Denise Gallagher.”
Gallagher, since graduating from The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has become something of a creative runaway train. Since her self-proclaimed artistic renaissance, Gallagher has not only illustrated a children’s book by the legendary Barry Ancelet and another on a popular Newfoundland folktale, but she’s also written and illustrated her own novels as well.
Her creative tale begins long before her first steps into Fletcher Hall. Even as a child, Gallagher said she spent a good deal of her time drawing the world around her. In high school, an art teacher suggested she follow her dreams all the way from New Orleans to UL Lafayette, where she would meet Dutch Kepler, her graphic design professor, who then encouraged her work.
“I credit him with teaching me a lot about discipline and the benefit of working really hard and pushing yourself further than what you think you can do at first,” Gallagher said. “I was young, and I didn’t have that drive and discipline yet. He saw the spark in me and pushed me.”
After her time at UL Lafayette, Gallagher would spend the next 20 years in the field of advertising doing creative work. She says she enjoyed the work, but she needed more.
About 12 years ago, Gallagher said she began her search for her own style. Finding a website called “illustrationfriday.com” pushed her to commit to drawing from their prompts once a week, which she credits with helping to form her visual language.
“I started to fall in love with illustration again. I kept up (drawing each week) after that year because I started to really enjoy creating just for me,” Gallagher said. “After a while, I started to get more and more jobs, so I left advertising and started my own business in order to focus more on illustration.”
Successful and thriving, Gallagher’s whimsical fairy-tale style speaks to the child in all of us, evoking a sense of magical wonder, something she’s proud of. Whether it’s illustrating a pup looking to travel to “New Aww-leens” in her own “A Tip Tap Tale,” or drawing a beautiful witch in “Jean le Chasseur et ses Chiens,” Gallagher has made her mark upon Lafayette art.
For new artists itching to get into the scene, Gallagher has a bit of advice: learn, learn and learn a little more after that.
“Go out there and get experienced, get experience working with somebody who can maybe be your mentor,” Gallagher said. “Become part of a team, learn from people who have been doing it longer and get really good at it or even go have a coffee.”
She also suggested gelato as a suitable offer for young artists to make to experienced ones. And in this heat, I’d be surprised if anyone would pass that offer up.