8th September 2013 by Cass Art

Cass Art's Memory Palace: Meet Artist Ailish Sullivan

We asked our very own in-store artists 'If you could only keep one memory, what would it be?', inspired by Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace at the V&A. Each artist chose to preserve their memory in a medium.

Ailish Sullivan works at within our Customer Care team for the new online shop and has previously been working at ourKensington store. Ailish chose sketching to preserve memories from her childhood. We asked the keen illustrator what inspired her.

Tell us about your two memories...

‘Running through the forest’ was inspired by a book by my great aunt, Kathleen Sullivan. Her book ‘The Vespera’ is full of very strong imagery. Shameece is the central character and goes on an adventure to find a stranger who has cast a dangerous presence over the world. The main character goes off into the forest and then a cave to retreat as she grows and changes.

The ‘Scary Wolves’ illustration is from the moment in Little Red Riding Hood when the wolf finally reveals himself. This embodies the memory of my fear of wolves when I was younger. I grew up in Acton, Boston and felt like I was closer to the wilderness and that made the threat of wolves and bears seem much more real.

Why did you choose to represent your memories through sketching?

You can learn a lot from looking at a picture in a short amount of time. With everything so fast paced in the city of London I miss the time to pause.  Illustrating is a quick way of interpreting a feeling or a view that hopefully can be translated as soon as someone looks at it. It is getting harder to ask someone to stop to read a text or a nursery rhyme and communicating that through a visual picture comes easier.

Scary Wolves

For both I used the Pentel Brush Pen and the pigment liner pen by Staedtler. The Pentel Brush pen is my favourite tool and I use it regularly. The brush tip offers a huge range of control that I really enjoy utilising. The varying line adds a lot of life to an image and I take it in my bag as it is great at adding a lot of expression to a life sketch. Pentel is a Japanese company and perfectly complements sumi-e style ink work as well. This is definitely an artist’s tool and used by many comic artists to ink their illustrations, as well as being used by many fine artists.

The pigment liners are a staple. They are really reliable fibre tip pens with a consistent line so you can clearly and crisply define an image. They are really lightweight too so they are easy to carry around with you.

What else have you been working on recently?

I have recently been using scientific themes as inspiration for my illustrations and playing with scale. I have also been introducing colour to my sketches using the Pentel Aqua Brush which is very easy to use on the go with watercolours. I currently exhibit in London through art collectives and galleries throughout the year. I hope to keep illustrating and creating artwork, sharing my ideas and views.

Tell us about life at the Kensington High Street store...

I have really enjoyed my time here for the past year. You get asked a huge variety of questions and help customers find the right material for their project. It is enjoyable to be surrounded by people that love art and talk about something your passionate about. There are a huge variety of people that come in, from novices to fine artists and I am constantly learning from them.

You can read all of our staff interviews from the Memory Palace project on our Interviews page. Become a fan of Ailish's work on Facebook, or visit her website and Tumblr to see more of her work.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator & Painter) – Art Inspired by Science + Culture

Posted: October 30th, 2012 ˑ Filled under: ArtInterviews

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

Can you give us a quick overview of you? What role does art play in your life? What kind of artist are you?

I moved from Boston to London when I was ten which completely changed my view of the world. Suddenly there were so many cultures, so many different views and experiences. I use art to learn and it has always helped me to explore and express myself.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

What’s your dream? What do you want to be doing?

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + CultureI hope my art can one day help me to explore more of the world and I hope I can keep drawing to interpret everything around me. But, most importantly I hope it can inspire other people to realise more about the world and how it works.

What are you trying to convey with your works? I notice a lot of them are pattern-based or very bold. What do you want your audience to feel?

A pattern can help to recognize a constant, when I looked at bone cells under a microscope I found that they are constantly growing, blooming and layering to grow and reinforce. I wanted to show people this phenomenon that is mostly missed. I make them bold to convey the sense of realisation that hits you or dawns on you as everything starts to make more sense. I hope the audience can be intrigued by it and learn from them.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

inspired by granite

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

inspired by sandstone

How do you get inspired? How do you come up with ideas?

I read a lot of science magazines and visit museums. Looking for that moment of realising how something works, how it effects how the world works and having that spark, where everything suddenly makes sense. Then I start to work out how I can pass on that same spark.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

inspired by buttercup cells

inspired by graphiteHow did you get started in art? How have you grown over the years?

I had the most inspiring teachers who support me a lot and I have always treaded the line between being an artist or an illustrator. I have grown a lot as I have learned that your art needs to be personal on some level, whether it’s inspired by your experiences or just your feelings at a particular time.

What is your favourite piece you’ve done? Why is it significant to you?

Bone, is my most prominent and boldest piece to date. It was created with the help of life science students from the University of Westminster as we studied microscopy during my final year. It came out of an amazing year of self-discovery and is the definition of my style of work.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

What advice can you give to other artists? What mistakes have you made? What do you wish you had known before?

Never get tired of drawing, change your subject matter because if you’re inspired then the work will come easily and always be willing to learn something new. I wish I had known that art takes time to grow and I should never rush it or feel disappointed if it doesn’t happen fast enough.

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

Ailish Sullivan (American Illustrator) - Art Inspired by Science + Culture

Places to find Ailish online & support what she does:

Interview with Debut Contemporary:

What are those defining moments and why did you choose them?

The defining moments in my life have been moving to London and studying here. I moved here from Boston and had to learn to adapt and fit within a much more cultural and diverse city. Being here has made me a very independent and determined artist.

What role has struggle/failure (aka invaluable life lessons) played in your life?

I am quite young and I know that I will experience all sorts of hardships in my life. I am determined that through all this I will be creative.

If you were not privileged to be one of world’s rare free thinkers with no need to conform within the corporate structure, what would you have done instead?

I think I would have studied hard to be a scientist or a teacher. I am determined, no matter what I do in my life that I keep on learning and having new experiences.

Do you feel lucky?

I feel extremely lucky that I have had the opportunity to chase my dream. I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get.

Whom do you admire?

A lot of the people I admire are people I have met. I admire those with an unlimited energy that comes from doing what they love such as Heather Barnett (artist and curator), Dave Mckean and Tom Gauld.

How do you define success?

Being recognized for what you love doing.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I enjoy to museums and talks around London for inspiration. The city is so diverse and fascinating to explore.

What do you want to leave as a legacy?

I want to have my own voice within the art world which is unique and interesting.

What are you doing to grow and how do you measure it?

I constantly push myself with challenging subject matter and new ideas as well as using modern techniques in my chosen watercolour medium.

I tend to learn best when…

I am collaborating with people from different disciplines and backgrounds, it becomes a huge learning experience. 

My favourite work of fiction…

Is probably the short story, Tuck Everlasting. I like stories/books/films that leave something with you when you finish them or change your perspective on something. That book effected my perspective of life and death and so it has stuck with me for years.


"Skulls were everywhere at New Blood this year, but Ailish's creepy painting based on bone's osteocyte cells was the best of the bunch. It's reminiscent of Victorian skull optical illusions, except without the opposing image."

-Digital Arts 2011

"Ailish Sullivan showed a series of three beautiful works, of which Bone and Buttercup were especially lovely. She focuses on science for the inspiration behind these delicate pieces, which are made up of textures found at a microscopic level. The reproductions above don’t really do these pieces justice at all."

-Amelia's magazine 2011

Using Format