Heather Lynn: An Artist Interview
When you stand up against catcall culture you’re not only standing up for yourself, but everyone else that experiences it as well.
First of all, are you excited?
I am excited, yes ! I wanted to do the Halloween window so I was pretty lucky, Halloween is my favorite time of year, I’ve always loved it. I grew up in a really weird, spiritual, spooky household, and it was always really fun to dress up - having different costumes each year and trying to get people to guess what character it was. A few years ago I did Bob Ross and I made my own beard out of a fake beard from a costume shop; I just kinda grabbed the beard and cut it, trimmed it for a few hours and it was a lot to do, but it was so fun, and I fucked up my hair, made it really frizzy, put really dark eyebrows, mascara on my eyebrows. And I just pretended to paint people all night long. It was just a super fun time.
So you’re super into Halloween?
Yes !! I don’t know what I want to be for Halloween yet this year, but I might do something that’s redhead inspired, maybe Queen Elizabeth the First. I really loved the Elizabeth movies, I watched the first one maybe a year ago and I just found the fashion so amazing and her as well and I was like “oh my god why don’t we hear about her more?”
That’s true though, that’s the problem with historical female figures; they’re always just described as the wife or partner or assistant of male historical figures and it’s so frustrating
Exactly ! That’s kind of what my project is going to be about; it’s called Fire Queen. I called it that because it was a catcall I received in New York City - I was walking down the street, doing my own thing, appreciating the city, and this guy across the street starts screaming at me, “Hey you, Fire Queen, come over here I want to talk to you Fire Queen” and it was really off-putting, because I was just having a nice time, and I’d been catcalled a few times in NYC but this time he was really adamant and getting my attention, but honestly took me aback because it was so creative, it felt like he actually thought about it for a second and, obviously, I didn’t appreciate the catcall but like, I appreciate your creativity, in yelling at me that’s great. But you know, he called me Fire Queen and I was just holding my head a little higher than before, and it just stayed in my head - I told all my friends that story a few times, and they were like, “wow that’s shitty but that’s a creative catcall”. So that happened about two years ago and it’s been brewing in my head ever since.
What are your thoughts on the representation of redheads in the media ?
I feel like it gets really trendy, and that can be odd growing up because you’re treated like a “weird kid” but then you grow into a young adult and it becomes what people think is a super attractive trait. Society tends to fetishise it. People used to say that I was “different” or “weird”, and they couldn’t fit me into a box of their ideal beauty standards.
And do you think this project comes from a place of empowerment ?
Yeah ! It comes from a place of empowerment, it’s going to be based off of the idea of empowering people who have been catcalled before but also empowering redheads because, you know, I’m a redhead, that’s what I know, that’s the life I live. I’ve been treated really weirdly in my life because of it.
So I wanted to focus on redheads but also the idea of empowerment and catcalling culture, which is why it’s called Fire Queen. I’m going to have a calendar in the style of the Firefighter calendars - Mr. November style, but it’s all going to be awesome Fire Queens; awesome redheads in history that we just didn’t really learn about, or maybe we heard about but didn’t really learn that much about them. One of them being Rose Schneiderman, a jewish feminist, who was regarded as the Joan of Arc for working women. She was a huge fighter with flaming red hair. That’s the cool thing about red hair, it’s not just a trait that’s labelled as Irish, it started from a gene in Africa and made its way over to Europe, so there’s a lot of people of all different races who have red hair and we don’t talk about that ever as well. I feel like when you think of redheads you think of this super pale person with green eyes, Irish and big red hair.
It was really difficult doing research - it was especially infuriating in the beginning because whenever you’re writing into Google “Redhead women” all that you get is sex and porn. Then eventually I went on to research people in the LGBTQ+ community of redheads, and POCs (People of Color) who had red hair.
So yeah it was just really hard finding particularly important redheads through time, because media portrays redheads as these “super sexy” figures.
For my calendar I’m illustrating 13 portraits, instead of 12, because since it’s Halloween I wanted to associate the number 13 with it; I don’t know why, it’s always been mystical and spooky in a way. Especially because for a while redheads were being called witches and vampires, and the images of fire that is associated with red hair.
Ultimately I’m trying to mix together these themes of spookiness, empowerment and redheads, which I think make for a good mix. It just means I really need to do my research about it, which I absolutely love doing.
I really don’t want to make it sexy but rather powerful, the last thing I want is to contribute to the sexualization of redheads. But I want it to be fun and playful, and maybe a bit sarcastic. I’ll add little hints and hidden messages - fire hydrants and flames. If I have enough time I really want to try to make my own drapes and a carpet that are matching, to go with the usual question of “does the carpet match the drapes?” because I’ve been asked that question at least 20 times in my life.
So in a way, this project is a way of helping you process the things that you’ve experienced.
I used to be told that I would “grow into my redness”, as in I was ugly then but I would turn into a sexy redhead by the time I’d be 25. Sometimes I’d get “you’re really pretty for a red-head”, or “you probably get this all the time but, you must be really good in bed”. Things that I’ve talked to other redheads about before and they’ve gotten the exact same things. So it’s these really weird stereotypes that I wanna bring light to. I think redheads are super strong and super cool, and a lot of us have grown to have really good senses of humor about the stuff we get told, and grown a thicker skin because of it.
This whole project is a funny, cathartic thing for me to do - it’s helping me get rid of some past things, almost helping me get over it through the use of humor, and calling out catcallers.
I want this to help people in the sense of making them feel less alone, I hope it will because I love to help out other people.
Do you think you’re doing this more for yourself or the general public?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I want people to have fun and understand the message - they might not which is totally fine, but I do think it’s important especially for me. I just kind of want to share a joke with other people that I’ve had in myself for a long time. Illuminating certain stereotypes of redheads - make fun of it, empower people, and hopefully help with the whole catcalling culture a little bit.
Tell me more about the catcalling culture you want to address
I’d love to make little stickers to bring awareness to catcalling, and stick them up in places around Montreal. There was this feminist movement that took place in NYC where they put up “No Catcalling Zone” signs and I was really inspired by it and thought it was an amazing idea.
I’ve become so much more empowered through resisting catcalling culture, not because of what is being said to me but because I am able to experience it so often and still be a strong powerful woman and stand up for myself. It’s frustrating because I feel like you’ll be walking down the street and some guy will start saying stuff to you and it just feels like society is letting you down and trying to put you back in your place, even if you feel strong you’re just being told “oh yeah that’s great but also maybe you should step down a little” and then you just feel unsafe again. It gets a little scary sometimes, because I’ve been getting really outspoken about catcalls, and it’s awesome but also kinda scary, because you’re standing up and you don’t know what you’re risking. When you stand up against catcall culture you’re not only standing up for yourself, but everyone else that experiences it as well.
It’s a good thing to think about, because not everyone thinks about these things.
I’ve noticed that a lot of cis-men don’t really acknowledge it, even if they’re not partaking in it they aren’t trying to stop it either. Most of the time they come back to this idea of equality like “oh she can go stand up for herself” but no, the problem is coming from you, and even if they aren’t explicitly the ones doing it, they are enabling it by not saying anything.
I just want to open up the conversation.
Have your projects in the past always had this personal element to them or is this the first?
I think they’re all a little personal to me, because I do a lot of illustrative works - if it’s branding or painting, obviously it’s more for someone else. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid and that’s something I’ve been practicing for a long time and I really love doing it. That’s what brought me to my career in graphic design, I kept saying “hey, I love drawing, I don’t know what to do with it but I know I want to do it for the rest of my life” and luckily now I get to work at a graphic design agency and I still have time to do illustration work afterwards and work on cool projects with clients. I’ve worked with fashion designers, including Citizen Vintage in the past. I love clothing, I really really do.
So you did a window with Citizen before, in November 2016, what’s your thoughts looking back on it now and how has it influenced your upcoming window?
I did that with my boyfriend, it was more of a collaborative piece, called Collabcreate - he did illustration work and I did graphic design, and we didn’t meld our two things exactly, but did our own stuff that worked together.
I think this window is going to be a lot more curated to my own vibe as an artist, especially because it’s been almost two years since the last one. I’m definitely more confident in what I do illustration-wise and I’ve done a lot more things with other people and I can see what works and what doesn’t. This time around I really know the possibilities of what I can and can’t do, and I know how to use my time and won’t have to time crunch. It’s especially great to have my studio space now because I can spread out and put it together in there.
What’s your experience with the fashion industry?
I’ve always had a little dream of being a fashion designer. I interned for a fashion designer for about 6 months and she taught me how to sew and everything, and at the end we did a little collaboration where I got to put one of my illustrations on a jumpsuit she had created. I’ve done things where I’ve silk-screened my designs on shirts, and having a studio now is only making it more possible for me to do big projects. I have a space to actually create work that’s not in my kitchen. And it makes a big difference to be able to compartmentalise. Being able to walk into a space and know that I am there to work, is really liberating.
By working with fashion brands like Citizen I get to fulfil a dream of mine - ever since I was a young person. Also the sense that I get to bring in my skills as an illustrator and graphic designer and put it with my love of fashion and clothing design.
Fashion has always inspired me, especially in the sense of expression and showing who you are. I was always put into boxes and told that I looked like a “little doll” or a “princess” and so it’s influenced the way I dress, and my physical appearance. It’s why I started getting tattoos as well, just wanting to really express myself externally. Who I am, what I believe I am. I find that fashion is the easiest way for me to express myself, and it’s really empowering. The possibilities are endless. Fashion helped me when I was younger to figure out what I wanted to be and who I was.
I didn’t have a lot of experience with vintage clothes growing up, we had one single thrift store in our town and if you looked really hard you could find solid stuff that were really fun and inexpensive. Then I moved to Ottawa for school and that’s when I really started getting into vintage fashion. Buying stuff at vintage stores and costume stores, and I worked in a vintage store in my second year which led me to doing a lot of research about vintage fashion and fabrics so that whenever someone would come in with questions I’d be able to tell them how to wash the clothes and how to take care of it, why the prices were higher because it was really good quality materials.
I’ve gotten a few things from the Citizen collection, the jumpsuit and the tank top with the open back, and I love them because they’re really well made and I wear them all the time. That’s the great thing about buying local and ethically made - I just want to buy things that last and you can cherish.
Being environmentally friendly within our fashion consumption is so important to me and why I originally started buying vintage because I was like “hey I guess I’m helping the planet in a way and that makes me really happy” and it’s so easy and fun to do. Knowing fabrics and where things are made and getting really individual pieces.
What are you going to be wearing this Fall?
I’ve always worn a lot of black but I really want to wear a lot of bright colors this next season, been wearing a lot of bright magentas and bright oranges. Also stripes. Really colorful blocks of color, and bouncing it off of black and really bright eyeshadow and letting my hair do its thing. That’s it. Being a fashion forward redhead.
Interview by Carla Gras.