May. 30, 2019•
4 min read
You may recognize Rachal Duggan because of her butts. She’s got lots of them. They are all over her Instagram feed, on tote bags, for sale on her website. It’s what she’s famous for lately—drawing butts. She’s the “Booty Portrait” artist. She draws the butts of people at makers markets, weddings, gallery nights, and any place she’s allowed to draw them. People will walk up, turn around and let Duggan, aka @Radillustrates, draw their butt. Last weekend she did a wedding and drew over 70 butts in three hours. People wanted their butts alone, with a friend’s butt, a mom and daughter butt. A nice butt memento to treasure.
It started about eight years ago as a party trick. She thought it would be fun to do an experimental illustrated photo booth where people could have weird interpretive drawings of themselves, as animals or even paranormal visions. She once drew a woman as a pyramid. She liked drawing people, but she always liked butts and truthfully, drawings butts is a lot less pressure than drawing faces. The best part is her butts are filled with character. Each butt has a vibe. Eyes may be the window to the soul, but every butt has a personality all its own.
If you think butts are all there is to Rachal Duggan, as Sam Jackson said in Jurassic Park, “Hold on to your butts.”
Duggan is an illustrator. Or a doodler, or an artist. The words are interchangeable to her. Duggan has been drawing since she was a kid. She used to cover her parents’ living room window with drawings for Halloween, one of her favorite holidays. She remembers buying old $1 VHS tapes of no-name cartoons from the 40s and 50s that were so bizarre and would even contain nudity. Stuff that makes a kid go, “Whoa, this is really weird!”
A lot of the art Duggan creates still has that feeling of stumbling across something exciting and weirdly disruptive. She describes her work as, “simplistic line drawings that border on very light and topical to more deeper, vulnerable, human feelings.”
Duggan is a lot like her art: humble, thoughtful, and fun. She doodles about periods and aliens, deep dark issues, and the silliness and exhausting struggles of everyday life. And yes, there’s plenty of nudity, all with a very sex-positive feel reminding us to embrace every part of ourselves. She’s shy but says it’s part coming out of her shell, part rebellious act. Take it from her: “A nipple is a nipple. Why is it dude nipples are chill and lady nipples are pure sex?”
She went to college in Chicago to become an art historian but missed drawing and switched to the illustration field instead. After she graduated she spent some time in Madison, but it felt too small so she moved to Milwaukee. Here, she loves the people, the weirdos, the gritty old school industrial vibe, the accessibility, the art community, and above all Lake Michigan.
I meet Rachal at the beach in Bay View. This is where she comes most days to doodle, become inspired, have unexpected encounters with people, and walk the beach searching for treasures and cleaning up garbage.
As we chat and walk on the beach she finds sea glass, fossils, some weird plastic flower treasure, and too many plastic tips from cigarillos. Duggan is fascinated by it all. She tells me she recently found a doll’s head that may be from the early 1900s! She finds the simple joy in so many things, much of which makes its way into her art. It all seems to flow very smoothly for her. I ask her about her editing process and she says, “I don't erase. I'm not one to erase anything. I draw with pen, and if I don't like something, I either move on or redraw it.”
When we meet, there is a lot going on in the news, as usual. I ask her about a post she made this morning. It was an illustration about dealing with it all.
Duggan tells me, “When I don't feel like I have the words, or I don't know how to express myself exactly, drawing is typically where I channel that energy … sometimes it's like, I don't know what to do other than to doodle and then hope it doesn't hurt anyone or offend anyone.” Although she’s not really worried about offending her followers. They understand where’s coming from and appreciate her for it. “When it comes to body or periods or sex or nudity or those types of things, I try to draw like I'm a man, that I just don’t give a shit. I try to just have no inhibitions and draw what comes to mind even if it's kind of lewd or crude or silly or ridiculous and let that go.”
She adds, “I'm gonna put this out in the world, and people will judge me, and you know what, I'm entitled to create art and not be concerned about being put in that bucket.”
I ask her what she has been working on lately and Duggan says she is trying to write more, and create pieces that are more personal. The things that are deeper and harder to talk about. She recently did a piece about a narcissist she was involved with. It was a painful experience and was emotionally exhausting to get it all out, but people really responded to it. Yet she always seems to balance the deeper feelings with the purely fun and ridiculous.
For every emotionally deep piece, there’s a doodle of an alien asking you to smell its finger. Duggan says, “If I can bring a little bit of lightness or a little bit of connection that feels really good. It feels good to connect with people who feel similar through my drawing.”
Connections are important to her; it’s why she started drawing people in person originally. She also connects with them over her Instagram and does workshops. As she tells it, “People usually start, and they say things like, ‘I suck at drawing,’ ‘I'm the worst,’ ‘I'm worse than a child.’ People say some of the most disparaging things about themselves, I'm just like, ‘Chill, all you can do is doodle. Just have fun.’” And they do. By the end everyone is laughing, and they are hooked. They’ve created 12-15 drawings they can be proud of. And even if they’re not happy with them, Duggan is.
“I'm technically a trained artist, and when I see the linework that people create, it's so pure and uninhibited … and what comes out of their imagination and just their willingness to create it in front of other people,” she says. When people don’t want to take all their work home, Duggan is more than happy to gather up all the spooky and bizarre drawings for herself.
Duggan has a fantastic attitude about the ups and downs of the life of a freelance artist. Some people will love your work, others … have opinions, and they will let you know about them. Not to mention the constant hustle that can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting.
Duggan seems to just keep her head down and stay incredibly busy by creating new doodles, doing freelance work on the side, keeping engaged on her social channels, and with a recent book deal that she’s both excited about and feeling the stress of creating so much new content for.
But she tries to not take it all so seriously: “Life doesn't mean anything. Just live it and have fun, do what you wanna do, connect with people, create silly art, we’re just a speck. Having that perspective can be helpful sometimes to not take everything so seriously or be so consumed by everything going on.” Of course, going to the beach to find doll heads and doodle mushrooms and witches always helps.
When she talks about drawing witches, one of her favorites, it sparks something. Rachal explains, “Deep in my soul, I want the soul of a witch, like that's the energy I'm trying to bring to the table. Maybe that's better than saying I should be a man. I wanna be a witch! I wanna be a weird lady who’s just doing their own thing and doesn’t give a fuck.”
But she does give a fuck. About her work, about people, about connecting, about the Earth. About all the wonderful things that make the world a better place. She gives a fuck where it counts.
Duggan shares, “I think connecting with people IRL, being out and about, it feels really good and even though I'm not a brand or something. I’m a human, and I'm an artist, but my work is so intertwined with me that if you like my drawing, you might like me and maybe we could be friends, or maybe we could be whatever and connect. That's the first line of connection.”
Every time Duggan pops up in my Instagram feed I think of one of my favorite quotes from the animated show, Futurama. Bender, the robot, is talking to a “God Entity” about how difficult it is to be a God. The entity responds, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” People may just see “booty portraits” at a festival, or silly witch drawings that pop up in your Instagram feed, but they are doodles that make us smile, make us think, make us understand each other better, and hopefully, bring us all together. Thanks, @Radillustrates. And thanks for drawing my butt.
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