interviews paula mcgloin

Painting by hand is so much left to chance and it’s so relaxing – Paula McGloin

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March 14, 2022 May 30, 2022 11 min
Feli Arrieta photoAuthor by:Feli Arrieta

Meet Irish illustrator and Surface Pattern Designer Paula McGloin! She studied Visual Communications at the National College of Art and Design, a Masters in Digital Media Technology at Dublin Institute of Technology, and has worked for a number of years as a graphic designer before exploring her career as an illustrator.

Paula was born in Sligo, in the west of Ireland, where she spent her childhood nearby woods, mountains, and the sea. Her love of nature is evident in her bright and eclectic illustrations. She also finds inspiration scouring vintage flea markets, and traveling to new places.​​​​​​​ She is a fan of true crime podcasts and reading classic spooky gothic stories. When she is not working, she likes getting outdoors and doing yoga.

Paula’s work appears in editorial products, consumer goods such as ceramics and phone cases, packaging, and fabrics all across the globe. Some of her select clients include Royal Irish Academy (IRL), ROTHCO Accenture (IRL), Kipling (EU), Camelot Fabrics (CA), Urban Outfitters (US), Marks & Spencers, Bewley’s Ireland, Mindful Magazine (US), The Handmade Soap Company, Poetry Ireland and Little Island Books.

In the past years she has won some recognition for her work, such as the 2018 IDI Awards in Best Illustration Publishing category for ‘Day & Night Rainforest’, and being shortlisted in the 2019 LAI Awards for the book ‘Adventures in Philosophy’ and in 2016 Irish Book Awards for the book ‘All Through the Night’.

Paula told us everything about her work as an illustrator and shared with us a very useful tip for artists. Don’t miss the video!

Where is your studio based?

I was born and still live in Ireland. During COVID lockdown, my husband Michael, my cat Gatchino and I left the capital city to live in rural west cork near the sea. This was a big move, but we love it here and really enjoy our new life.

What life events influenced your decision to become an illustrator?

Before becoming a full-time illustrator I worked as a Graphic Designer. I enjoyed the role but loved creating illustrations in my spare time more. As time went on, through networking, I met more people with similar interests in illustration and illustrators who had made it work as a career. This was obviously a hugely positive force in my decision to pursue the path of becoming a self-employed creative. But one of the main factors was my cousin Theresa, she was a few years older than me and we lost her to cancer very young and around the same time I wanted to push for a move to illustration. She was always very supportive of my artwork and when I experienced this loss, I felt that life is short and you have to have the courage to follow your instinct. I thought if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, but I have to try!

Drawing people's heads in masks on blue background.

‘Disguise’ Art Print, recently exhibited at the IGI (Illustrators Guild of Ireland) Facial Expressions exhibition at the United Arts Club, Dublin.

How would you define your illustration style?

My Illustrations are usually decorative, detailed, pattern-oriented, and use vibrant contrasting color palettes. Botanical and nature themes feature highly in my work, but there are also influences from stories, poetry, and everyday life.

What is the first thing you do when starting a new project, and how do you know when the job is complete?

Every job starts with research, getting to know the topic you are illustrating deeply is very important. Personally, I really enjoy the researching stage, sometimes you find out facts or stories you never encountered before, it can be fascinating! After this stage, I begin to create thumbnail sketches of ideas. These are quick rough pencil drawings of my ideas. I create a few of these for a brief and show them to the client with some notes. This helps to engage them in the process and helps us to decide what direction best follows the brief. When you create the final color illustration and get the final sign-off from the client, the job is almost done! The very final step is usually to save the file properly, including all color and layer adjustments for print, and then hand it over to the client. Job done!

What were the proudest moments of your career?

One of the proudest moments in my career so far was illustrating a book of poetry by Irish poet Eavan Boland to commemorate 100 years of Suffrage in Ireland. The book was titled ‘Our future will become the past of other Women’ celebrating 100 years of votes for Irish Women. The book launched in the United Nations headquarters in New York, and I was overjoyed to attend! It was really inspiring to witness people coming together to celebrate such an important achievement in human rights.

You have developed designs for consumer goods, such as phone cases and illustrated mugs. Tell us how was the experience of seeing your art in such everyday products, so close to people.

The experience of illustrating surface designs for real objects, that people use every day, has been so satisfying. Many people have told me that an object, like for example one of the mugs, is their favorite coffee mug and they love drinking from it every day. It’s almost like it brings a little joy and comfort to a moment in their day! I love hearing stories like that!

Mugs with different painting with birds on them.

‘Birdy’, Illustrated Ceramic Mug Designs for Irish brand Tipperary Crystal

Without a doubt, illustrating a book cover is the dream of many booklover artists out there! How was your experience illustrating All Through the Night? Have you illustrated any other editorial product?

Illustrating the book ‘All Through the Night’ was really positive for a number of reasons. It was great to collaborate with the editors to create the cover design, we wanted it to be an urban setting, not too pretty! But then they gave me free reign for interior illustrations, so it was a real joy. I developed some key colors used for each illustration, so although there are a variety of themes, the colors link them together. I have very recently illustrated a cover for a book of collected stories and poems from Irish diplomats working abroad titled ‘All Strangers Here’. The cover is almost entirely covered in a golden intricate Celtic-inspired pattern which I really enjoyed creating.

Your designs were applied on very diverse materials, from paper, fabric, wallpapers, ceramics, and metal cans. What technical difficulties derived from this productive variety? How do you solve them?

I think every project involves a little bit of learning, which keeps things interesting! Experienced clients will often provide great advice on aspects an illustrator should look out for. Other times it’s a question of seeking out information yourself and perhaps talking with the printers or manufacturers directly if there is something that needs further investigation. Asking questions is part of the process!

Funny stylized japan woman in traditional wear.

Sakura illustrated craft beer packaging design

You’ve made a design for a wheelchair brand, Izzy Wheels. Surely it was a very different experience, tell us what did you learn from it

Designing for Izzy Wheels was a fantastic experience! The product is very positive and inclusive. It was fun to design for movement. The design was very popular and every now and again Izzy Wheels send me a photo or pass on a message of a customer enjoying my wheels design, it would make your heart burst with joy!

Who are your biggest influences in art and design?

I’m hugely influenced by illustrators from past eras particularly Charlie Harper, Alice and Martin Provensen, William Morris, Josef Frank, Brian Wildsmith, and Lucienne Day.

What techniques and resources did you use to design your last few pieces?

All my projects start with handmade sketched elements that I scan into my computer and recreate digitally in color. I usually use a mixture of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop software. I often create my own texture shapes in Adobe Illustrator or handmade textures scanned to Photoshop. I often use my Wacom tablet instead of a mouse to make up basic shapes and block out colors before then adding more texture and refining details.

City with a fox on the road in a circle.

‘All through the night’ book cover, sketching and final illustration

How do you learn about new techniques and tools?

I usually seek out tutorials on a topic if there is something particular I want to find out. Or I try to find an expert on the topic. Skillshare or Domestika tutorials can be really good. But most of the time it’s through trial and error experiments that I learn the most!

Do you think it is important for an illustrator to be able to draw analogically, before drawing digitally?

I think it drawing analogically first has great advantages. Digital tools represent effects from analog materials, so learning analog techniques it only furthers your knowledge when/if you later move to digital. Personally, I find using both drawing methods useful. But for me, analog is an opportunity to get a break from the computer and make solid decisions on composition and scale quickly. With digital tools, it can be too tempting to continuously zoom in and make something too detailed, or lose sight of the actual scale and impact of an artwork.

How has your practice changed over time?

I think my process has definitely become faster in the past few years. I think this is due to developing stronger artistic skills and the demand from the industry for a quick pace. I find that I now work on larger scale projects, rather than many small scale jobs which is much better to schedule time. Although I have progressed over the years, there is always room for improvement! I think it’s good to be open to learning and improving and to always leave room for experimentation!

Bright painting book with forest life.

‘Day & Night: Rainforest’ book won at the Irish Design Awards in 2018 in Best Illustration Publishing category.

How do you handle a client who isn’t sure about what they want?

Firstly, I think it’s a case of asking plenty of questions about what they want the illustration to do for them. Keep the conversation open with them through the process of illustrating. Provide notes and explanations along with sketches so they understand your ideas completely. At the sign-off stage, clients can sometimes need help visualizing what something will look like so that they have confidence in the outcome. It can be a good idea to provide some form of mockup so that they can see how a design will look in reality.

What work do you most enjoy doing nowadays?

Painting by hand is something I have taken up again recently since college and I love it. Unlike digital work there is so much left to chance, colors bleeding into each other, joyful mistakes and it’s so relaxing!

What’s been your most challenging project to date?

My most challenging project to date is a wordless picture book idea that I’m working on by myself. I’ve been finding it tough to manage my schedule so that I can dedicate more time to it. It’s also tough self-editing when it’s your own personal project! I’m hoping to bring it to completion early next year!

Bottles for liquid soap with package.

Packaging illustrations for The Handmade Soap Company

Do you have a network of designers with whom you collaborate? How do you support each other?

Yes absolutely! I’m part of a number of illustrator support groups along with keeping in touch with my illustrator friends! I am a member of Illustrators Ireland, a guild promoting Irish Illustration. I’m also a member of the Association of Illustrators (The AOI) in the UK. They do so much good in providing sound advice for new and established illustrators.

Have you heard of MasterBundles before? What do you think about this project?

Truthfully, I hadn’t heard of MasterBundles before but I find the concept very interesting! I think it gives a lot of creative power to those people who may not have access to or knowledge of visual tools for social media promotions and presentations and make them look really good!

Paula McGloin quote.

Paula Gives Her Tips to New Designers and Illustrators

Meet Irish illustrator and Surface Pattern Designer Paula McGloin! She studied Visual Communications at the National College of Art and Design and has worked as a graphic designer before exploring her career as an illustrator.

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Book editor and content creator
Feli Arrieta is a book editor and content creator from Buenos Aires. Tirelessly curious, she is passionate about traveling, living new experiences and learning different disciplines, to be shared through her writings.
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