Paula McGloin: Believe in your own individual style. Be your own source of inspiration.

04.05.2019  |  Share  —  Twitter   Facebook   Copy link

Irish illustrator and surface designer Paula McGloin tells us all about Dublin's thriving creative scene, life as a solo creative and she reveals her tips for those of you just getting started!

What led you into your current career path?
Since a very young age I knew I wanted to be an artist. My first primary goal was to get into an Art college. In 2000, I became a student at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD) in Dublin and graduated 4 years later with a BDes in Visual Communications. I spent a number of years working as a designer in a variety of jobs from Magazine layout work to Logo design. Each evening and on weekends I would draw and create illustrations just for fun. Dublin has a very active artistic scene, I joined up with like minded ‘newbie’ illustrators to organise exhibitions of our work. I also shared my illustrations online and after time I started receiving emails from people interested in commissioning me. Eventually, I had more commissions than I could deal with (considering I also had a full time job!). So that’s what eventually led me to make the exciting move to illustrating full time.

How do you keep in touch with the creative world and community and how does the creative scene look like in your city? 
Dublin has a very lively creative scene. I rent a studio from Mart, an organisation that provides spaces for artists to foster artistic endeavors.

I’m a member of the group ‘Illustrators Ireland' it is a guild for illustrators living and working in Ireland. We have regular meetups during the year. It’s a really supportive community. We use slack to keep in touch with one another. It’s a great way to get advice from more experienced illustrators but also to organise meet ups. Dublin has regular creative events from exhibitions to artist talks and creative festivals. The illustration community is small, but thriving!

Portrait of Henry David Thereau, from the book Adventures in Philosophy promoting philosophy for kids (and grown ups too!)


'Heart and Dart' seamless repeat pattern design.


What creative(s) do you admire for their work?
I could name hundreds of creative people that I admire for their work, so it is very difficult to pinpoint individuals! I mostly admire those creatives that are bold enough to be themselves and produce unique work with ideas and not just a reliance on style. With so much social media distractions, it’s important to remember that your main source of inspiration should be yourself, your life, experiences and what you believe in as an individual. This should shine through in your work.

I really admire the work of Carson Ellis. The illustrations that she creates embody a unique world crafted from her imagination, no one can replicate this. She is simply true to her interests and aesthetics as an artist and storyteller.

Not too long ago I read the debut novel ‘Thornhill’ by illustrator Pam Smy and I was blown away. The mood, atmosphere and construction of the story combined with the consistently beautiful illustrations was an incredible feat in illustrated publishing.

I just adore Andy J. Pizza, not only for his work but for his amazing vitality and personality. I’m a regular listener to his podcast ‘Creative Pep Talk’. His words of optimism and experience have helped me through some of the toughest and self doubtful aspect of being a solo creative.

Have you collaborated or thought of collaborating with other like-minds?
There are huge benefits to collaborating with other creatives. Not only do you share knowledge and skills, you also challenge yourself to improve and push past your comfort zone. When I first began creating illustrations, I collaborated with Illustrator Anna Deegan to create the creative duo Poppy & Red. We really enjoyed working on projects for fun, and this experience was certainly responsible for kickstarting my illustrative career. I’ve collaborated on numerous projects with friend and Brazilian children’s illustrator, Tarsila Kruse. We keep in touch regularly and often share tips and advice on working as an illustrator.

I’m currently collaborating with a Dublin based fashion designer on a very interesting collection. Sadly, I can’t share any further details until the line is released. But it is very exciting and I’m learning a huge amount. I’ve previously worked on fabric collections for the quilting industry, but designing prints for fabric that will be worn on the body is a completely new and fascinating challenge!

What’s your favorite hack to get work done?
One of my best purchases last year was an Huion USB Lightbox. I use it for working on repeat patterns and hand lettering designs. It makes refinements and tweaks to line art very quick and easy!

There is some work I must do with that requires all of my attention, particularly at the start of a project. But some tasks, for example when translating sketches from line art to digital colour art, can take time and is less intense work. So I’ve got into a habit of listening to Audio Books while doing this type of work. It’s very enjoyable, and keeps you interested during a long studio day!

What are your 5 favorite work tools/apps and how do use them?
Adobe Illustrator
- The digital application I use most is Adobe Illustrator. Once I’ve created a sketch I san this in and open it in illustrator. I create a trace layer and then draw shapes based on my sketch using the pen tool. I operate the pen tool with my Wacom Cintiq and stylus. Later I will add blocks of colour and refine shapes. Sometimes, I will apply texture through transparency masks, texture brushes or move to Adobe Photoshop to paint textures by hand.

Evernote -  My go-to tool for collecting research and notes. You can clip website pages and write notes or set deadlines. I organise all the information into project ‘notebooks’, it’s very handy.

The humble B pencil - Whether it’s 2B or 6B, the pencil is my tool for starting any project. I know lot’s of artists are beginning to sketch digitally, but that’s not for me! In my opinion there’s no faster or enjoyable way to sketch ideas than the humble pencil. (#Tip: I sometimes work over drawings with colour pencils to alter or change details, rather that start a drawing all over again.)

Google Docs for Workflow - I’ve watched artists Lisa Congdon’s series of tips on workflow and have integrated it into my studio planning. It’s basic but very effective!

Dropbox - Lifesaver, I can access files from anywhere. That feeling of security that all your client files and personal files are safe and backed up everyday is priceless.



Printed fabrics Paula designed with Cameot Fabrics


Paula's Sketchbook, she likes to take a break from the screen and experimenting with colour.


Paula starts digital illustrations using Adobe illustrator, she traces her pencil work and blocks out areas of colour before adding texture and detail in Photoshop.


Time management hack: "One of my best purchases last year was an Huion USB Lightbox. I use it for working on repeat patterns and hand lettering designs. It makes refinements and tweaks to line art very quick and easy!"

What creative or non-creative challenges do you face at work?
I think the main challenge I face is to make sure I have consistent projects coming in the door. When I go through busy production periods, it can be difficult to keep up with my social media promotions and website updates. And essentially, spreading the word about yourself is what will get you new work!

I also think creative people need personal projects in order to grow and develop creatively. So I’m constantly trying to find time to squeeze in little side projects in-between commissions. I realise these two challenges are completely contradictory, but I think that’s just part of being an artist. You need to satisfy yourself creatively but also afford to pay the bills!

What projects are you most proud of and excited about? Are there any side-projects you work or worked on?
Recently, I worked on an amazing project celebrating 100 years of suffrage for Women in Ireland. Nowadays, we take some rights for granted. It’s hard to believe that 100 years ago, Women were not given the right to vote. Gender equality and rights for Women have came a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I was proud to be part of celebrating this achievement for Women’s rights. It was really special to be invited to the United Nations to celebrate the launch with US based Irish poet, Eavan Boland.

I’m also very proud of ‘Day & Night: Rainforest’ a book I illustrated with publishers Victionary (Hong Kong). The book construction consists of a large concertina fold format.There are two large 7 panel panoramic scenes (printed double-sided), the first showing the vibrant rainforest during the day; the second shows an active rainforest at night. This epic activity book challenges the reader to find specific objects in a jungle of amusing distractions, it was the largest, most detailed illustration I had undertaken!

There are over 200 different animal and plant species featured across the pages. The construction of the book compliments the explorative aspects aiming to fascinate and entertain young readers.

The task of illustrating the book involved research into the strangest and most exotic animals that live in the forest. This included informing myself about the interesting habits of animals, for example particular food they ate, finding out how and when they interacted with other creatures. Identifying any details that could build a unique story told through illustration. I really loved working on this book and it really raised the bar for what I thought possible for me to achieve through illustration.

I was extremely proud when it won the 2018 Irish Design Awards for Illustration Publishing category.


Adventures in Philosophy released October 2018 illustrated by Paula; the book aims to cultivate curiosity and courage within young readers (and grown ups too!).


'Bullfinch' illustration for Tipperary Crystal Spring birds themed Mug collection.


Illustration of the Buffalo Dance, a story from Adventures in Philosophy book, promoting philosophy for kids.

What’s your morning or evening routine and habit after work?
Mornings, I usually go to the gym or go for a run along the canal. It’s a very leafy canal lined with trees and wildflowers, so you really feel detached from the busy city life. After work my routine completely varies. Early in the week I will usually just chill out at home with my husband Michael and our cat Gatchino. After having dinner, I’ll read a book or watch a tv show that we follow. Later in the week is when I am more socially active and love to attend an evening exhibition opening, book launch or a creative social gathering of some sort!

What does a typical day look like?
I have captured my day in a series of pictures that you can see below…


7:30AM I get up and eat breakfast, usually a good hearty bowl of oats and fruit. Then make my way to the gym or go for a short run. When I’m finished I get ready to go to the studio.




9:30 AM - Cycle to the studio. I cycle a Brompton bike, during the day I can fold it away in my studio.

9am-9.30am: Time for some cereal breakfast and early morning sketches (when I feel like it).


10:00AM - Sign in to my studio at Mart HX Village Studios. These studios are designed for creatives, there is a mix of members from different creative disciplines. 


10:15AM - I make a pot of filter coffee and then it’s time to sort through my task list for the day/ week. I stick up post-it notes on the wall as I work through everything. There’s great satisfaction when I move things to the ‘done’ pile!


10:30AM - I’m currently starting a new collection of print patterns. To keep me inspired I collect research and samples to fill my studio pinboard.


11AM - I collect a lot of colourful things for reference. These are beautiful fabric swatches from some old Saris


11:30AM - Whatever happens to be my current project, I find mornings the best time to sketch. I work in a sketchbook to begin creating roughs, but will then move to large sheets of paper for final artwork.


1PM Lunch time! - I will sometimes take a walk or if I’m very busy I will make lunch in the studio kitchen. It’s a good opportunity to meet and chat with other creatives in the building. Today I had an interesting chat with a member that creates period costumes for films!


2PM - It’s back to work for the rest of the day. I will catch up on any emails and usually move to digital work. I could be vector tracing some of my sketches from earlier or refining digital work form a previous day. If I have a deadline it can be very intense work. I’m usually aiming for work to be sent out by close of business.
(Sometimes I listen to audio books while I work, one of my latest favourites ‘The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes. An historical novel with a slightly surreal twist!) But if I’m very busy, I will work in silence and complete focus until the deadline is reached.




5:30PM - Time for some painting, I like painting with gouache pans because of the flat bold colours.


Around 6:30-7:00PM  I wrap it up and leave for home.


8pm - Back at home - time to relax

Is there work in progress project you could share with us? 
‘Heart & Dart’ repeat pattern work in progress. This is a design featuring Irish Moth species. It is intended for a fabric collection. First I sketch from my research, once I’m happy with the shape of the motifs I will start to sketch the pattern tile. This involves cutting up your drawing and rearranging to create a seamless effect. I then scan the tile and recreate the shapes digitally and add colour. For this design I used Adobe Illustrator. This pattern is first of a collection, I will create more prints based on the same theme to act as co-ordinates.

Any advice for ambitious creatives starting out?
During my career I’ve learned that you will only get hired to do work you have already done. Don’t wait for that dream commission to land into your inbox. Instead, if you are interested in creating something, set up your own brief and go create it! Share it with the world and keep creating work that you love on a regular basis. It may take time, but eventually that special opportunity will come along!

What’s your workspace setup?
Drawing area - I use a desk easel to draw. I work from rough thumbnails to larger details sketches. I will pin up my sketches as I work, it’s important for me to have a drawing area away from my computer so I can focus.

When I move to the digital work, I use a Wacom Cintiq Drawing tablet. This one of my favourite additions to my studio and has really helped me achieve an efficient workflow. I’ve mounted to my desk using an Ergotron Arm so I can twist it in any direction, raise it higher or lower. Sometimes I like to work standing up, so it helps my posture from sitting all day!

I also have a desk dedicated to painting and printing. It’s important to have a place for experimentation, whether is trying out with different materials, or creating handmade prints or collage.


"‘Heart & Dart’ repeat pattern work in progress. This is a design featuring Irish Moth species. It is intended for a fabric collection."


Day & Night: Rainforest, published by Viction Viction

Is there anything you want to promote or plug?
My latest illustrated book 'Adventures in Philosophy' with author Brendan O'Donoghue for Gill Books, launched in October of last year. It’s an enlightening adventure that explores Ancient stories and legends from around the globe, and translates those stories into thinking tools for today’s world. The book aims to cultivate curiosity and courage within young readers (and grown ups too!). Find out more or purchase here.

I’m also very excited about a new jungle themed stationery line for kids, due to be released very soon with Auzou editions (France). I love creating illustrations with animal characters and themes, so it’s been a very fun project to work on!

Where can people follow you online? 
You can find me on Behance, visit my website or follow me on Linkedin.

"It’s important to remember that your main source of inspiration should be yourself, your life, experiences and what you believe in as an individual. This should shine through in your work."

Quote by Paula McGloin