An Interview with Artist Penelope Dullaghan

Today I'm interviewing Penelope Dullaghan, an illustrator based in Indianapolis, Indiana. You might know her as the founder of Illustration Friday, or maybe you've come across one of her editorial illustrations in the Oprah Magazine, Washington Post, Vegetarian Times, Shambhala and others. If not, prepare to be enchanted.

penelope dullaghan, artists studios, work space

Hi, Penelope, so glad to be chatting with you today and I’m delighted to have you share your thoughts with my blog readers. I only discovered your art earlier this year and was immediately smitten with your unique style. Can you tell us a little about your background and your development as an artist?
Thank you - and thanks for having me!
My background: I started off as an art director for an advertising agency which means I learned about illustration through hiring illustrators initially. I used to get great art promos (postcards, etc) across my desk - and eventually I started to think that illustration looked like it’d be more fun than art directing. So I started making arrangements to make a career switch. 
At first I hired myself to illustrate projects in house at the agency - I did some children’s placemats and a few illustrated posters. Then I started moonlighting in my own time. I’d work my 9-5 and then go home and work on personal illustration projects at night. After about a year of that - and getting small illustration jobs here and there - I had built up a decent portfolio and saved enough money to make the leap to full time freelance illustration, and I’ve never looked back! 
penelope dullaghan, fashion illustration, anti-fur
On your website it describes your art-making as “collaborating with clients to make impactful, insightful art”. How does your process differ if you’re creating a piece that is, perhaps, more political or conceptual than if you’re working on something that is more about capturing a moment or a mood? Do you have a different way of working when you’re doing client work than when you’re working on personal projects?
My process is largely the same whether the illustration is a political/conceptual piece or a moment/mood piece. I usually start with lots of loose thumbnail sketches - trying to capture the best ideas and angles on the image as I can. Then I narrow those thumbnail ideas down to 2 or 3 that seem to be the strongest. Those are the ones I refine as finished sketches to show the client. The client then chooses one they’d like me to take to color art. I do the illustration and deliver the final art to them as a digital file.  
I do work a little differently if the piece is a personal project. Most of the time, I still do thumbnail sketches, but they are more intuitive and come together easier because I know what I’d like to convey in the image (and I don’t need to make them so neat for approval). Also, with client work my style has to be really consistent (clients like to know what they’re going to get), but with work for myself I have more freedom to experiment so I like to play with different mediums. I reach and explore a little more. This, more than anything else, has taught me so much about art. My style has evolved and shifted because of playing with techniques and mediums. And it’s really so fun!  
penelope dullaghan, illustrations, mary oliver quotes, stars
You work in a variety of media and seem to always be experimenting. Is there one that you like best or that you find yourself returning to time and again? If so, what is it about that media that resonates with you?
I don’t know if I have a favorite because it changes with each piece. Sometimes I like the fast nature of watercolor - I can get ideas and designs down really quickly. I also like that it’s so easy to mix colors with watercolor. Other times I love the tactile nature of linocut. It can give you some really great organic textures, too. And sometimes it’s fun to experiment with large shapes of cut paper and colored pencil. It really just depends on my mood, what materials I see lying around and what the piece is calling for, I guess.  
lino cut, penelope dullaghan
 I read once that the word “amateur” comes from the latin word “amator” which means “lover”. I think that’s how I approach art even though I do art as my profession, I always think of myself as an amateur, a lover of, art and its techniques. I always have things to learn to grow as an artist.
penelope dullaghan, family photos

You have a six-year-old daughter. Did you notice a change in your art once you became a mother? Can you share a bit about how you juggle motherhood and your art career? What do you see as your biggest challenge?
My art changed dramatically when I became a mother. First of all, my creativity nearly disappeared when I was pregnant. I didn’t want to do art, think about it or even look at it. That shocked me, and I mourned. I thought that it was over for me as an artist and I was so, so sad. But after I had my daughter, little by little it started to come back. In retrospect, I think I was so busy creating my kid on the inside that I could not possibly create any more on the outside. I wish I’d realized that at the time and just settled down and enjoyed the whole process. But hindsight is 20/20, right? :) 
But as my daughter grew, I started doing art with her. I saw her unbridled creativity. I saw her experimenting and playing without judgement. And I saw how much fun it was! She experienced pure joy as her hands were covered in paint. Or when she grabbed a bright crayon and made marks. I couldn’t help but be inspired.
Penelope Dullaghan, artist studios, painting, illustrators
Photo by Amy Glass*
 After 5 years of being home with her and my work taking a backseat, she started kindergarten full time last year and my creativity came rushing back. Now I have more ideas than I know what to do with and I am just enjoying it this time. This flow might not last forever - I know that now - so I’m just going with it while it’s here… doing as much as I can enjoy. And not more. 
My biggest challenge now is knowing that I can’t do everything I want to do as an artist and realizing that that is perfectly ok. I get to have a more rounded creative life - one that includes taking care of an amazing person while she grows, tending to a home that I love and being a part of a family and community. I am more than just my “job”. And sometimes that’s hard because I love my job so much. But most of the time I know it’s a blessing.
home, collections, Penelope Dullaghan, artists' homes

I read in an interview that your front yard is one big strawberry patch. (How cool is that?!) Other than strawberries, what sorts of things do you like to grow in your garden?
Yeah! I planted strawberries as ground cover last year and they’ve taken over. I had oodles of strawberries - enough to freeze even - this year! And my daughter and the neighborhood kids love eating them when they can get to them before me. :) I also grow things like tomatoes, cucumber, okra, broccoli. Gardening is a really fun hobby for me - it’s all just experimentation. If a crop fails, I’ve learned to just laugh it off and learn from it. If it does well, I thank my lucky stars and plan a meal.
penelope dullaghan, illustrations, autumn, leaves, bicycles

You have been blogging for many years. Blogs and blogging have changed a lot during that time. How would you say that your blog has evolved over the years? Do you ever find it hard to keep up the momentum?

I’ve been blogging since the beginning of time it feels like - 2003! It used to be the only way to communicate online, but now there are so many social media platforms that have almost everyone sharing on the web. I think people read and write blogs a lot less because of that. 
When I first started blogging I shared more thoughtful, personal stories and chronicled my artistic development. I documented my life at that time. But after I had my daughter, my time was much more limited. I took a break from blogging and started using social media - mostly Instagram - more often. Since then I’ve come back to my blog again - mainly posting about new work and art projects. There’s less story telling about my life because I think people are saturated with that sort of thing on Facebook these days. 
penelope dullaghan, illustrators, artists, cell phones
 I do find it all hard to keep up with at times. So I try to keep in mind that blogging and social media is really just superfluous to what really matters. Am I happy? Is my family happy? Is my work fulfilling? Do I have free time to just be? Those answers are what really matters.
repeat patterns, penelope dullaghan
Life is full of ups and downs. When you find yourself in a downswing what is your favorite way to reclaim your joy?

It really is! I find that when I’m down, it’s usually because I’m taking on too much or that I’m comparing myself to someone else (both are such easy pitfalls!). I find I can re-center and find joy more quickly if I take a step back, unplug and do something in real life. Read a book with my kiddo. Do an art project I don’t “share” anywhere. Cook a meal from scratch. Go for a hike and really notice everything around me. Even clean the bathroom! Activity (of any sort) is usually the antidote to despair. 
I think what it comes down to for me, is trying to remember that in each moment - even if “bad” things or moods are happening - the actual present moment is always ok as-is.

Penelope Dullaghan, illustration, giraffe, optimism

Thank you Penelope!

I hope you've enjoyed today's interview. Want to see more of Penelope's work? You can find it here.

Design Sponge Home Tour

(By the way, today is the last day to purchase from Penelope's Etsy shop for the season and she's having a sale! Use code "mistletoe" to get 20% off everything).

Also, you won't want to miss this charming video profile of Penelope and her work by Salt Project:

Artist Profile : Penelope Dullaghan from Penelope Dullaghan on Vimeo.

Be sure not to miss the other posts in my Artists Series; they can be viewed here.

Photography in this post is © Penelope Dullaghan, except for *which is © Amy Glass. Used with  permission.


  1. Very interesting interview and lovely original artwork shown. :-)

    1. Thank you, Simone! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I hope you're feeling inspired. :)

  2. delightful!
    thanks so much for this inspiring interview, anne.

  3. Beautiful and so, so inspiring... Thank you Anne!

  4. This is wonderful, Anne! I have liked Penelope's work for years and am fascinated with Illustration Friday. Great interview and a very nice surprise to find this on your blog! You are doing such interesting things here!! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks, Judy! Her work is such fun and I was glad to share it here.

      You should enter Illustration Friday with one of your illustrations! :)


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