Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing artist and designer Elena O’Neill. Working with watercolour to create vibrant repeat patterns and illustrations inspired by the beauty in everyday life, Elena has worked with Thortful and Moonpig, and sells her work on Etsy and Society6. After learning to sew, she began to apply her patterns to pencil cases and fabric. I caught up with her to find out about her creative process, influences and challenges.
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Elena O’Neill and I am an illustrator and pattern maker based in the south of England. I was brought up on a farm, just three miles from Stonehenge. I am passionate about patterns and seeing my work come to life as products.
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I started illustrating when I began studying Illustration at Plymouth College Of Art. We were encouraged to experiment to find our unique style. In my second year my friend told me to buy a watercolour set, and it was love at first use. It was then that my illustrations really took off. I used books and Youtube videos to learn how to use them, and a fair amount of experimenting. That was over two years ago now and I still love them. I guess I have a lot to thank that friend for!
What is your artistic weapon of choice?
My Windsor and Newton watercolour set – the best thing I’ve ever bought.
What are your influences? Who or what inspires you to create your work?
My favourite artist is Alphone Mucha, his work is so decorative and vibrant. I love botanical artists like Julie Collins and Wendy Tait, who’s wonderful books taught me how to paint. I am also inspired by illustrators like Katie Daisy and Cat Coquillette.
Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?
I love bright colours and seeing how the watercolours mix, its so different every time. I like to create my patterns on a white background, as I think when printed on material, a good quality print looks like it could have been painted directly onto the fabric.
Can you describe your creative process? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?
I start by becoming excited about a theme or object, then I paint as many different variations as possible. I usually have many different patterns on the go, as the watercolours often need time to dry, and I like to swap between themes as it keeps my work fresh and interesting. Once I am done painting, I scan everything in and clean it up using Adobe Photoshop. Then I arrange my painted icons into patterns!
What has been the most challenging parts of being a freelance illustrator and running a business on Etsy?
The most challenging part for me is balancing everything. When you work for yourself, you have to be everything. The creator, photographer, accountant, social media expert… the list goes on. It can be so hard to get right!
And what are the best bits?
There are a lot of best bits, the freedom to decide what to do with your days, and being able to look forward to going to work is amazing!
Was there ever a moment when you lost passion for your work? If yes, how did you get it back?
There are several moments most weeks! I think it might be part of having a creative mind. I find that I’m in a constant cycle of thinking ‘why am I doing this, its never going to work, my stuff is awful,’ and ‘I can’t believe how much I’ve achieved, I’m so proud of myself.’ It’s kind of exhausting really, but it keeps things interesting!
Where do you find clients and collaborators?
Most of the time I create work based on what sparks my interest and not for a client. Although I have done internships at Moonpig and Hallmark, which were opportunities given to me at the graduate show New Designers. I have also had a lot of people contact me after finding my work on Etsy and Society6.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an illustrator?
Get your work out there! In the design industry most companies will contact you if they like what they see, but you have to put it out there to be seen. My advice is to make the most of websites like Redbubble and Society6, get as much on there as possible and promote on social media. If you wait until you think you’re ‘good enough’ you might never think you are.
What are you currently working on? And what’s next?
It has just been made official that my greeting card designs are now available on Moonpig, which is really exciting for me! Next I plan to focus on creating patterns for Spoonflower, continuing to grow my Etsy shop and creating greeting cards for Thortful.
You can find more of Elena O’Neill’s work at www.elenaillustration.etsy.com.
All images copyright of Elena O’Neill