Visual Arts » 2D

Drawn to Life's Changes

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Illustrator Penelope Dullaghan has artistic talent in her blood. Her grandmother was a painter, her father a draftsman and she has cousins in the Windy City who work as tattoo artists. "I guess I come by it naturally," she says. Indeed, her drawings of a bubble-blowing boy, flying elephants, and a red-seated tandem bike hint at whimsy and a someone with a serious sense of fun.

Penelope Dullaghan describes motherhood as both a challenge and an opportunity for her creative output. - KATIE DESAI
  • Katie Desai
  • Penelope Dullaghan describes motherhood as both a challenge and an opportunity for her creative output.

"I always loved to draw," Dullaghan offers, while discussing the graphic design degree she attained while studying at the University of Indianapolis. "I didn't think I could pay the bills with a fine arts degree," she says, which led to her aforementioned study and an internship and eventual job as art director with advertising agency Young & Laramore. Dullaghan worked with Y&L for nearly five years and loved what she did. "I would hire illustrators and use my own stuff when it was appropriate," she says, discussing kids' menus she did for Steak & Shake.

She spent about a year moonlighting for clients and friends before she ventured into freelance work. "I illustrated little books for people, portraits of houses for friends, stuff for The Indianapolis Star and a bunch of local stuff." She speaks of her then-"cutesy" style which she accomplished with a rapidograf, a technical pen most familiar to architects, engineers and anyone looking to draw the finest of lines. "My style didn't expand the way I wanted it to," she says of the watercolors and line drawings she did, resulting in a change to the way she drew.

Dullaghan draws by hand -- her materials include India ink, watercolor, and charcoal -- before scanning her work and sending a digital file to a client, whose ranks have included Crate & Barrel, United Airlines, Scholastic Books, and Vegetarian Times. Working with a digital file allows her to make changes that a client might want. "I used to do full-on paintings and give them to clients. They would request changes" -- an adjustment to a color, for instance -- "and I couldn't really make them." Now that she works with the finished product in Photoshop, however, she can easily make modifications and produce work more quickly.

Dog was an assignment for Houghton Mifflin. - PENELOPE DULLAGHAN
  • Penelope Dullaghan
  • Dog was an assignment for Houghton Mifflin.

The past 10 years have found Dullaghan working with "a lot of fantastic clients -- I've been really fortunate." She's currently experimenting with line drawings and patterns and would like to see that work go somewhere. She's in a good position for diving into her work. With her 5-year-old daughter recently starting kindergarten, Dullaghan's days are a bit more open. Previously, her work-from-home schedule was split between client work and taking time for play. Of her daughter, Dullaghan says, "She is by far my biggest inspiration. She is amazing."

Speaking with both wonder and love in her voice, Dullaghan describes her daughter's art. "I love the way she draws things, interprets things." The artist doesn't draw anything her daughter requests, wanting instead to see what her progeny comes up with. "I knew if I said, 'Here's how you draw whatever' that she would change [her style] and I didn't want that to happen."

Tantrum was created for the Baltimore Sun. - PENELOPE DULLAGHAN
  • Penelope Dullaghan
  • Tantrum was created for the Baltimore Sun.

"Most of my job is visual problem-solving," Dullaghan says, explaining that clients task her with conceptually finding solutions. "A visual speaks quicker than a headline or caption, and I have to figure out how to do that." Because that kind of work lends itself to a kind of rigidity -- needing to quickly capture the attention of thousands of readers, for instance -- Dullaghan is happy for the openness she is learning from her daughter. "Being more loose and free with fine arts is a complete brain shift."

Freelance work isn't always easy. Though Dullaghan has met with success, she's "worked [her] tail off" and has to deal with the "artist's brain," best described when Dullaghan cries out, "I SUCK, I SUCK, I SUCK -- okay, that's not too bad," followed by a deep laugh. "There are so many fantastic artists and people doing so much wonderful work. How do I make my work stand out? That's a challenge."

Dullaghan battles the mania of the ever-busy mind by taking a daily walk with her husband near their house. After dropping their daughter off at the bus stop, the two walk by White River. "It's calming and a nice way to ground myself before the craziness of the day starts," she explains. Once they return home, the spouses hole up in their separate offices and work until their daughter gets home from school. "I'm done after that so that I can be a mom," she says simply.

A Liberal Amount Of Time is a visual comment on Dullaghan's experience with motherhood. - PENELOPE DULLAGHAN
  • Penelope Dullaghan
  • A Liberal Amount Of Time is a visual comment on Dullaghan's experience with motherhood.

When asked if working from home along with her husband causes any issues, she says no. "I think most people would get sick of someone being all up in your cheese fries all the time," she says, but explains that they're both introverted homebodies. Being at home allows them to bounce ideas off each other. "He says, 'Read this script' and I say, 'Look at this drawing' -- it works well."

Dullaghan has been welcoming her art back ever since her daughter was born. "When I got pregnant, my creativity was zapped. I became a stay-at-home mom and had to cut back my workload significantly." The trade-off seems to be that Dullaghan was given the opportunity to just play. "I think that helps ignite creativity," she says, adding that it's awesome now that her daughter is old enough to explore how she commits an artistic idea to paper, from the materials she selects to the style of work she chooses. "I'm trying to work more free, trying to play," Dullaghan says.

Sending her daughter to kindergarten was a big change for Dullaghan, who didn't initially handle the transition well. Her print, "A Liberal Allowance of Time," is the result of feeling lost. The print illustrates a woman on her side in a body of water as though she is a river rock. The Thoreau quote Dullaghan included at the bottom of the piece came into her life right when she needed it most. Instead of forcing herself through the change to her routine, she learned to take time to just be. "I needed to stop trying to shape [the experience] into something and just let gentleness happen." Now, just a few months later, Dullaghan says she is "on fire creatively" and riding the wave as long as she can. "Everything changes," she says matter-of-factly.

View a selection of Dullaghan's colorful prints in her shop before it closes at the end of the month. You can also find her on Facebook or her favorite site, Instagram.

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