Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 20, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Paddy Donnelly

Paddy Donnelly is an Irish illustrator now living in Belgium. He has over 15 years experience as an illustrator and designer, and especially loves working with a textured, painterly approach. With a fondness for illustrating the sea and animals, Paddy tries to inject a touch of humour to his work wherever he can. Coming from a graphic design background, Paddy is comfortable working in different illustration styles depending on the needs of the project. He wishes Pluto was still a planet.

Paddy Donnelly is represented by The Bright Agency

Here is Paddy discussing his illustrating process for The Vanishing Lake:

Hi there! I’m Paddy Donnelly, an author and illustrator from Ireland, and now living in Belgium. I’ve illustrated a number of picture books, and my debut author illustrated picture book, The Vanishing Lake, will be published on April 20, 2021. Thanks to Kathy for having me on for Illustrator Saturday today. Here’s a little peek into my process.

Working on an author illustrated picture book is different than when you’re working on someone else’s story. A couple of years ago I decided to try and write some of my own stories and I discovered I absolutely loved the process of creating both the text and illustrations. My method is all a bit of a jumbled mess, like any creative process. It all starts with an idea of course. Usually I begin with something I really want to draw, then try to find an interesting angle or story involving that subject. For The Vanishing Lake the basic idea was that the lake would appear full and them empty a few times, with some magical stories along the way. I created thumbnails for the main plot points, keeping in mind interesting/funny scenes I want to illustrate. Once I’ve got those super rough thumbnails, then I’ll start the writing.

It’s a very back and forth process when you’re writing and illustrating, as you can tweak the text when you’ve got an idea for the illustration, and tweak illustrations when you hit upon a great line and juggle pages around, merging them, splitting them.

Once I’m happy with the roughs for the book, then I’ll proceed on to the illustration. I already had some colour schemes picked out from earlier character work and experimentation. You can see some of the characters changed their appearance from the sketch, and the otter was a late addition too!

ABOVE: Finished Illustration  BELOW: Fisnished Illustration with Text


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve always drawn as a kid, but I think professionally illustrating since about 2012, and illustrating for children’s books since 2018.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I think one of the first illustration projects I was hired for when I went freelance was for cover art for a book on web design. In the end the client didn’t go with my idea and the project was cancelled. I learned a lot from this though about client expectations.

Did you study graphic design in college?

I studied Interactive Multimedia Design (web design) in college and then a Masters in Multi-disciplinary Design after that.

What did you study in art school?

I never went to art school. I never had any formal education in illustration. I’m entirely self-taught.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

I started off working as a UX Designer for a design agency, creating designs for websites, apps, mobile apps, games. I then left to go freelance in 2012 in order to do more illustration work.

How did you start working on IOS apps for Kids?

After I left the design agency to go freelance, I teamed up with a developer friend of mine to make some kids apps. The iPad was relatively new, so we decided to develop kids apps for that. In think we ended up creating about 10 apps over the years.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

Illustrating picture books wasn’t really something I had seriously considered before, but I started to look into more and more around the end of 2017. I started expanding my illustration portfolio to include a lot more children’s illustration. I signed up with my illustration agent at the beginning of 2018 and they’ve been super at securing me amazing book projects. I’ve been focusing on illustrating for picture books now for over three years, and I’m loving it! I’m learning so much with each book I work on and really enjoy working in the publishing industry.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

Nope, I’m entirely self-taught. Just lots of messing around and exploring with the various brushes in Photoshop.

What do you think helped you develop your style?

I’m not sure I really have a style to be honest. I work in so many different styles, because of my graphic design background. In graphic design you have to work in whatever style the brief calls for, and I really enjoy mixing things up and working in different styles.

Was Jack and the Jungle your first book?

I think Jack and the Jungle was the children’s book of mine that was released. I worked on three or four books at the same time in my first year, but that was the first one that was published.

How did you get this contract?

I have an illustration agent who presents my work to publishers and secures me book projects.

You illustrated the Irish language picture book ‘Scúnc agus Smúirín’ (Skunk and Sniffy) which was shortlist 2019 for KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards in 2019. Do you think this helped you get noticed and more work?

Yes! This was a great honour to be shortlisted for this award. I’m not sure it’s directly led to any new work, but it definitely helps as something to have on my resume.

It looks like 2018/2019 was a busy time for you with Mrs M’Grady and three other 3 books coming out, did you find yourself working day and night?

Yes I did. It was a very busy first year, with lots to learn. As I was new to the industry, I had to put a lot of work into finding a workflow that worked for me, and also learned a lot about the industry too. 2020 was perhaps my busiest year of work yet. I worked on a lot of projects, and 2021 is shaping up to be even busier. I think I’ll have 5 or 6 books released this year. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I’m loving it!

How did you get the opportunity to illustrate the covers for Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell and Orla and the Serpent’s Curse with Walker Books in 2020?

Again this was through my agent. As I wanted to do some cover art projects, they asked me to put together some sample covers that they could show off. These then helped me get these two book cover projects, and have led to many more since.

Did you do an interior art for these middle grade books?

No, there aren’t any inner illustrations in these books. I only created the cover art.

Was illustrating MON AMI VENU D’AILLEURS a book written in French a challenge?

This is actually a French co-edition of my book ‘Hom’ which will be published on March 4 2021. I worked on the English version, and this book will be coming out in French, Greek, Finnish, Danish and maybe some more languages.

Your most recent book Here Be Dragons just came out in paperback. Was this book also published in hardcover?

No, only paperback for the moment I believe.

I will be featuring The Vanishing Lake coming out in April. Was this the first book that you wrote and illustrated?

Yes! This will be my debut author illustrated picture book, and I’m very excited to have it published. As it’s based on a real lake close to my hometown in Ireland, that makes it all the more special. I’ve written quite a number of manuscripts, but this was the first one that was picked up by a publisher.

I notice you have another book coming out in July, The Astronaut’s Atlas. It looks like it is a 80 page illustrated book. Did you do 80 illustrations?

Yes indeed! This is a non-fiction book where kids can learn all about the planets and the solar system. I had to create a lot of illustrations of planets, meteors, galaxies and moons. I absolutely loved working on it.

How did you connect with your agent the Bright Agency and how long have you been with them?

In late 2017 I submitted my work to them for consideration, and was delighted when they agreed to represent me! They had submission guidelines on their website.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

So far I’ve only been working in the traditionally publishing world. I’ll never say never, but at the moment I don’t think I would work on illustrations for a self-published book. It would be a huge expense for the author, and it’s a very tough road to promote, print and sell the book yourself. In a traditionally published book you only deal with the publisher, and their expertise ensures that the book ends up being the best it can be.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

Definitely having my debut author illustrated picture book published. It’s 100% entirely my story and artwork, and the idea of it eventually being out there on bookshelves and being read to kids is just magical.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I use a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 with Photoshop.

Has that changed over time?

I worked with Wacom Intuos tablet for a number of years, and in 2020 I made the upgrade to a Cintiq. I absolutely love being able to draw on the actual screen. I’m a lot more closely connected to the artwork now.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I try to doodle and experiment every day if I can. I try out various new brushes in Photoshop just to see what results I can get out of them.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Sometimes, yes. I live on Pinterest to get a lot of inspiration, but for my upcoming book The Vanishing Lake, I had a lot of pictures of the real place and tried to include some elements of the Irish countryside in the illustrations.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

For sure. I come from the web design world, and sharing my work on social media, connecting with others in the various design industries I’ve worked in has led to so many projects and great experiences.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

My all-time favourite book is Watership Down, so if I ever got to illustrate something for that, that would certainly be a dream fulfilled. Other than that, I’m just super grateful for being able to work in the children’s book world and each new project I get is a dream to work on.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on various picture books and middle grade book covers for the coming years, but perhaps the most exciting project is my second author illustrated picture book, Dodos Aren’t Extinct, which will be published in Spring 2022.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I don’t think the materials you use are all that important. You need to figure out for yourself what works. Every creative is completely different and can get drastically different results from different mediums. So, my biggest tip is to experiment as much as you can, trying out different things to see what works for YOU and your process.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Keep drawing, drawing, drawing. There aren’t any real shortcuts. It’s so vital to keep up the practice and eventually things will fall into place if you stay committed. Creating children’s books really is a dream job, but there is so much work that goes into it that nobody sees. If it really is your dream to become an illustrator, you need to dedicate so much time and effort into it. Read lots of picture books and figure out what works especially well in them. Take notes on how the book is structured, how the story grabs you, what details the illustrator has woven into the artwork. It’s important to get really familiar with the picture book world before jumping into it. Don’t worry too much about finding that one specific style for yourself. I love working in lots of different styles, and I think it’s actually a strength to be able to be flexible. I get to work on a variety of different types of projects, which helps my creativity. Of course, lots of artists are very successful in sticking to one style, so if that’s what you prefer then that’s great. However as artists, we should always be pushing ourselves, so never get comfortable. And remember, we’re all just making it up as we go along.

Paddy, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Paddy’s work, you can visit him at:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. 😍😍😍


  2. Wonderful sense of color and movement! Love seeing your work, Paddy. Best wishes!


  3. Your illustrations are lovely, Paddy. Congratulations on your first author/illustrator story. Can’t wait to read The Vanishing Lake.


  4. Such fabulous use of light. And such a strong sense of movement. So distinctive. I’m a huge fan!! 😍


  5. Beautiful work, Paddy. Congrats on all your accomplishments.


  6. Awesome artwork. Thanks for a beautiful post.


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