Penelope Dullaghan is an award-winning illustrator and picture book maker living with her family in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work is a balance of simplicity, brilliant color, texture and heart. She gets inspired by daily walks by the river behind her house, growing veggies in her garden, swimming and meditation. She homeschools her daughter and together they learn and follow their curiosity.
Mache is honored to partner with Penelope on a Homi yoga mat tube collection. We are so excited to introduce her and learn more about her inspiration and creative process!
Mache: What is your background in art? How and where did you hone your skills?
Penelope: Art has been a part of my life since I could finger-paint. My grandmother was an artist and I grew up watching her paint everyday things like strawberries and chickens and spoons. She kept plastic forms with various textures in a kitchen drawer, and when I would visit as a child, she would get out crayons and I’d do rubbings to see what the forms would make. Bricks. Circles. Lines. It felt like magic to me, and I knew that I would be an artist when I grew up. (My cousins followed a similar path - a couple of them are super talented tattoo artists in Chicago!)
I created art all through grade- and high-school as a way to connect and cope, and eventually went to college to study graphic design. I would have loved to study fine art, but I didn’t think I could pay the bills like that. Design felt like a safer bet. Through one of my classes, I learned about an internship open at a top advertising agency in Indianapolis. I applied and got the position, which changed my life. It was a fast-paced environment just oozing with ideas and creativity and smart, insightful people to learn from. It was glorious! I absorbed as much as I could on the job and eventually got hired there as an art director. And it was at the ad agency that I first learned about illustration.
Illustrators’ promos - postcards, posters, and packages - would cross my desk and I’d ooh-and-ahh over them. I eventually hired some of those illustrators for a couple of projects and the experience was eye-opening. These were people making their living through art! I was floored and felt a strong pull toward exploring that for my own life. So I started taking on all the fine art aspects of the agency work that I could - storyboarding, illustration for campaigns, hand-lettering.
I learned as I went, and I loved it!
A plan began to form in my head to make the leap to full time illustration. I started moonlighting after business hours. I would work on illustration projects for whoever would work with me - friends, family and small local businesses. I created a portfolio website. And I challenged myself to illustrate with any spare time I had. Eventually I had enough work made, and money saved (mega-important!), to try my hand at freelance full-time. I leapt.
That was 18 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. To hone my skills today, I continue to challenge myself with my work, taking on engaging projects that I love and push me creatively. I experiment with mediums and ideas. And, as much as I can, I listen to my inner creative voice, knowing that she’ll lead me to what’s next.
Illustration by Penelope Dullaghan
Mache: Where do you live and how does it inform your art?
Penelope: I currently live in Indianapolis. We intentionally bought a house that backs up to a river, which has informed both my work and my thinking. Not to get too metaphysical, but the river is always changing storm by storm and season to season. It’s sometimes rushing and violent, sometimes shallow and serene. To me, it’s a daily reminder of the Buddhist concept of impermanence, and that affects my art in so many ways. Because the nature of change is a visual part of my every day life, I don’t create art (or anything) with the intent that it will live forever. I make the art, learn from doing and move on. I don’t even save my past work because it eventually it will be lost to time at some point. So why not now?
Mache: What motivates you to be an artist?
Penelope: My mind seeks out beauty in everything - from the way the light streams in at sundown, to the bulldozer smoothing gravel slowly with grace and ease. And I feel compelled to contribute to that beauty in some way. Maybe try to capture a tiny corner of it. For me, I think being an artist is a way of being in the world where you’re not on autopilot. It’s having your eyes open to the beauty that is inherent in things. It’s noticing and responding to that in some way. That said, I think there are so many ways to be an artist - visually or otherwise. I think we are all artists because we’re imaginative beings co-creating our experience. If I put down my paintbrush forever tomorrow, I’d still be an artist in the way I parent and partner, in how I make meals and move my body. It’s life.
Mache: Where and how do you find inspiration?
Penelope: I notice inspiration finds me, especially, when I go for long walks outside alone. It comes when I don’t really have an agenda other than to feel my footsteps, one after the other. It takes a while sometimes, but eventually my mind untangles and threads of ideas dangle in front of me for the taking.
Mache: What is your favorite medium and why?
Penelope: I don’t love the word “favorite” because I don’t like having to choose just one thing. It feels like it ties me down. I prefer to say: a medium I enjoy working in right now is… cut paper. And printmaking techniques. And acrylic. And collage. I’m playing with that combination right now and it feels exciting. I feel curiosity rising in me - and that’s my “why”. To feel that sense of wanting to know what will happen next.
Mache: When is your favorite time of day to create and why?
Penelope: I’m at my best in the mornings. I go to bed early in order to catch the muse, or at least show up for her, in the morning as early as I can. It’s become a rhythm, and I welcome it.
Mache: Describe your ideal creative environment.
Penelope: Oh my. Ideally? I’d love to have a big open yurt in my backyard (because no commute) with huge windows and tons of natural light. I’d like bare wood floors. A black wood stove that warms the space enough to go barefoot. Book shelves piled high. White walls and big tables with lots of supplies to play with. I’d also love music in the background, just barely. And a hammock to nap in. A dog that doesn’t bark would be lovely as well.
Mache: How do you manage a work/life balance as an artist? How does your own health and wellness affect your art?
Penelope: Balance is a trickster. Even if you feel balanced for a little while, it doesn’t seem to last. It’s impermanent (like everything!). But knowing it will probably ebb and flow continually, I try my best and have practices in place that help keep me as centered as I can be. Things like: Setting time aside for daily movement (essential!). Making a weekly meal plan that is veggie-based. Blocking out time with friends on the calendar. Keeping a regular date night with my partner. Honoring family rhythms and rituals. Having a dedicated meditation space that’s clean and clutter-free. Limiting what I say yes to. All these things and more. These choices support my health and wellness and they all affect my art because a stressed-out me cannot make the kind of art I want to make.
Mache: Why do you think art is important for the human spirit?
Penelope: I think humans create art to express themselves with the hope that it will allow them to connect with others. Even if it’s not in your own time. Even if it’s just a micro-connection. And even if it misses altogether. Creative expression reminds the human spirit that we are all in this together, in one form or another.
A friend told me recently that the very act of reaching out to connect is more important than if that connection is successful. Our brains read it as a good thing either way and it boosts our spirits. So write the poem. Send the letter. Bake the cake. Draw the landscape. And share it. I think that’s why we are drawn to creating - to connect with each other on some level.
We would like to thank Penelope for sharing her thoughts and process with us. You can learn more about Penelope Dullaghan and her art on her website here.