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#MeetTheResident – Gemma O’Neill


Gemma O’Neill is an Illustrator and Author based in Belfast and Blick Resident of Hill Street Studios.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business?

My name is Gemma O’Neill and I’m an Illustrator/Author. I graduated from Falmouth University back in 2011 with a BA (Hons) Degree in Illustration and my first authored and illustrated children’s picture book deal after visiting the Bologna Children’s Book Fair during my final year of study.

I gave up my day job around a year and half ago to work completely freelance. It was a great decision. It gave me the opportunity to broaden my portfolio and take on a wider range of projects alongside working in children’s publishing. I also have my own print business now too.

 Any projects you’re currently working on?

I’m currently developing a children’s alphabet board book, counting board book, two new picture books and a potential series of information children’s books. I’m also working on an ongoing project, Houses of Hillsborough for an exhibition with In Klöver sometime after the summer.

Another ongoing project is my print business, which started online with prints and greetings cards. I’m hoping to build on the range of products soon, as well as grow my number of stockists.

What was the biggest hurdle for you starting out and how did you overcome it?

My biggest hurdle starting out was becoming homeless in between working on my first and second picture book. What should have been a wonderful, exciting time, was probably one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had and it took a long time to recover from. However, I remained creative throughout the time, which was comforting. Making it through something like that can really cement your dreams further and make you even more determined to succeed. It really drives my work and overall approach to life now.

How do you stay creative/inspired?

I find it useful to have several projects on the go at one time. It takes the pressure of each individual project and alternating between projects keeps the work fresh too. I also find it great to separate work from the hobby, by working on personal projects. It’s still important to draw, colour and write just for the joy of it. It’s the love for these individual things that made me choose my particular career path to begin with! I find location drawing very useful too. It’s great to get away from the desk and I work quite freely when I’m outside or under pressure with people around me. This freeness usually feeds through to whatever I’m working on in the studio.

It’s great to be creative in other ways too. I’ve always loved photography, perhaps because of the link to storytelling and composition or perhaps because it’s another visual language.

It’s good to just detach from creativity too. One of my greatest sources of inspiration is nature and the great outdoors. I love hiking and always go back to my desk feeling very refreshed afterwards. Travelling has the same effect too. It’s great to see different places and experience different cultures.

Who is your creative hero?

I have a few! But my top three are Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake and JK Rowling. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake brought about my love for books from a young age. Roald Dahl is the ultimate children’s storyteller to me, an absolute original, who will never be replaced. I still read all of his books over and over again today. I think Quentin Blake is the ultimate illustrator too. I doubt there’s anything he can’t illustrate and the joy for what he does just shines through in his illustrations. They’re so freeing to look at. I think JK Rowling is a bit of a genius too. The Harry Potter series is timeless. All ages can relate to the stories. She’s also just a very strong, inspirational lady!

 What piece of software/ tool/ equipment would you struggle to run your business without?

There are so many things I couldn’t run my business without. It all begins with getting an idea down on a page, either in illustration format or written format. So a pencil, a pen and a sketchbook are absolutely essential. Materials such as gouache, watercolours, ink, crayons and colouring pencils are necessary for generating artwork too. Then beyond the traditional side of working as an illustrator… a scanner, computer, Photoshop and InDesign are essential for bringing illustrations up to print or website standard.

What’s your top tip/piece of advice for anyone wanting to start their own creative business?

Surround yourself with positive people, people who believe in you and people who inspire you… the right people, basically. Time is incredibly valuable and the wrong people are a waste of your time. The right environment can definitely influence the people you have around you too. I moved to just outside Belfast about a year and a half ago. There are greater opportunities here and I’ve been lucky to meet lots of like-minded people too, which always has a positive impact on creativity. The move has really normalised my career choice as well and being around so many inspiring creative people makes anything feel possible.

You can learn more about our Hill Street Residents

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Instagram post 2192222683465521971_295518986 Belfast Design Week – Closing Party 9.11.19 - @belfastdesignwk @creatingaspace & @matter.sustainablemarket came together to curate a special night for Belfast Design Week closing party. - The aim of the event was to bring everyone together that had taken part over Design Week , celebrate all of the hard work that had been done and to acknowledge the successes of the week! - We had the event at @artceterastudio43 , and transformed the space into a creative, visual space. - We had a fashion installation where we had local fashion designers in Belfast showcasing their work and combined that with that a film screening on the theme of ‘Power’, promoting diversity and multiculturalism and celebrating Art, Fashion & Music within Belfast made by @creatingaspace - Fashion Designers @katieirelanddesigns @jamie.m.kerr @owenmarkhenry
Instagram post 2190777713131005815_295518986 We recapped some top tips from our event 'Instagram for your creative start-up ' with Michael from @thebeardedcandlemakers on the 4th November over @belfastdesignwk - We had a fantastic time over Belfast Design Week and it was an honour to have such amazing people speak at all of our events! - Be sure to check out the full blog below! 📷 By @crickymck -
Instagram post 2190711650091611159_295518986 Beautiful morning light in the Cathedral Quarter ☀️ . . . #walktowork #belfast #city #lovebelfast #cathedralquarter #northernireland #explore #cityscape #urban #architecture #VisitBelfast #winter #architecture #curatedkitchen
Instagram post 2187205032641232461_295518986 How is it Thursday already?! This week is flying by! . . . #sharedworkingspace #blickstudios #creativespace #business #smallbusiness #creativehub #belfast #studio #studiospace
Instagram post 2187112317031032919_295518986 We are excited to share Elizabeth Meehan from Coffeenosugar who is one of our Blick Cotton Court Residents. - She is a service designer whose work helps businesses identify the gap between the service they work hard to deliver and the reality of the customer experience. - Elizabeth recently wrote an article for the Irish News and we were excited to share what she wrote and get her perspective on the business to consumer relationship here in Northern Ireland. - To read the full article, visit :
Instagram post 2186422675365465167_295518986 Do you have a kid that would to have an introduction to animation? - At Blick we are collaborating with Can Do Academy to provide a colourful animation workshop for kids aged 6 - 14 years on the 7th December. - It's a great workshop for kids with a powerful imagination and they will learn about the basic principles of stop motion animation, using special iPad apps and will receive a copy of their film at the end of the session! - A great workshop for these winter day to keep kids creative and active. - We have a few spaces left so sign up today to not be disappointed! - Date: 7/12/19 Location : 51 Malone Road, BT9 6RY Time : 2-4 PM Price : £15 - Book your space at
Instagram post 2186345222576121926_295518986 A morning for a stretch of the legs over coffee break! . . . #cathedralquarter #cqbelfast #belfast #coffeebreak #wintermorning #art #artist #wallart
Instagram post 2185151538220446453_295518986 BUSINESS ADDRESS SERVICE - we offer a business address service for creative businesses. Giving you a professional business image and keeping your home address private. Creating a bit of separation betweem your work and home life. Full details can be found on our website here or through link in bio:
Instagram post 2182006351923043834_295518986 The Cathedral Quarter looking colourful, even on the greyest of November days! . . . #walktowork #belfast #lovebelfast #cathedralquarter #northernireland #explorebelfast #explore #niexplorer #instabelfast #wallart #art #artist #artwork #painting #design #creative #city #nidesign #belfastcreatives #urban
Instagram post 2181416762653139736_295518986 Definitely a day for hiding away in the studio ☔️ . . . #blickstudios #studiospace #belfast #belfastcreatives #cqbelfast #explorebelfast #northernireland
Instagram post 2176966001290401957_295518986 A quick little sketchbook break away from the studio for illustrator @gemmaoneill ✏️ It’s hard to believe the dark nights are well upon us now. Hope everyone is still managing some daylight time in between! . . . #lovebelfast #cathedralquarter #CQBelfast #northernireland #explorebelfast #architecture #DocumentBelfast #illustration #illustrator #art #artist #artwork #design #sketch #locationdrawing #sketchbook #enpleinair #travelreportage
Instagram post 2176312351526267555_295518986 Lunch break in the Cathedral Quarter 💙 . . . #cathedralquarter #CQBelfast #ireland #travel #northernireland #explore #cityscape #citylife #urban #architecture #VisitBelfast #autumn #stannessquare #themac
Instagram post 2172574270159740965_295518986 We are so excited to be hosting The Belfast Design Closing Party tomorrow at ArtceteraStudio from 7PM- 9PM! - We are celebrating everyone that has been part of organsing & taking part of Belfast Design week and we want to bring everyone together! - We are super grateful for all the collaborations of events, people sharing their stories, learning about design & most importantly, how we have come together as a community to support each other! - We wanted to gather everyone together that took part of the events to celebrate each other's hard work and end the week on an uplifting note! - There will be an exhibition of some local designers & photographers happening in ArtceteraStudio, live band performing & some wine and pizza! - It' BYOB, so feel free to bring your own and come celebrate with us! - We are kicking everything off at 7:30 with giving thanks, then screening our 'The Power of Design' series by @creatingaspace and from there have a great time! - See you all there!
Instagram post 2172220671491803965_295518986 Big Design Day Out : Matter Market Date: 9th November Time :12-6 PM Location :Artcetera Studios 43 Rosemary Street Belfast, BT1 1QF @matter.sustainablemarket - Matter Sustainable Market is a space where we come together to exchange ideas, encourage each other & celebrate entrepreneurship in Belfast. - This is @matter.sustainablemarket 2nd market in 2019 and are honoured to have such incredible vendors taking part. - Each and everyone of these brands are unique, offer a sense of individuality and produce beautiful products. - Whether you are looking for gifts coming up to Christmas, treating yourself or simply looking to find more creative in Belfast, this is the market for you! - There will be a range of Jewellery, art, knitwear, Handmade vegan scrub, vintage clothing brands, light sculptures, textiles, weave, fashion, illustration & embroidery! - We are celebrating the beginning & middle points of everyone’s journey and want to come together to uplift this community - We kick off at 12 PM at Artcetera Studios and wrap up at 6PM. . . . #sustainabilty #entrepreneurs #business #creativebusinesses #sustainablefashion #sustainableliving #belfast #mattermarket #textiles #art #community
Instagram post 2172016145283388501_295518986 We had the pleasure of attending another great @belfastdesignwk event this afternoon! Getting Retail Ready with @wearemaven_ @hunterpaperco and @dollybirdsart. Such an insightful session! . . . #BDW19 #belfastdesignweek #POWER #belfast #design #designer #shoplocal #supportlocal #homeware #illustration #greetingscards #letterpress #nature #inspiration #wildlife #art #artist #artwork #plants #plantstagram #botanicalillustration #creative #creativecommunity #girlpower #ireland #northernireland #NI #creativecity
Instagram post 2170481917080949390_295518986 Your Dream Business Fair 10:00 - 11:00 AM 108 North Street, BT1 1LE - We are really excited for this event : Your Dream Business Design Fair happening on 7th November at our Belfast Design Week hub. - It is an event for people that are starting out in their business journey, or in the thick of being self employed but looking for a change in their career. - It is to inspire people to create the change they want, to get the clients they have always wanted & to get support from different organisations in Belfast. - It's easy to be caught up in the process of running a business, so this fair offers time, space & and industry experts speaking on different challenges people may be facing & how to overcome them. - It will be a great networking event to meet other creatives in the city too! - Featuring : -Ignite NI -Future Screens -Queen's University -Ulster University -Illustrators Ireland -Craft NI -Belfast City Council - Don't miss your opportunity to meet & connect!
Instagram post 2170432526886405334_295518986 We want to say a big thank you to Michael from @thebeardedcandlemakers who spoke last night at our @belfastdesignwk event on using Instagram as an important tool to grow your business. - He started off sharing the different aspects on what has made his own following grow on Instagram and explaining his branding & how he tells stories with his photographs. - It was super interesting to hear his process about what he has learnt over the last 5 years, what has worked, what has been hard and also coming through a time where he didn’t want to be on Instagram because of not feeling authentic. - Authenticity was a theme that came up a lot and it is a very important thing to keep in mind when building your brand and trying to connect to your customer. He was saying that you want to be building a story around your brand & product, posting meaningful images, but not always focusing on your product, but telling stories of your life. - Sharing your process is super important and he said that you must develop boundaries around using social media. To not fall into the comparison game & also to not be letting it take over your life. - There was a lot of amazing things he spoke about and we are grateful that he gave us his time to share his process and getting an insight to what it can look like to be running your own business. - Be sure to follow him on all socials and support your local entrepreneurs! - Be sure to check out the rest of @belfastdesignwk events this week! So much magic happening in this city! . . . #bdw19 #instagram #creative #creativestartups #candlemakers #community #entrepreneur #creativecommunity