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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

#blickstudios on
Instagram post 2227216840084686614_295518986 Some Wednesday Wisdom for anyone starting a creative business or project from our Hill St resident illustrator @gemmaoneill - You can find an interview with Gemma on our blog if you want more inspiration
Instagram post 2226288394949239495_295518986 The greyest of January days, but there’s still plenty of colour in the Cathedral Quarter 🎨 . . . #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #belfast #lovebelfast #discoverni #creative #january
Instagram post 2225481193921908418_295518986 Hello Monday! Hope everyone has a productive week 💪🏻 . . . . #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #belfast #lovebelfast #discoverni #creative #architecture
Instagram post 2222141311052684065_295518986 Lovely and cosy for working late in our Cotton Court studios on these cold dark evenings
Instagram post 2217512272174374717_295518986 Blue sky in the Cathedral Quarter again this morning! Definitely worthy of a little stretch of the legs . . . #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #belfast #lovebelfast #discoverni #creative #architecture #januarysun
Instagram post 2216897875760588450_295518986 Resident illustrator @gemmaoneill has been enjoying the view from our Hill Street studios today! ✏️ . . . . . #lovebelfast #cathedralquarter #CQBelfast #ireland #northernireland #niexplorer #explorebelfast #discoverni #cityscape #citylife #urban #BelfastCC #illustration #illustrator #art #artist #artwork #sketch #sketchbook #locationdrawing #showyoursketchbook
Instagram post 2216820743936082445_295518986 Beautiful January morning in the Cathedral Quarter! Hope everyone is enjoying getting back into the swing of things after the break. Coffee helps! . . . #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #belfast #lovebelfast #discoverni #creative #coffee
Instagram post 2216066693372175246_295518986 Happy New Year! Some great advice for creatives starting their own business from Blick Resident @joelavertyphotography to keep you motivated as you get back into the swing of things following the festive season. For more inspiration and advice on getting started you can read his full interview on our blog (link in bio)
Instagram post 2203039766931745682_295518986 Christmas in the Cathedral Quarter. Hope everyone has a wonderful one this year! . . . #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #belfast #lovebelfast #christmas #winter #city
Instagram post 2198133200277315977_295518986 The dark winter nights aren’t so bad in the Cathedral Quarter. Happy weekend everyone! . . . #belfast #cathedralquarter #dukeofyork #belfastcity #belfastpub #lovebelfast #CQBelfast #creative #city #belfastcreatives
Instagram post 2197959147423796044_295518986 Great start to the day on the way to our Hill Street Studios this morning ☀️ . . . #belfast #cqbelfast #cathedralquarter #lovebelfast #explorebelfast #discoverni
Instagram post 2196621714967229764_295518986 Beautiful crisp afternoon in the Cathedral Quarter today ❄️ . . . #belfast #city #lovebelfast #cathedralquarter #CQBelfast #niexplorer #cityscape #citylife #urban #VisitBelfast #BelfastCC #winter #wintersun #shadows #stannessquare
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