We interview Ciara O’Neill, an awesome Dublin based artist and NCAD graduate with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and Visual. Although her primary focus lies in the medium of paint, Ciara also enjoys working with digital media and sculpture. Ciara is interested in themes of representation, the body, gender, and sexuality. Recently she completed her thesis, Transgender Representation: Social, National, and International Media.

Currently, Ciara is working on her project Imperfect Bodies which will be exhibiting in Berlin in November 2016. The work consists of soft sculptures formed from thick layers of household paint which are shaped and moulded to represent women’s genitals. The goal of her work is to oppose the traditional top of the female nude in art history: hairless and perfectly formed, which neglects to represent bodily functions, orifices, and genitals. We talk to the talented badass about her passion for illustrating and about her ultimate goals.

What is a day in the life of Ciara like?

I have a habit of drawing late into the night so I tend to not get up until around 10am. Most of my inspiration comes from things I find on the internet, so the first hour of my day is critical to me as I spend it sifting through online news stories and articles. A lot of my work is derived from my emotional response to things I read on the internet, particularly articles that focus on women’s rights. I tend to bookmark a lot of pages online as well as a lot of images, I find it helpful to revisit them when I’m creating work. After that I usually focus on my day job, teaching music. I usually don’t get to sit down and actually create work until the evening time.

Is illustrating a lifelong passion?

Oh yes! I was crazy for colouring books as a child and I figured out very early on that I wanted to study fine art. However, I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that digital illustrations would play such an important role in my work. I majored in painting in college because I love mediums that are messy to work with but there is something so lovely (that I can’t quite pinpoint) about working with computers to make art, maybe it is because it feels modern and current? However, I feel like a lot of my digital illustrations are only the bases of my work, they usually go on to inspire paintings and embroidery pieces.

Please take us through your design process, where do you start?

I think my process begins with reading articles and news stories. For instance, at the moment there is a lot of buzz in Ireland around repealing the 8th amendment of our constitution (the amendment puts a prohibition on abortion in Ireland, even if the women’s life is at risk). I’ve read so much news stories in relation to the topic that it has become ingrained in my brain, it’s hard to not make work related to the topic. From that point, I usually decide on a colour palette. What colours I use completely depends on my mood. I always use bright colours, but the set of colours I use vary. In my mind blue must always be paired with yellow or red, pastels with other pastels, and green with pink or purple. This doesn’t just apply to my illustrations, it applies to pass paintings, sculptures and embroidery pieces I have produced. I then skim through a folder of source images I have saved on my desktop and try to link them in with the theme I’m working with. After that, I just let go, try not to think and just try my best to make something I can be proud of.

Did you aspire to have a certain style? 

For years I did. I focused on trying to have a specific style but my work suffered from it. Everything would seem so forced and fake. In my opinion, the best way to find your own style is to stop trying so hard and just let it happen over time naturally. The only thing I can recommend is to never stop being inspired by other artists and visuals that surround you. Even if you don’t realise it, these things influence you on a subconscious level. The more things you surround yourself with the better.

When illustrating, do you sometimes get blocked for ideas? If so, how do you overcome that?

Yes regularly! I find looking at other artists work is a great way to regain inspiration. Apart from that, sometimes just stepping away and going out into the world is a good way to help your creative juices flow. Don’t just sit and stare at a blank canvas hoping for images to form in your head, go out into the world and let your surroundings lend you a helping hand.

What tools do you use for your work?

When illustrating, my three main tools are my MacBook, Wacom tablet, and Photoshop. If I’m working with paint the tools can vary from tiny brushes to giant crates full of paint.

Do you have any advice for someone coming into this?

Just never give up! At times that is easier said than done. Obstacles are there to be overcome. Recently myself I struggled with my own work and style. I started receiving hate comments from fans of a famous illustrator (who shall rename nameless) accusing me of copying her style and being unoriginal. It was obviously quite hurtful because although our styles were similar they also had great differences. I had spent years in art college developing my own style. It was ironic because I had credited her in my Instagram feed and multiple interviews prior to this as somebody I really admired, and I had never denied that she had influenced me. However, being influenced by something is not the same as copying it.

I reached out to the artist and she was very sweet to me and in no way responsible for the comments. I learned from the experience that you cannot please everybody. Some people will try to beat you down but under no circumstances should you compromise your own work to please others. Make the work you want to make. Support other artists rather than beating them down and work together to inspire each other to make the best work you can.

Where would you like to see your self in the next projected 5 years?

Lord, I don’t even know where I’ll be next week. I’m currently working on getting myself a studio to work from so I am hoping to soon have a space where I can go to create my work. I’m also working on starting up a new art collective and hope that in 5 years it will still be going strong.


What would be your ultimate goal as an illustrator?

I make a lot of art based on women’s rights. In the past, I’ve donated some money from the sale of such works to charities related to the cause. I guess my ultimate goal as an illustrator is to reach a level of success where I can donate a substantial amount of money to charities that I am passionate about. I want my art to be used for something good.

How do you think social media plays a big key in promoting yourself?

Social media is a great tool for self-promotion. I think it is very important that new artists use it as it is essentially free advertising. Social media gives artists the opportunity to get their work out into the world without having to leave their house. It’s something all new artists should take advantage of.

What websites/ blogs inspire you?

I spend a lot of time on dazeddigital.com, the online website for Dazed & Confused magazine. I also like a lot of Tumblr blogs, at the moment Gradient of the Day and Labia Love are my two favourites. Aside from that, I am inspired by a lot of online Instagram accounts. @robineisenberg and @kliuwong are my current favourites.


What advice do you have for our #BEYOUROWN members about overcoming barriers faced?

Just put yourself out there! No matter what you do with your life, no matter what you create, keep doing it. Be yourself unapologetically.

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