Illulina on Colour Tones, Texture and Fluidity

Melina – or Illulina, as she is known online, describes herself as a ‘tea drinker, woodland dweller and illustrator.’ I’ve been a fan of her work on Instagram for a while, falling in love with the use of texture and and fluid lines. I caught up with her to discuss her workspace, how she is influenced by the natural world and why illustration has always been her passion.

Tell us about yourself?

First of all, hi! I’m Melina. I was born and raised in the north of Germany’s beautiful Bavaria. I am very passionate about hot drinks, especially tea, which is the reason I am constantly sitting in Cafes or exploring old, Diagon-Alley-like tea shops. I love books, especially the ones about faraway places with wizards, magical creatures, flying broomsticks or pipe-smoking Hobbits.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What is the story behind the name Illulina?

Lina is one of my nicknames and ‘illu’ is short for illustration. Little me was so creative! I got used the to nickname and learnt to love it.

How did you being illustrating?

My interest in art started to develop in kindergarden, when I was lucky enough to spend my days in a small library full of illustrated children’s books. From a very early age I realised that I might want to do this for a living, so I began to take the wish seriously. Studying art has been my dream ever since.

How did you develop your illustration style?

At first I didn’t really have my own style. After a long time of pressuring myself to find my very own way of drawing I realised that I just have to let go and draw in a way that is the most comfortable for me. This was the moment I started to develop the style I have today.

Do you use certain themes or colours in your work?

I’m in love with muted, earthy tones. Sometimes I dip my toe into the world pastels and strong, saturated colours, but I prefer my palette inspired by nature.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What inspires you to create?

The people and things around me, my dreams and wishes.

What are you artistic tools of the trade?

My favourite tools are coloured or graphite pencils, because they create a lot of texture and movement in my illustrations.

What is your creative process like?

I actually just go for it. If I see something I find interesting or an idea jumps into my mind, I start doodling rough shapes and colours. If I like what I brought to paper, I start working on more detailed pieces.

Where do you like to create your work?

Most of the time I’m working in my room. It’s cozy, safe and silent. My desk is in front of a window, facing a beautiful old oak and a forest. Often enough I space out and just sit there, forgetting about my tea, which is then becoming cold.

What is your favourite piece you have created?

I haven’t really thought about a possible favourite. I cherish all of my illustrations, since each one of them shows my progress.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

Have you ever lost passion for your work?

Actually, yes, quite recently even. Art school rejected me and I started doubting my skill. I was sulking for about a week, but I never stopped drawing. If something doesn’t work, don’t give up. In Germany we have a saying which goes “if there’s a will, there’s a way,” – it’s true.

What are the most challenging parts of illustrating?

Frustration caused by not being able to visualise the image in your head right away.

And what are the best parts?

Telling stories in my very own way and the loving and heart-warming art community.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in illustration?

Go for it, and don’t give up if it doesn’t work immediately. The beautiful thing about art and illustration is the progress you make and looking back after months of hard work.

All images copyright of Illulina.

You can find Illulina’s work on Instagram at and on Tumblr at

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Sophia Shaw: Watercolour, Nomadic Lifestyle and Connecting to the Land

Sophia Shaw lives a nomadic lifestyle with her partner on the UK waterways. She works from their narrowboat, finding inspiration in the surrounding countryside. Her illustration style is light and playful, and has grown from her experiences of travelling and connecting with different lands and cultures. 

Tell us about you and your work?

My name is Sophia, the face behind Sophia’s Illustration. I am 29, a dreamer and tea-drinker who loves to draw, paint and live quite a nomadic lifestyle. Last winter my partner and I bought our first home together – a 1987 Springer 42ft narrowboat, the perfect life for us right now!

Sophia Shaw.

What are your artistic tools of the trade?

For the past few years I have been working with watercolour, ink and gouache. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator  to prepare my work for print, but never usually for anything more – I have always preferred to work by hand with paint.

How did you discover art and illustration?

My mum was always creative and really inspired me as a child. We used to have lots of crafty days and once I sat for her to draw. I always knew that I would like to be an artist and it was always a strong subject for me at school. In college I studied an amazing full-time arts course and it was my tutor who advised me to apply to study Illustration, which I studied at Swansea University.

Map of Wales © Sophia Shaw

How did you begin map-making and what kind of projects have you worked on?

After I finished university I was so over illustration! I went travelling with my partner to Australia and Asia and ended up being away from home for two and a half years. We had the most amazing time and we learnt a lot. Whilst we were away I always carried a sketchbook around, but I still hadn’t found my ‘style’ of working, which was a constant pressure throughout university. I played around painting large scale murals in Australia and also in Kuala Lumpur. It was amazing to enjoy painting without any pressure. We spent six months working in Fremantle, Western Australia, and lived in the garden of the most amazing house. There was no exterior wall at the back of the house and the kitchen and living rooms were outside. Matthew, the owner, was an eccentric photographer who created recycled sculpture from old metal objects, which were all over the roof and garden. It was Matthew’s house where my style of working was born. The very first ‘map’ I drew was his wonderful house and gardens. Once we returned to the UK we moved back to Swansea and I started painting maps of Wales to reconnect with the land and culture.

What inspires you to create your work?

My paintings are often inspired by things that I see in day-to-day life, such as the shapes in a landscape, or a glimpse of a cat sitting in a field or a beautiful allotment. I am a big day-dreamer and always looking for the perfect composition. I have a sketchbook which I use to jot down little ideas of things that have happened, or things that I see, that I can refer back to when painting.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

The colour green definitely features most in my work at the moment. I really love to paint gardens and the countryside. I also like to add in little personal details; if I paint animals I will often add pets of mine who have passed away. I really like the personal touch and the connection that this work has to me, but a stranger wouldn’t know.

Boat Workspace © Sophia Shaw

What is your creative process like?

I feel like I am one of life’s great procrastinators! Give me a sketchbook and I can draw and paint all day every day, but when it comes to painting a final piece I find myself doing anything but starting the painting. I seem to get an ‘artist’s block’ and feel like I don’t know where to start. Often I can overcome this if I have a deadline to work to, so this is usually what I do – I seem to work better under pressure. Once I get started I can work quite quickly. I can never finish a piece in one go, but have to leave it a few days and see it again with fresh eyes.

Tell us more about your workspace, and your life living and working on a boat on the UK waterways?

Living on the boat is awesome, but space is tight. The boat is just 13m in length and 2m in width. I have a desk which takes up half the living space, but can be packed down if we have guests. My partner is very chilled out, and we are both very used to living in small spaces, and so it suits us. Under the bed I have a large A3 scanner/ printer and I have to make my prints in very small quantities. In the summer we installed a solar panel to the roof, so I can charge my laptop easily now. At the moment my partner is working in West London and so we have to float around in one area, but our licence states that we must move a couple of miles every 14 days. In the summer we roamed the countryside and enjoyed our freedom! Life on the boat is wonderful, but there is a lot to learn and a lot of time spent opening and closing locks in the pouring rain!

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think that taking knock-backs is the most challenging thing. It is quite hard to separate yourself from the work and not take knock-backs too personally. Also making yourself stay motivated; it can be quite a lonely life working as an independent artist from a home studio! My dream is to one day have my own studio/ gallery space to invite people in for arts workshops.

In The Wild © Sophia Shaw

And what are the best parts?

The best part of working as an artist has to be when somebody chooses to own a piece of my work, it’s a lovely feeling that somebody has made that connection and wants my work in their home!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Be patient! Work hard and always make sure you are enjoying creating your work.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

I have just finished painting my Christmas card designs for this year ready for some Christmas markets that I am selling my work at in West London. Next thing I am working on is illustrated map tea towels, I have always loved the kitsch holiday souvenir tea towel designs and I want to create some in my own style, watch this space!

English Country Garden © Sophia Shaw

Connect with Sophia at, and

All images copyright of Sophia Shaw.

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Artist Interview: The Patterns of Elena O’Neill

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing artist and designer Elena O’Neill. Working with watercolour to create vibrant repeat patterns and illustrations inspired by the beauty in everyday life, Elena has worked with Thortful and Moonpig, and sells her work on Etsy and Society6. After learning to sew, she began to apply her patterns to pencil cases and fabric. I caught up with her to find out about her creative process, influences and challenges.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Elena O’Neill and I am an illustrator and pattern maker based in the south of England. I was brought up on a farm, just three miles from Stonehenge. I am passionate about patterns and seeing my work come to life as products.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I started illustrating when I began studying Illustration at Plymouth College Of Art. We were encouraged to experiment to find our unique style. In my second year my friend told me to buy a watercolour set, and it was love at first use. It was then that my illustrations really took off. I used books and Youtube videos to learn how to use them, and a fair amount of experimenting. That was over two years ago now and I still love them. I guess I have a lot to thank that friend for!


What is your artistic weapon of choice?

My Windsor and Newton watercolour set – the best thing I’ve ever bought.

What are your influences? Who or what inspires you to create your work?

My favourite artist is Alphone Mucha, his work is so decorative and vibrant. I love botanical artists like Julie Collins and Wendy Tait, who’s wonderful books taught me how to paint. I am also inspired by illustrators like Katie Daisy and Cat Coquillette.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

I love bright colours and seeing how the watercolours mix, its so different every time. I like to create my patterns on a white background, as I think when printed on material, a good quality print looks like it could have been painted directly onto the fabric.


Can you describe your creative process? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

I start by becoming excited about a theme or object, then I paint as many different variations as possible. I usually have many different patterns on the go, as the watercolours often need time to dry, and I like to swap between themes as it keeps my work fresh and interesting. Once I am done painting, I scan everything in and clean it up using Adobe Photoshop. Then I arrange my painted icons into patterns!

What has been the most challenging parts of being a freelance illustrator and running a business on Etsy?

The most challenging part for me is balancing everything. When you work for yourself, you have to be everything. The creator, photographer, accountant, social media expert… the list goes on. It can be so hard to get right!

And what are the best bits?

There are a lot of best bits, the freedom to decide what to do with your days, and being able to  look forward to going to work is amazing!

Was there ever a moment when you lost passion for your work? If yes, how did you get it back?

There are several moments most weeks! I think it might be part of having a creative mind. I find that I’m in a constant cycle of thinking ‘why am I doing this, its never going to work, my stuff is awful,’ and ‘I can’t believe how much I’ve achieved, I’m so proud of myself.’ It’s kind of exhausting really, but it keeps things interesting!


Where do you find clients and collaborators?

Most of the time I create work based on what sparks my interest and not for a client. Although I have done internships at Moonpig and Hallmark, which were opportunities given to me at the graduate show New Designers. I have also had a lot of people contact me after finding my work on Etsy and Society6.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an illustrator?

Get your work out there! In the design industry most companies will contact you if they like what they see, but you have to put it out there to be seen. My advice is to make the most of websites like Redbubble and Society6, get as much on there as possible and promote on social media. If you wait until you think you’re ‘good enough’ you might never think you are.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

It has just been made official that my greeting card designs are now available on Moonpig, which is really exciting for me! Next I plan to focus on creating patterns for Spoonflower, continuing to grow my Etsy shop and creating greeting cards for Thortful.

You can find more of Elena O’Neill’s work at

All images copyright of Elena O’Neill

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Gaea: The Process

The goddess Gaea weaves through Greek mythology as the personification of Earth and the creator of all life. Greek vases show her as inseparable from her native element, rising from the Earth. In mosaic art she is clothed in green and surrounded by infant gods of things that grow. Described as the eldest of divinities, a giver of dreams, a nourisher of plants, Hellenistic worship of Gaea was a celebration of nature.

The ancient Greek explanation for the creation of the world was written by Hesiod in his poem Theogony in about 700bc. In the beginning there was only Chaos, a great void. From the void appeared the Earth, Gaea, who gave birth to the sky and the sea. The Romans called her Terra, and almost every culture on Earth has a name for her; the Aztec Coatlicue, the Inca Pachamama, the Celtic Dea Matrona, and the Hindu Add Para Shakti.

‘Gaea’ began as a sketch in November last year. I had been reading a lot of Greek mythology and while there are many strong female characters – Artemis, Athena, Nemesis – Gaea stood out to me as a powerful and creative force. I think there is a strong sense of duality about her that makes her such an interesting figure. She is maternal but also the strongest of all the gods, she destroys as well as creates, she brings into being both good and bad, she works in both the physical, natural work and the intangible world of prophecy and dreams.

Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.
Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.

I started this piece by sketching the face and then the leaves and flowers. The drawing process took several hours. I don’t like to rush my work, and I create best when I am in a calm frame of mind and simply let the piece develop.

To colour the drawing I used bold pinks and oranges intermingled with more natural blues and greens, allowing the colours to melt and merge. For this piece I used Daler Rowley watercoloursPebeos’ Colorex watercolour inks – the brightness of which I absolutely love – and tried out my new Finecolour markers, which are subtle but wonderful for adding detail.



I had so much fun working on this piece and working in a slightly different style to usual. The outlines in black pen makes it look more illustrative than my usual work, but I think it fits the boldness of the subject and colours. I’m looking forward to creating more mythology-inspired work. Have an idea which figure I should paint next? Let me know in the comments.

‘Gaea’ is available as an A4 print in my shop.


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