New Website, New Blog

It was remiss of me not to mention on this blog that my new website also has a new integrated blog! Anyone who has been checking this blog, thinking to themselves “Oh this Cat O’Neil has really gone downhill, not a single new post since October!” Well…

Updated website:

Updated blog:


Observational drawing & brush pens


, , , , , ,

A while ago I heard someone asking “would you still produce artwork if no-one got to see it?” and I thought no because I like the reaction of showing people my work. Then later I realised that was total rubbish seeing as I have a lot of observational work that tends to stay in my sketchbook.

Here’s some drawing I did when I was at the awards ceremony in Cheltenham (many thanks again to the amazing organisers there):

People based observation I find quite challenging cause people who aren’t life models have this annoying tendency to move. But I think it’s great practice and something I want to continue to work on!

What I’ve found more exciting recently is familiarising myself with the super awesome Pental Brush Pens! My illustrator boyfriend James Albon constantly uses them, so I figured I’d steal it for a bit just for kicks. They’re so sexy…

cat-o'neil-observational-drawing4 I found that working on pretty small drawings I tend to put a stupid amount of detail that no-one with average eyesight will be able to see (I’m clearly just bragging about how awesome my eyesight is, which I will regret when I’m old). Here are some close ups:

cat-o'neil-observational-drawing5cat-o'neil-observational-drawing6I think I’m going to continue with these pens for some more commercial illustration work, so keep checking back!


Cheltenham Illustration Award Win!


, , , ,

Remember that mini comic I mentioned in my last post?

catoneil_bookfestimage catoneil_bookfestimage_internalI am super excited to announce that it has been selected as the emerging talent winner of the Cheltenham Illustration Awards 2013! I’ll keep this post short for now, but I will be heading to Cheltenham for the awards ceremony on the 9th October so more updates then. Many thanks to all the people involved in the judging and organising of the competition! And I’ll be sure to check out all the other fantastic submissions chosen as student winner and runners up!


Editorial: The Skinny, travelling and hating each other


, ,

Well the past month has been an overloading fizz (sorry, bubbles are on the brain. I’ve had a lot of prosecco based socialising recently…) of Hong Kong preparations, packing up my studio, packing up my flat and exhibiting in the Edinburgh International Book Festival with my short comic The Way We Move. However I did have a couple of days to spare somewhere in the middle of this, which I spent working because apparently I don’t like having free time.

The Skinny contacted me with an article on the ups and downs of couples travelling together, which seemed a strangely well timed coincidence as James Albon and I are less than 2 months away from jetting off. The article mostly carried the message of ‘have fun hating each other’, which was more enjoyable to illustrate than some lovey dovey mush about bonding and whatever. Obviously this won’t happen to us (the hating each other thing, not the mush).

cat-oneil-roughsI sent 4 roughs responding the the general theme of the article. This was the girl doing all the planning and worrying and the guy being a bit more laid back, to her frustration. I generally try to send 3 different ideas. So here it’s the girl spending more time looking at the map than looking around, the guy letting the girl do all the work, and the girl carrying a rather disorganised guys weight. Roughs 1 & 3 are different compositions for the same idea. Personally I liked rough 3, but the art director liked the humour of rough 2 so we decided to merge the two into one image.

catoneil_skinnyHere it is in situ!


Soon to be published… Change In Action


, , , , , ,

I haven’t posted in a little while, and that’s partly been down to teaching summer school, hopping up and down the country every week (train fares, you empty my pockets so!) But it is also because I have been coming to the final stages of a rather nice project I have undertaken with Joseph Rowntree Foundation. They’re a social care charity organisation with an amazing history working to fight poverty by tackling to root causes of social problems.

I was commissioned to illustrate a 35 page report called the Change In Action plan, which seeks to critique and highlight the important of user involvement in humanistic research. This sounds very complicated, but on reading and researching I found the subject matter very accessible. The premise is as simple as this: for JRF’s research on social policy to be relevant, it must truly involve the participation of older and disabled people from beginning to end. Much like how you wouldn’t have a panel discussing feminism and women’s rights without a single woman on the board.

cat-o'neil-jrf1Real involvement is difficult, especially with the temptation to have token minorities present but keep the power of social change within the professional circle. But I found this report really questioned what happens within social policy, and addressed it in a way that showed the value of the individual. Anyways (you can probably tell I got quite into the project! Everyone loves doing charity projects, it makes you feel like you’re doing something a bit more useful that drawing pictures) I thought I’d share a couple of the images just to show what I’ve been up to the past few weeks!

ALSO it’s super exciting because I’ve started painting again. All these illustrations were painted rather than my usual addiction to photoshop. I guess I planted the seed in my own mind after telling students to experiment with their materials for 2 weeks straight whilst teaching the summer school at Edinburgh College of Art!

Self Promotion pt. 6: Comics (my favourite of the promo briefs)


, , , , , , , , ,

I’m pretty keen on sequential imagery, and having worked on comics in the past I thought it would be fun to do a short but super intense project!

Every year the Cheltenham Illustration Awards present a competition brief which is usually quite interesting. They remind me a bit of college projects in that they’re less commercially focused and more academic; they facilitate wide interpretation and experimentation. This year the brief was to produce a response to The Planets by Gustav Holst. It also had an added stipulation of relating your response to the theme of ‘Memory’. This sounds pretty heavy, but I can see why they did it; I’d be worried of just getting a butt load of work based literally on the planets or Roman gods. Sometimes restrictions on a brief can facilitate or encourage more creative thinking, and this does it pretty well.


I have some pretty weird dreams and I’d always thought it would be fun to illustrate them… but that also sounds like a crap student project so I’d avoided it until this point. So in this project the dream I had formed the basis of the narrative, but I tweaked it for the sake of the story actually having an arc rather than just being a mess of sub conscious goo.

The narrative relates thematically to Holst’s movements. Mars was dramatic and bold, which suited the idea of the bird taking flight and beginning a journey. Venus was a more solitary mood, with individual instruments taking focus. It was calm and contemplative. This suited the bird and girl gliding in the beginning part of their journey. Mercury was flighty and playful, with elements of call and response. This would be when the two characters were joined by many birds, forming a flock. Jupiter had a sense of ‘togetherness’, reminiscent of all the birds flying in formation. Saturn was ominous, wise and slow paced, evoking a sense of ageing. As such it suited the flock of birds starting to fall to pieces and unravel. Uranus similarly felt ominous, but more bold and dramatic. To capture this sense of drama the main characters own bird falls to pieces, following on from seeing her companions suffer the same fate. But Neptune was more calm and relaxed; there was something exploratory and curious about the piece, but also had a sense of solitude. This suited ending the narrative with the main character turning into a real bird herself and flying off into the distance. So the final concertina looks like this:

page-layout-final-colour-for-webI’m quite keen to send this out to publishers to get some feedback (I imagine the lack of dialogue would be a problem). But it was a fantastic project to do, bearing in mind I did it in roughly a week and spent a lot of time drinking coffee, sitting in the lightbox dungeon

Anyways I will be exhibiting/selling this at Edinburgh International Book Festival: Stripped Mini Comic Fair on August 24th-25th, along with some super cool ECA students & new graduates!

Self Promotion pt. 5: Financial report & Editorial


, , , , , ,

So not quite posting them up every day, but a weekend of birthdays and friends announcing engagements tends to take precedent over blog posting!

Right! The next project is one that was for another competition brief. I don’t usually do competition briefs, but recently there have been a few with interesting subject matter and I figured I could use them for promotion either way. The Legatum Institute publish an annual report called the Prosperity Index; it’s a global report into wealth and wellbeing. It is based on the notion that genuine prosperity is about more than just material wealth (to quote their abstract). The brief asked illustrators to produce an illustration that showed what it is to be genuinely prosperous.

cat-o'neil-prosperityI took it from the idea of people investing time and placing value on an ideal home; creating something for themselves and their family. My parents moved house a lot and I think it was important for them to make each house unique to them, making it their own. As such, I think the exchange of material wealth for wellbeing was based very much in their home environment.

Self Promotion pt. 4: Food magazines & Design


, , , , , , ,

This was actually the first of the self promo projects that I did this past month; I’d noticed several food publications that use a heck of a lot of illustration, so I wanted to do something really targeted towards them. But I ended up with some illustrations that I really love, so I made them up into a concertina fold out that I could use more generally… I think maybe to send to design agencies as it maybe relevant for restaurants, advertising and could just be interesting visually.

cat-oneil-fish-designI also wanted to have at least one piece that was done in my signature 3D layering, and seeing as it was a chance to experiment I decided to make it really fricking complicated by having 10 layers resting on top of each other. It didn’t actually take too long to do and it looks super awesome, but man that was fiddly!

cat-oneil-fish-design1Cover piece: It’s quite funny going to fish restaurants in the UK because the food you get doesn’t really look like a fish. In HK (or at least in family meals) you have the whole fish with the head and everything on a dish. I think it’s good to be aware of what your food actually is, but it was also just funny as a kid cause fish eyes are weird and it feels odd when you stick your finger in their mouths. I don’t do that now. Obviously.

cat-oneil-fish-design2Internal with Japanese blowfish, aka fugu… I was in Japan a year or so ago and this guy crops up EVERYWHERE! There were a lot of crazy restaurants in Osaka with huge blowfish masots hanging over the entrances, usually wearing aprons and chef hats… I think the irony was somewhat lost on them.

cat-oneil-fish-design1The initial idea was for it to be the inside of a pot being stirred that also looked like a storm or whirlpool. It departed from that, but I like the final image.

cat-oneil-fish-design4So in the concertina fold out this was the last page; you have all these lovely images of fish, and then see them all made into sushi! If I were spending a bit more time on this project I would have done an image of the rice fields as they look really cool. They’re tiered, which would work well in 3D… so maybe later.

Self Promotion pt. 3: Book Covers


, , , , ,

Mmm… tasty, elusive book covers… I don’t do book covers as often as I’d like, so I reckon I’ll do a few mock ups over the coming months. But in the mean time I did one especially for publishers based in Scotland. I’ll be leaving Scotland soon (and the UK!) so I figured I’d make the most of my last few months.

In my Self Promo Whisky Label post I’d mentioned I’d done some observational drawings around Scotland. I quite liked a few, so I turned them into mock book covers which would be relevant for say… a book of rather well known Scottish poetry.

cat-oneil-rober-burnsI think there’s normally an association of lilac, purples, blues and greens with a hint of mist when it comes to Scottish scenery. That’s fair enough, it does actually look like that. But I wanted to do something a bit bolder with the colours, so you would look twice at the actual physicality of the landscape. The problem with generic imagery is that is means nothing to the viewer; it’s cliche so we get the point, but it’s not exactly memorable. I’m hoping this isn’t too much of a departure from traditional Scottish imagery, whilst still being a bit more visually interesting.

Self Promotion pt. 2: Running magazine


, , , ,

From my experience it is not specific enough to say “I’m going to target editorials in my next promotional piece”. Editorials of what? Politics, economics, science, sports, women’s, men’s, food, health & beauty, music, Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette & Modern Manners… even within these subcategories there are different styles to consider. An editorial for the New York Times won’t necessarily suit The Week, even though they are both news based publications with a focus on politics.

I like editorial work, so I’ve done a few pieces specific to certain types of publication. This one is aimed towards running magazines, more general sports magazines and women’s magazines.

cat-oneil-running-womanI used to be pretty into running, so I figured I’d make it something interesting for me. I think it’s surprising that events like the Boston Marathon did not allow women to compete until 1972, which is relatively recent. So as an homage to super runner ladies the illustration includes the iconic images of Bobbi Gibb (first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon), Betty Robinson (first track and field female gold medalist in Olympic history) and Wilma Rudolph (the first U.S. woman to win the Olympic sprint double and the first African American woman to win 3 gold medals).