Behind the Scenes of Illustration Friday: An Interview With Illustrator, Penelope Dullaghan

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing illustrator, Penelope Dullaghan, about her hugely successful site, Illustration Friday. With more than one thousand participants each week and over three thousand five hundred links from over one thousand blogs, it’s safe to say that Illustration Friday is one of the most thriving artist communities on the internet today. But for those who are not familiar with the site, Illustration Friday is a participatory art exhibit for illustrators of all skill levels where new topics are posted each Friday to challenge participants creatively. The site includes artist interviews and creative forums which also help to keep loyal visitors coming back week after week.

How did you come up with the idea for Illustration Friday? What drove you to take on what seems to be such an enormous project?

Illustration Friday was born when I first quit my day job as an Art Director to be a full time freelance illustrator. My personal portfolio at the time was very small and I needed more work to show, specifically the kind of work that I wanted to attract more of. I needed to create some sort of accountability and set schedule to creating new work, so a weekly topic to interpret made sense. Then I thought that other people might want to participate as well. So I put out the word of my goal and found my partner, Brianna Privett of Utopian.net, and together we set our sights on creating Illustration Friday.

Who designed the look and feel of the site as well as its navigation? Who constructed the technical/backend side of the site?

I came up with the design, visuals and voice of the site. Brianna Privett made it all happen technically.

Illustration Friday: Suit by Bill Robinson

How long did it take to build the site from conception to completion?

Not too long, maybe a month for the first version of the site. It was much simpler. The revised site that is currently live took a bit longer.

When you first built the Illustration Friday site did you advertise it a lot or did it pick up steam on its own?

We didn't and still don't advertise at all. It picked up on its own. I think that people were/are hungry for a positive community in which they can create and explore visual arts.

Did it take off quicker than you thought? Are you surprised at how popular the site has become?

Oh yeah. It spread quickly! We've been amazed at the wonderful response and participation. What is even more amazing is that, on the whole, the people who participate in IF are kind and respectful of each other. It's a welcoming, supportive community. So many times you explore communities online and they seem cut-throat or callous to each other.

Illustration Friday: Seed by Sini Puu

Illustration Friday is linked from so many blogs and websites. Some artists have created blogs solely to participate on the IF site. Do you feel any pressure to keep the site going because of how popular it has become and because so many artists depend on it for inspiration?

I don't feel pressured because running IF is a labor of love. We enjoy being able to give back to the participants and keep it going.

Why do you think the site has been so well-received?

I am not sure. It may have to do with it being a consistent, solid weekly thing. You can depend on it. And I think the community aspects - finding other artists online - has a lot to do with it. Especially for artists working solo from home, it can get lonely at times. IF is a place where you can connect with other creative people and ideas.

Illustration Friday: Leap by Stephanie Dillon

A site as large and as popular as Illustration Friday seems as though it would consume a lot of bandwidth and require a lot of technical maintenance. Do you find it difficult at times to fund the site or does it feed itself through donations and advertising?

Utopian.net donates their time for technical maintenance. And I donate my time for admin and general upkeep. The advertising really doesn't bring in much at all, surprisingly. It's been wonderful to get donations from users. That's made a bigger difference by far.

How much of your time does the site require? Do you find it difficult to balance between being an illustrator and maintaining the IF site?

My work as an illustrator (and as a mother) comes first of course. We get a lot of admin emails to take care of each week and sometimes it takes us two or more days to respond. And honestly, we can't always get to them all, but people seem to be pretty understanding about that. On the whole, participants are patient with responses to questions. Site admin is the same way. We've been working on a site redesign for a long time now, but our paid work always comes first (those ball-and-chain mortgages!), so Illustration Friday stuff often gets delayed. It's definitely a time balance. Isn't everything? But we have some padding and flexibility with IF, and that is really nice.

Illustration Friday: Breezey by Kay Aker

Do you personally pour through every submission each week to choose the one you feel best illustrates that week’s theme? How do you choose? Is it based on comments submitted or some other predetermined criteria?

The "Pick of the Week" on the homepage is chosen completely randomly. We felt that was the only fair way to do it. And as long as the illustration is linked properly, (it's a static page, not just a link to their main blog) it is chosen and posted.

There is a blog and Facebook component to the Illustration Friday site. Who contributes to those and what are their backgrounds?

There is a blog called the IF Blog. Original, huh? The authors are artists from different walks of life and from all over the globe. They all work in different mediums too and have different interests. That ensures posts are appealing to different audiences. The Facebook component is just a FB group and Brianna maintains that for the most part. Another wonderful part of Illustration Friday is the artist interviews. Usually monthly we post a new interview with an established illustrator, and these are so great for inspiration and learning about how other artists live their lives. It's a rare insight into a working illustrator's world.

Illustration Friday: Magnify by Elena French

What do you enjoy most about Illustration Friday?

I like that we can offer a fun, safe place to explore art each week and connect with other creatives, and that we extend the invitation to both novices and pros. There really are no rules, except to try to keep it clean because there are kids on the site. And I love that it's such a positive group of people. That makes me happy.

How do you feel the site has helped you grow as an artist?

It's helped me grow as an artist immensely. I no longer have time to participate each week now that I'm more established in my illustration work. And I contribute that fact a lot to Illustration Friday. It gave me a place to explore, get feedback and challenge myself. It made creating a weekly commitment. And it helped me expand and solidify my portfolio.

Illustration Friday: Subterranean by  Sou Kika Esteves

Illustration Friday has been such a tremendous contribution to the illustration community. Have you received any industry accolades for the site in recognition for the positive impact it has had on so many individual artists and the community as a whole?

Thank you! IF has been featured in a few articles here and there, and we're happy about that! They help spread the word that there's a fun creative place to play!

Any advice for artists that run community based or social networking sites of their own?

I don't have any general advice. What's worked for me is being kind, and focusing on putting something positive into the world. And it's always nice to have help. My partner Brianna is a godsend. And the bloggers and interviewers that contribute to Illustration Friday make it a well-rounded, fuller experience for participants.

What’s next for Illustration Friday?

I'm not telling! You'll have to keep checking back with the site to find out…

Illustration Pages would like to thank Penelope Dullaghan for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions. Below are links to Penelope Dullaghan's personal sites.

You might also enjoy reading, An Interview with Children's Book Illustrator Korey Scott: Connecting With Children Through Art.

Penelope Dullaghan is an illustrator, artist, mother and aspiring yogi living in the tiny town of Winona Lake, Indiana.

Penelope Dullaghan Illustration website

Penelope Dullaghan Illustration blog

Brianna Privett coined the name and the concept for Utopian.net. She maintains about a million URLs, foremost among them her personal playground Brianna.org. She worked on something called myspace.com, before that URL became the site you know.

Brianna is managing partner (with illustrator Penelope Dullaghan) of the Illustration Friday creative project. She was a first reader for submitted fiction at Strange Horizons, and has published recently in McSweeney's Internet Tendency and several other prose and photography venues occasionally listed in her portfolio.

Brianna Privett Photography website


  1. Wonderful article. Love your site and I have been using it. Very inspiring. It is a great supportive community.

  2. Thank you, Dayle. Happy to hear you're enjoying the IP site. Wasn't it great to learn all that information about the Illustration Friday site? I enjoyed it too.


Related Posts with Thumbnails