Design: Freelancin’ – Gavin Connell

Posted May 6, 2021 in Design

As Gav Connell launches his new collection with Hen’s Teeth, we revisit our Design interview from 2019.


Gavin Connell is a 23-year-old illustrator who has caught our attention with his unique graphic design and illustration style taking inspiration from vintage comic books, cartoons, graffiti and his passion for music.

What was your earliest memory of wanting to become an illustrator?

Probably when I was in second year in college, so only about 2-3 years ago. I went to college to indulge in typography, which I thoroughly enjoy, but then I realised that I could draw for hours/days/months without getting tired of it. To be honest, I didn’t really know being an illustrator was a possible job for me until I got into college.


Who did you look up to when you were a child? What other artists were you digging?

When I was a child I was obsessed with graffiti and looked up to all my older brother’s friends who did graffiti. One that stands out who is still painting consistently to this day is Zuas, so shout out to him. In terms of other artists, I really didn’t get it into traditional art and drawing until I was about 16 when space in my school’s art class opened – I was previously rejected in first year. It was a pretty big class, so you can imagine how bad I was.


How would you describe your style? What sets you apart from others in your field?

My style is a combination of multiple inspirations: graffiti, 1920-1930s animation, vintage comic books of all sorts and then sometimes old school rave posters and anything that imbibes in underground culture.

What sets me apart for posters is that I’ve put a lot of time in trying to improve my drawing, but also put a good few months in learning about typography during my final year in college. A poster maker has to be able to work with both text and image to make an appealing piece that communicates well.


You went to NCAD to study. How do you think that shaped your skills and preparation for the real world?

NCAD puts an emphasis on research which is paramount to come up with anything that is original. I learned a lot about the illustration process and the technical side of Adobe Illustrator from my tutor John Slade of H.Y.T studio which has become invaluable to my work.


Was it daunting to go solo when you graduated, or did it feel like a natural, necessary step?

It made complete sense to me in my own head to go on my own, so it wasn’t daunting for that reason. But I think leaving art/design college is daunting in general. It was definitely natural to go solo. I didn’t apply to any studios. I didn’t see the point. I only had about 2-3 clients at the start but that was enough to keep my morale up and make me believe I could get more. Because I had only a few clients, I spent way more time on each piece to make sure it was good enough for them to come back but also gain the attention of others to build up more work. This also gave me time to explore my style more.


Your favourite project so far? What makes it so interesting?

The one that stands out is the recent collaborative project with Tenth Man studio. That was for the HSE and I got to illustrate 8 slogans of which enlighten any drug users at festivals to stay safe while under the influence. I liked this a lot because of the serious subject matter but I was still able to put my lighthearted twist on it to engage viewers to have a proper look.


What’s your normal approach to doing work?

First, I have a dig around and see what I can learn about the piece they want done, or if it’s a gig poster, listen to the artists music or sets. Then, I make a small moodboard for myself of things I’d like to include, inspiration, etc. Then I make rough sketches. If it’s too rough, I go over it again with tracing paper until it’s finished and clean. I’ll then take a picture of it with my phone and send it on Facebook messenger, copy and paste it into Illustrator and draw over it for a few hours adding new bits where necessary.

In terms of typography, I just play around a lot with InDesign until I’m happy with a layout. Sometimes, I do this before I draw anything, or I do it last, depending on the actual piece.


Any tips or tricks to get the creative juices going?

Go for a run or at least a brisk walk. Nothing gets your brain going quite like when you get your body going!


The greatest commission you have yet to get and why?

A solo project with Nike has always been a goal. I’ve worked with H.Y.T on a project for Nike but that was just helping with concept designs. I would like to do character design for them one day.


How would you describe the illustrator / creative scene in Dublin and Ireland right now?

I think the illustration scene is a bit small, but I don’t think it’s capable to be big as there isn’t enough work to go around to pay the bills. Those who are able to make a living are damn good and only got there because of that.


Who are you loving creative wise here and internationally?

Illustrators/designers I love from Ireland at the moment are Ruan Van Vliet, John Slade (H.Y.T), Mel Keane, Fuchsia Macaree and Conor Nolan.

Illustrators/designers I love internationally at the moment are Braulio Amado, Nato Floral, Rob en Robin, Falu Carolei and Jiro Beviz.


You’re offered the chance to collaborate with anyone in the world on any project you want. Who do you work with and what are you going to do?

I’d say Braulio Amado because of his creativity and originality, especially in his posters. I think I would learn a lot if I got to work with him and make some very weird work. I’d love to create a large poster series with him which may involve a risograph printer to make it even better.


The biggest challenges and struggles you face while trying to do your work based in Dublin are…

Finding work that actually pays more than minimum wage per hour. I want to move out and it’s not realistic with the amount I make at the moment, even though I work five days a week.


Your go to comfort meal in Dublin…

Definitely Wishbone, couldn’t recommend it more if you like spicy wings!


Your favourite watering hole…

Hmm… Maybe The Bloody Stream in Howth to stay local and see some good friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.


Your favourite secret spot in Dublin, the very best place to be…

Not very secretive and not really a spot but a very nice place to go for a big Sunday stroll in Sutton is a place called Redrock, it’s coastal and has a few mini beaches spaced out near it.


What’s next? Where are you going? What does 2020 and beyond hold for you?

I’m moving to Berlin for a year to move out of my house in an attempt to grow up, gain responsibility and to become more mature in general. I would have moved out in Dublin by now, but it is too expensive at the moment. I definitely plan on coming back for the long run!

Words: Richard Seabroooke

IG: @gavconl


The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.