Illustrator Joe O’Donnell returns with even more colour, clunkiness and humour

Although his style has certainly evolved, the Manchester-based illustrator still pulls inspiration from video games, skateboarding and the notorious Original Pirate Material album by The Streets.

24 January 2020

Three years ago, Manchester-based illustrator Joe O’Donnell served up a 31-page “choose your own adventure book” inspired by the notorious Original Pirate Material album by The Streets. And even though a total of 36 months have passed us by, guess what? He’s still listening to the album on a “fairly regular basis.”

With his soundtrack still firmly intact, Joe has since been working consistently within the field of illustration. Alongside various editorial commissions – “which has been a dream come true” – he has also been developing his practice, plus taking part in a group show with Tom Guilford, Jess Warby and Aysha Tengiz.

Like many practicing artists, his style has evolved over time. “I’ve definitely become more efficient in my technique, my muscle memory over the copy and paste buttons has never been so strong, and my basic grasp of Illustrator has shaved hours off the time it takes to make an image,” he tells It's Nice That. Additionally, more attention has been granted to his process; “something I’ve become much more aware of,” he adds. “Setting myself limitations and trying new methods of getting around them has resulted in some of my favourite pieces so far.”


Joe O'Donnell: Nevermind

Having grown up skateboarding in Milton Keynes, Joe was exposed to the all sides of the creative spectrum from an early age – mostly the “creative stuff” that he might not have discovered if it weren’t for his interest in the hobby. A further influence was that of his passion for making pictures, which is something he can remember doing for as long as his memories stretch. “I didn’t really understand what illustration could be until some of my friends ended up going to art school," he recalls. “I would visit them in London and see what they were doing and really wanted to be a part of it, so around the time I finished university with a film degree and no ambition to pursue a career in film, I figured that was a good time to start focusing on illustration.”

Rightly so, for Joe’s illustrative creations depict a harmonious balance of humour and skill, whereby his retro video game-inspired pieces jump out at you with a garish flash of colour and straightforward compositions. Compared to his previous work featured on the site, things have certainly picked up in terms of palette and pace. Talking of his creative process, he tells us how for a “long time” he was sticking by the use of graph paper, where he would then translate his sketches into Illustrator, “but more recently, I have been trying different starting points for my work, which all then get put through my process of making them into vector shapes on Illustrator,” he says. This can either be worked from a rough sketch or from a reference image, which is then traced over using his restricted roster of shapes. “I’ve recently been enjoying using this tracing technique for making individual frames for animations, the outcomes have a clunkiness to them that I really like.”

As for his main influences, he explains how it’s a hard factor to “nail down”. Citing Stephen King, Joe references the quote on the topic of amateurs waiting for inspiration and professionals just getting up and going to work is something that he “thinks about a lot,” especially as he tends to “punish” himself for not working. “So I guess trying to stay in my own good books is a big drive for me.”

Whether it’s a Nirvana Nevermind spin-off album cover, gestural dogs, a melting bike or a never-ending pint-drinking simulator, Joe tends to steer more towards work that “draws from something [he finds] funny.” It’s a structured and restricted regime, but one that garners him great success. “The aesthetic of my work is the result of strict self-imposed rules in terms of the shapes and arrangements I allow myself to use,” he concludes. “I love working within the restrictions I give myself and being forced to find a solution from there. It’s more akin to playing with Lego bricks than to traditional drawing.”

GalleryJoe O'Donnell


Bike Melt


Hot Dog Man










Pint Simulator



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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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