Posted Jan 8th 2009 by

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An interview with
EAMOwords by , January 2009

With his flowing inked sketches, select colouring and a passion for Australian culture, Eamo possesses a truly unique and engaging style. We caught up with him after he kindly donated his stubby holders to our Xmas Selection Box. He recounts insightfully about his background and upbringing, whilst discussing his international work for New York Publications.

Howdy thar! How is Eamo today?

Eamo is ripper today. The sun is shining, I actually got up early today, mind you early for this little Aussie is 8:00am. Good to see some of that golden mid-morning sunshine.

At first glance, your work is outstandingly vivid, using a strong palette of colours and flowing lines, making it easy to comprehend from a visual point of view. But tell us about the real Eamo. In fact, if you had an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, how would it read?

Haha! This will be fun…. Eamo pron, Ay-Mo, encompasses all that can be found in Australian pubs and local footy matches, down the sandy beach on a summer’s arvo, at the RSL playing two up on ANZAC day, in the schoolyard smoking a ciggie behind the dunnies, cooking up some tucker in the backyard on the barbie, running through the sprinklers while dad is mowing the front lawn and mum is cooking a sunday roast.

Your work is so vibrant and unique, and as I understand it’s a mixture of pen drawings and on-screen colouring. Talk us through your technique…

I start with using a lot of visual reference. Say at the moment I’m doing a piece for Blender magazine in NY on Amy Winehouse, so I do a stack of google imaging and get some really good shots of her, her mannerisms, iconic outfits, makeup, good facial expressions, best hair, then use these as reference for sketching up the piece. Then once the sketch is approved I ink over it using a brush, white and black. This is the most stressful part, but ultimately the most rewarding because it’s when the piece starts to come to life. Once the ink is done I scan into photoshop and recolour all the line work and block colour the background. This is the fun part, I enjoy colouring all the little characteristics in a character, if it’s a bondi liefsaver, the fluro yellow zinc on the nose or in Amy’s case, the tattoo’s and the dark makeup. They come to life! Muuhhaa haa haa ha!

Mountain Dew jeep

Eamo’s work adorned on a Mountain Dew jeep

The new site and shop look great, it seems like you’ve been really busy! How do you manage to fit it all in. Run us through what you’ve enjoyed about it all recently.

Thanks! It’s been an idea on the shelf for a few years, the milkbar ink was half finished in 2006, then I had a spare 2 weeks so I thought, right let’s get this thing online! The milk bar was a really big part of my childhood. My local milkbar ‘Dave’s’ was iconically Australian and they all lived out the back, my mum even worked there for a few years. Australian’s are known for their love of pubs, it would have been the obvious shop front to illustrate for my ‘store’ but for me milkbars, which are are dying breed thanks to the monopoly of 7 Eleven’s, are a memory that standout for me. I’m only 27 so the memory of going to a pub is still pretty fresh, although we went to pub’s and had counter meals as kids, the milkbar seemed like the child’s version of the pub. You go there to grab a choccy milk, a bag of mixed lollies, whizz fizz, kid’s hung out the front in innocent 80s bmx gangs, it was the hang out, like a pub is for oldies. Every kid living in Australia has a memory of grabbing a bag of mixed lollies or a sunnyboy. I also needed a vehicle to sell my new products which I was building up for a year. I always had the idea of having a milkbar for an online ‘shop’, we used to say “I’m goin’ ta the shop,” which meant in those days, I’m going to the milkbar. I wanted my home page to be somewhere that represented my artwork and themes; something that I could build upon. Stickers as links, signs that I could change like the ‘Oz fact of the week’ which at the moment is a link to a wiki page on Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin on Chrissy day in 1974. It gave me a chance to mix an australian audio soundscape with my art, something i’ve always wanted to do.

Eamo Milkbar

Eamo’s Milkbar-theme web shop

You’ve also been doing a lot of work for New York publications, how has that been? Given, the timing, the Obama/Mccain pieces must have been quite interesting to work on.

Its been really interesting because they don’t commission me because of the australian theme, its purely because I’m a commercial illustrator and I do portraits and character illustration. Its really good to finally crack the American market. Its always been a dream of mine to work for New York publications so it’s great stuff to be able to make a living out of it, it’s hard in Australia because there are not alot of illustration commissions. Hopefully, this is changing with the likes of my agency The Jacky Winter Group which represents Australian Illustrators across the world. It’s been great working for NY rag’s doing portraits of everyone from Richard Pryor to Frank Zappa.

Richard Pryor and Frank Zappa

Eamo’s portraits of Frank Zapper and Richard Pryor… with others!

I loved working on the Obama, McCain piece for Blender magazine, its probably one of my favourite commissions of the year. It felt weird that this little guy from Melbourne was illustrating the next most powerful man in the world. After Obama won the ‘art for Obama’ movement has gained more momentum, starting with the iconic Shepard Fairy ‘HOPE’ poster. My Blender commission has gone on to have a second life, the election has meant so much to people all over the world and the Obama art has become a genre of its own. It feels really great to be a part of it, I would never have illustrated Obama had it not been for the commission and now people want it for their private collections. It has been exhibiting in the Dominican Republic and art collectors from california and even Albuquerque have bought a print of it.

Barrack Obama and John McCain

Eamo’s Obama art

You recently exhibited for “It’s Nice That”, how was that received? Do you have any more plans for future exhibitions in the UK?

That was a lot of fun and great to get shown in the UK. The piece that they choose was part of an installation that I did for a bar in Sydney called the Annandale hotel, Sydney’s premier rock venue. I worked in collaboration with Ben Frost, I created black and white photo copies of my art at A0 and because I was based in Melbourne, Ben pasted up the walls. For It’s Nice That Will Hudson picked one wall and I reprinted 5 A0 prints for the show. Will said it went really well, it was really well received. It had some fanatasic piece’s by some fantastic artists and designers. They are planning to take the show to London in 2009 so it will be great to get some exposure there. I would love to exhibit in London next year, look me up – wink wink.

Annandale Hotel

Eamo’s Annandale Hotel art that featured in the It’s Nice That exhibit

In a recent interview with Jeremyville, he mentioned to us about the fine art of pen drawings, and that we should get back to basics. What is your stance, ethos and mentality behind design and illustration?

Oh for sure, I do all my linework and sketching on paper, the only thing I do digital is final layouts and the colouring. I always maintain that alot of the individuality that makes artists so distinctive is the hands on approach, whether it’s beginning with a sketch on a napkin or a rendered pencil illustration, I could never do 100% digital work. It may seem traditionalist, and maybe even contradictory considering I still use photoshop to do my colouring – hey you have to compromise. For exhibitions I’ve been making it a point of doing originals on paper and wood because in the past I’ve shown Giclee prints and people have always wanted the originals, which I never sold. They where like my babies, couldn’t give them up.

What are you liking at the moment?

Photographer Rennie Ellis who captured the Australian people from the late 60s to the late 90s. Street fighter Alpha. Australian rock guitarist John Dallimore. Redhouse and old family slides.

What has influenced you over the years?

The beach, the sun, the suburbs, family, holidays, caravan parks, eccentric out of towners, summer, paul hogan – “G’day viewers’

What would be your ultimate portrait and is there anyone you wouldn’t illustrate?

Barry Humphries / Les Patterson / Dame Edna. There is no one I wouldn’t illustrate because everyone is fair game.

The Australian tone seems to be evident throughout all your work! Is being an aussie a major part of it all? Isn’t (your surname) Donnelly of Irish origin anyway?! Haha! What is it that you love about OZ?

Eamo Aussie Map

Eamo’s Aussie Map

Very true! My dad came here on the Orion in the mid 60s from Belfast as a 12 year old. He married a true blue Australian girl with a very Australian upbringing, think Suburbs, Australia, 1950s. And you didn’t mention my first name which is actually Eamon – so Eamon plus Donnelly makes for a very Irish name indeed! Eamo is the name my great Aunt gave me when I was a kid. She could never get her head around my name, we had Bruce, Archie, Dougie, Ross, John, Mal in the family, then this Irish name Eamon popped up in November 1981. She would always forget the ‘N’ on the end, hence Eamo becoming a family running joke every year – some hankies from Aunty Margaret to ‘Eamo’. It’s just a shame that this Emo thing has come along in the last few years people pronounce it so, even though it’s Eamon. So I think my love of all things Australian comes from the background of my parents being so vastly different, there was always these great observations my dad and his parents would make about ‘Australia’ that I must have picked up on fondly, I was always aware of the eccentricities of the country’s people, customs and traditions. It’s almost like I was one of those tourists coming here for a permanent holiday taking a thousand photos of kangaroo’s, aboriginal busker’s in circular quay, the opera house, uluru, the outback, some random ‘Oss-ey’ character. Being a creative kid I took in all those things in a quarter of a lifetime that I think a tourist would love when visiting here. They were all soaked up, as I like to say, into my brain like a sponge in the shape of ‘Oz’ and regurgitated into what I do now.

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?

I say log on to and buy something from the Corner Shop for old times sake – wink wink and a thumbs up! Hooroo!

Do what the man says and grab a little bit of OZ here or keep up with his regular debalacles on his blog


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(3 Comments) - click to comment/read
  • Nique

    Great interview! Amazing work, love the jeep and the Obama piece. Thanks for showcasing one of Australia’s best artists.

  • Jon

    glad you enjoyed the interview Nique. we’re going for a bit of an Australian theme at the moment… watch out for an interview with another Aussie artist coming up soon ;)

  • great interview.amazing work.awesome..

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