ILLUSTRATOR - PETAL TO PETAL by Lily Corcoran
I would like to introduce Lily Corcoran of Petal to Petal today. Lily’s designs flew out of the images on instagram so I am so excited to share her story of entrepreneurial creativity. Her husband, Kevin Corcoran of Concrete Forest was recently featured here and they live in West Cork, a magical place for inspiration.At Petal to Petal, Lily’s designs are available on teatowels, art prints, cards and more. Let’s meet her:
Hi Lily! Thanks for taking the time at such a busy point in the year to answer these questions! You founded your own business as an illustrator at Petal to Petal. Can you describe the initial journey, when you decided to work for yourself and how you went about that?
Thanks for getting in touch! I can actually remember the exact moment when I realised what I wanted to do. It was when I was a teenager and my Dad took me to Liberty London. I saw a beautiful floral pattern that I loved and as we walked through the store I realised that the same pattern was available on a number of different products. There I discovered the world of surface pattern design. I found it exciting and limitless. Making beautiful patterns and images and applying them to different products seemed like a dream job. But I had no idea how to go about it. When I finished school I moved to Cork city and there I studied Visual Communication. The course covered different subjects like illustration, printmaking, photography, typography and branding - many of which have been invaluable since. When I graduated I panicked as I had my heart set on being an illustrator but felt like I hadn't developed a strong enough style and wasn't ready to go into the 'real world' on my own. I definitely needed time to develop the confidence to take the plunge. I applied to the HDip in Art for Art & Design teaching which was also at Crawford College. Although I loved it, really I did it to have something to fall back on if I couldn't make it on my own. During my time in college I took illustration commissions, stocked greeting cards in shops and galleries and did fairs and markets in my free time. And I just kept doing that for years, taking commissions and building up my illustration portfolio around different jobs.
Fast forward 10 years and Petal to Petal is an established company. Can you tell me what that looks like today?
I describe my products as 'paper goods and homeware'- which is basically anything that a pattern can be applied to! My main products would be greeting cards and art prints. I am lucky to be stocked in 12 lovely shops and galleries nationwide and they are nearly all small independent shops and family owned businesses which is lovely. When I receive an order from a stockist it can take 1-2 weeks to process while customer orders can come in anytime and I tend to ship them within 1-3 days. I work solely on every aspect of the business myself, so my workload is large and vast and I try to fit different tasks into each working day. I work all hours and usually on weekends, although since having my baby last year I have tried to be more relaxed and on quieter weeks I try to take one weekend day off now to focus on family. I'm happy to work at a pace that suits my family and to develop Petal to Petal slowly but surely.
Your illustrations are very elegant, how did you develop your own unique style which is instantly recognisable?
I have always drawn in small scale. My art teacher in school used to constantly tell me to make things bigger, but I have always been obsessed with detail! I just draw what I love, and I love the act of drawing. In terms of subject matter, I can't remember a time when I didn't love flowers. My mum has always grown them and my grandma always had a beautiful garden. And of course I am named after one! When I finished school I created an organic floral pattern which I called 'flower bomb' and it just happened and grew and developed over time into something that is now more structured. Colour plays a big part, and I work with my own colour palette which means that all of my designs are complementary and work well hung on a wall together. I like to keep everything in my recognisable style and consciously don't follow trends. I just create designs that I love and would want in my own home and luckily other people have wanted them in their homes too!
You are based in West Cork and wife to Kevin Corcoran of Concrete Forest Studio, it must be a very creative area to live. Do you find that being surrounded by other creatives helps you? (e.g collaborations, ideas, motivation)
There is definitely something in the water here and an appreciation for all things visual. Many people are drawn to West Cork because of the beautiful landscape which is a constant source of inspiration. My husband and I actually studied design in college together and I'm lucky to be able to bounce ideas off him and get honest feedback and advice. Collaborating on different projects and products with other creatives can be a lot of fun as well. I've made some great friends through collaborations, and I have a new respect for so many different art forms now as well.
You sell in design shops throughout the country as well as through your own web shop – do you sell globally and is social media a big part of your marketing strategy?
I have posted orders out all over the world and sometimes customers tell me when they are buying my work as gifts for people in far away countries. It's amazing and I can't believe that my work has travelled so far and is in so many people’s homes. It's incredibly humbling. Social media is the only form of advertising that I actually do, and I do it all myself. I could definitely be better at it, and it is time consuming but I actually really enjoy it. I don’t see it so much as a strategy, but simply as the way that I communicate.
You are a Mum to a little girl, how has that changed how you work and the age-old work life balance conundrum?
I actually set up Petal to Petal with the intention of working from home around a family. I have always been a homebird and wanted children. Since Emilia arrived last year time is more condensed, and much more focused. I can't stay up into the small hours getting carried away with a project anymore, as I need energy to balance everything the next day. Things have to be planned- and nearly always around naps! If I have a lot on I get up before she wakes, work during her nap and again when she goes to bed. It definitely requires a lot of juggling now but I'm aware that I am fortunate to be able to spend so much time with her and get work done as well.
Your prints are limited editions, when they run out, that’s it. Does that inspire you to be continuously designing new ranges? How long does it take for an illustration to be completed?
Most of my prints are archival limited edition and of the highest quality. Since studying printmaking in college I can really appreciate beautiful paper stock and it is important to me that I create things that stand the test of time. My giclée prints are printed with inks that can last up to 100 years if they are properly cared for. I keep the prints limited edition so that they are collectable and will retain their value in the future.
Time-wise, it can take weeks for anything to be completed! I have dozens of notebooks filled with ideas and for me the idea part is the easiest part of the process. When I start a design I sketch a bit but generally have an idea of what I want the finished image to look like. I work a lot with negative space and abstract shapes and like adding detail in the florals and lacework. Before baby came along I remember working on the 'Cork Lace' image and that took 3 weeks from start to finish. It is so detailed and I wanted to do the lacework justice. I illustrate by hand so it is a lot slower, but I feel that it's more authentic that way.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, where do you like to eat out and what style of food is your favourite?
When it comes to food, we really are spoilt down here! I love O' Neill Coffee in Skibbereen for coffee and sweet treats. Glebe in Skibbereen is great too and Glebe Gardens in Baltimore is the loveliest place in the Summer. Pilgrims in Rosscarbery is fantastic as is Cafe Paradiso in Cork City. Budds in Ballydehob is lovely and I also can't wait to visit The Chestnut in Ballydehob! I like many different styles of food but really appreciate great ingredients and clever flavour combinations.
You spent some time living in Berlin, which is a city renowned for creativity – how were you inspired by your time there? Where do you want to travel to next?!
I lived in a lovely district called Friedrichshain. The area is very creative with lots of independent stores and artist ateliers where artists could work and sell their creations in a little shop. It’s a completely different world where small businesses and self employment is encouraged and there is the most wonderful sense of freedom and creativity. I was lucky to work at a beautiful papeterie and homeware store there called Schwestererz and being surrounded by lovely things was very inspiring. My boss was very encouraging and stocked my greeting cards in the store. She also (unknown to me until afterwards) bought an original piece of mine from an art exhibition that I was in which was amazing (she is very stylish and has even written a national geographic travel guide for Berlin!).
I would love to show the city to Emilia, I can't wait to take her to meet our friends there. I love nordic countries and have always wanted to go to Iceland. My travel bucket list is definitely overflowing!
You can find Lily and her lovely designs at:
To discover where to buy her work, have a look here:
Thanks Lily for taking the time out of your schedule at this time of year, it has been wonderful to hear your story.All images are courtesy of Lily Corcoran.