Gals in Glasses: UA student’s art style popularized in dorm decor

Madison Duboise | @madison.duboise, Contributing Writer

For artist Maddie Kirkland, bright colors and a big pair of sunglasses are all it takes to create her next masterpiece. 

Kirkland, a senior majoring in human environmental science, runs a small business, Gals in Glasses, where she sells bright, colorful paintings of women that are typically used as dorm decor. 

In high school, Kirkland started doodling artwork inspired by T-shirts that she and her family got every year on vacation. The designs showed women with exaggerated features, similar to Kirkland’s style today.

“People started comparing my drawing to Bratz dolls and all kinds of stuff, but I think it really goes back to those shirts we got every year,” Kirkland said. “I never intentionally made my paintings based on those designs, but I think it is where I pulled most of my inspiration from.”

Kirkland was first commissioned for a project by her friend’s parents to do a painting of roosters. Her art style has evolved since then. 

“The style is bright, obnoxious and in your face, which is kind of how I feel about myself sometimes,” Kirkland said. “I personally have six or seven of these paintings hanging up in my room, and I just think it is cool to see my own art everyday.”

Just over a year ago, Kirkland posted her first TikTok sharing her artwork. It didn’t take long for her work to become a trend among college students, especially in the South.

A majority of Kirkland’s clients are students in Tuscaloosa. 

“I think being in Tuscaloosa is ideal because I am right in a college town; especially being a college student, I am my own target clientele,” Kirkland said. 

Kirkland said since her work is bright, colorful and customizable, it caught the eyes of women in sororities.

“When looking for decor for our dorm, we knew we wanted something fun and pink. We have pink pillows, blankets and a pink rug, so [the paintings] fit right in,” said Courtney Smith, a freshman majoring in nursing. “The first time I ever saw artwork like this was on her Tik Tok account, and it turned out she lived in Tuscaloosa, so it worked out perfectly.”

Since Kirkland’s style became popular, a lot of people have recreated her work as DIY dorm decor and shared it on TikTok. 

“When you create something and it becomes popular, it is almost guaranteed that some will recreate your work,” Kirkland said. “I myself have even seen artwork that I liked, but never bought because I know I could create my own variation of it.”

Kirkland understands why people would recreate her work, especially to save time and money. She asks for people to credit her since it is her original idea, but she enjoys seeing recreations. 

“I am an avid Pinterest user, so I found this style on there and thought it could be really fun to try and paint one similar, although mine certainly was not as polished as hers,” said Paige Hoss, a sophomore majoring in human environmental sciences. “Overall I was satisfied with how it came out, but it definitely can’t compare to the quality or skill of Maddie’s. I think that the style is super fun and sparked a cute trend within Southern universities, and I wish Maddie all the best with growing her business.”

Over the summer, Kirkland expanded from paintings when she teamed up with AGW Designs, giving her the opportunity to create custom designs for game day buttons.

Then, she partnered with Lavish Tuscaloosa to get her buttons in stores. She had a pop-up art show at Sparrow Marketplace at the beginning of the month.

Along with her recent collaborations, Kirkland said she would like to work on larger pieces in the future.

“I know I am putting in the work and the time, but it is rewarding seeing people post my work and others wanting to recreate it. Especially seeing people make Tik Toks with my artwork in the background, there will be people that comment and ask where they got it from,” Kirkland said.

Questions? Email the Culture desk at culture@cw.ua.edu.