The characters drawn by Portuguese illustrator Tiago Galo have a few things in common: cheeks painted like China dolls, fixed, incredulous stares, and oftentimes no mouths at all. Their noses are drawn with small licks of ink to indicate a shadow, and sharp contrasting colors that make them appear more like miniature beaks. Galo’s characters exist in a world that’s small, dream-like, and self-contained. “I would compare it to the same kind of feeling you get from looking at a goldfish swimming in a bowl,” he says with characteristic enigma.

Galo lives in Lisbon, where he works as an editorial illustrator, comic zine maker, and freelance designer. This is a relatively recent change of scene for him; before deciding to study art direction, he’d been working as an architect. “It was such an intense and overwhelming experience that really didn’t leave any time for other things,” Galo remembers. “I had to leave illustration aside. Now it’s great to be back on track.”

He describes illustration as a “boomerang” in his life. As a kid, he’d always doodled comics and teamed up with others on homespun publications. Architecture was a necessary, helpful interlude. Now he’s back to pens, paper, and digital inks.

Although Galo works for independent magazines and for agencies that commission him to draw his characters for ad campaigns, many of his illustrations are born simply from a desire to realize a split-second idea dreamt up in the most random, everyday places. “The last illustration I did was about someone that’s always finding new ways of meeting people,” Galo says. “I got the idea while standing in front of an empty shelf at the supermarket… My brainstorming is that bizarre.”

Other ideas have sprung up in equally common places. “I tend to observe people a lot everywhere I go, and the stories emerge from there—like how did that guy get that stain on his shirt, or which subway station will the middle-aged couple get off at,” he says. The result of all those sparks of ideas are precise, impactful illustrations, versions of imagined or possible moments, bubbles of time that Galo has distilled and emphasized through the shape of his rounded, expressive characters.