I have always loved painting and nature, but as so often happens, Life took me on a different path.
Deep in my heart, I knew that I was destined to paint. It wasn’t until I moved from Dublin to Egypt in 2005, that I finally had the chance to paint full time. I had painted in oils and pastels before, but with the dazzling light of the Middle East, I decided to teach myself watercolours.
I was really inspired by artists like Cathy Johnson, whose wonderful watercolour journals are about enjoying the process and capturing the moment. Her observations on nature are beautiful, and she is incredibly generous in her sharing of knowledge online.
I have always been fascinated and awed by the natural world.
My young daughters were always bringing me ‘treasures’ that they found out in the garden, and we would try to find out the story behind each plant or creature. Sketchbooks became my way of learning, because they are a place to explore and where mistakes don’t matter. Almost all of my paintings start out in my sketchbooks, where I do initial drawings and colour charts of my subjects. Sometimes I actually prefer these study pages to the finished artwork. Now that I teach botanical art, I encourage my students to keep a sketchbook.
It was my fascination with the nature world that led me to botanical art. I went to visit the Shirley Sherwood Gallery in Kew Gardens, London, and remember staring spellbound at the precision and the skill of botanical art. I applied for the Distance Learning Course with the Society of Botanical Artists. I was delighted to be accepted because it meant that I could do my assignments whilst living in Egypt.
Becoming a botanical artist has enriched my world in so many ways. It’s not just about art, but it’s also about discovery. I’m constantly learning new things. Even a trip to the supermarket can be an inspiration- the fruit and vegetable section is my favourite part! What surprises me is the wealth of history and stories that each plant holds. I think that in many ways society has lost touch with nature, so it’s nice to be able to paint a plant and tell the story too.
Now I’m back living in Dublin once more, and art has gone from being a dream, to being something that I do every day. I find that I work best by planning ahead, so I usually prepare my studio the evening before. I lay out my colour charts with a clean palette and fresh paper, and if possible, have my subject set up. Sometimes with plants this is not possible because I nearly always paint from life, and find it best to leave the plant somewhere cool overnight, or take a fresh cutting in the morning when I am ready to paint.