I didn’t go to art college. I never studied art in any art college. I am completely self taught. I have learned different techniques through trial and error and also by my own research. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in art and just creating anything in general. When I began primary school in Scoil Mhuire, Shankill in Dublin there were always plenty of arts and crafts to do. I am very grateful that art played an important role throughout my early school years and still plays an important role in the Irish education system today. My teachers were all very encouraging with my art, two in particular if I remember correctly… Mrs Higgins and Mr O’Leary, and I was always given art materials and new ideas to create art. I was interested in everything, drawing, clay modelling, finger painting, collages, making posters etc. In fact the art also helped with my other subjects such as Irish and maths, as I was often told as a reward for finishing all my work that I could spend some time drawing when I was finished.
In secondary school in Cabinteely Community School in Dublin in my early teens I have to admit that I probably didn’t pay as much attention in art class as I should have done. I think this was just a part of growing up but I felt that I knew it all and didn’t need to listen, but as I matured I actually learned quite a lot during this period. This is when I was introduced to the masters such as Caravaggio, Davinci and Rembrandt. And the history of art in general.
When I left school I began to focus more on oil painting as opposed to just pencil sketching. At this stage I felt that I had taken the pencil drawings as far as I could. I was always aiming for the most realistic pencil sketch I could do. I think when I finished sketch one particular sketch of Bono that I was happy with my pencil skills and wanted to move onto another challenge. I remember my brother Kev saying one day, ‘Why don’t you try oil painting?’. I had never used oil paints before but I suppose if realism was what I was after then oil paints could possibly be the best way of achieving this level of realism.
Also I was not really proficient with the use of colour. Oil paint would be the medium I could employ to learn how to use colour. I began by still using black and white to get used to the way the paint works. I think it just came natural and, after two or three paintings, I was producing some quite realistic work. I would still recommend using black and white paint to any beginner artist who wants to start painting in oils. It keeps it simple until you get the hang of the way the paint moves and how to get the shading correct.
After a while I moved onto colour. Although being self-taught definitely has its benefits, it also has its restrictions. I feel I have benefitted from being self-taught in the respect that I have always painted what I wanted to paint. I didn’t feel, and still don’t feel any need to change my style of work just for the sake of variety or due to anyone else’s suggestions. I know what I want to paint and I have continued to do so until this day.
I have spoken to past students of art schools who felt that all they learned in art school was that they didn’t like being told what art to create, and that they could have realised this without spending four years in college. That is not to say that I wouldn’t have liked to go to Art College. I would have loved to, but I wasn’t really put in that direction from my second level teachers or career guidance councillor. Some people think that being an artist is not a good career. It may not successful for everyone, but I bet it is more rewarding than most professions. I would have liked to go to Art College and I do think I would have created some interesting work but I also fear that my kind of work wouldn’t have been encouraged and I may have lost confidence in it.
My life as an artist has mostly been one in the background of my ‘normal’ life. Throughout college I painted mostly in the evenings and at night, and of course the weekends. But I think that in my spare time my love for art and desire to paint only increased. And I produced some of my best works during this period. However, being self-taught often set me back regarding my knowledge of what materials to use. I started off using low quality paints and brushes and used domestic white sprits to clean my brushes. After a while I realised that these materials could have a big effect on the overall result of the finished painting, and so I made sure to have good quality materials from then on.
Would I advise kids to go to art college? Not really, unless there was a particular field they are interested in and it requires a certain qualification, but I would more advise taking courses from artists they admire or even shadowing them, and focusing on what they want to achieve and thinking for themselves what the best route is to achieve these. And don’t be afraid to ask other artist questions. Except me, I’m far too busy. I’m joking, I get asked for advice all the time and am happy to give it.