A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock, Cork (my past school) if I would come back and present some of the annual student awards and say a few words to the students. This is what I said ...
Hi. I've been asked to say a few words today as a past pupil of the Ursulines by principal Lucy Lambe. When I went to school here it was in the convent which is no longer and that makes me a bit sad. I would have loved to have seen those classrooms again all these years later.
I did my leaving cert here 20 years ago!!!
It doesn't feel that long ago. I can still remember some of the questions!?
I definitely remember the panic and thanks to Sr. Mary Mc Daid I still somehow know the quadratic equation?
Art was by far my favourite subject and I was very fortunate to have Ms. Barry as my teacher. I remember the joy of having double-art on a Friday in the basement at the back of the school. It was very bright and full of strange and wonderful curiosities, smelt of wax and lino and ink, and there was a print on the wall by artist MC Escher of his work ‘drawing hands’. I was convinced that Ms. Barry had drawn this? It was very impressive.
I remember she would always find something to challenge us with and I particularly loved when she brought in a goat skull. That was fascinating and I had to up my game to do it justice.
I knew I wanted to pursue a career in art but how? what? where? …
When it came to choosing college courses, animation in Dublin caught my eye and I decided to go for it.
To say there are more opportunities in Ireland now for creative and artistic careers is an understatement. Once I graduated from animation I had to hustle. Many cvs were sent out and I actually took to knocking on doors of design and animation studios around the country. I was ignored mostly but I've got grit and kept going. Brown Bag Films let me in (there were only 4 of them in the company at that time) and I convinced them to take a chance on me and give me a job. One of my first projects in brown bag was ‘give up yer aul sins’ which was nominated for an oscar. I had the job of breaking down the sound for the animator and subsequently digitally painting the frames. It was a very exciting time.
A couple of years later I went on to train and work as a web developer, graphic designer and illustrator. The more strings you have to your bow in the creative industry the better your job prospects are.
It was a lot of hard work and a lot of hustling for many years but I loved my work which made it all worth it and gradually I built up a list of clients who wanted to work with only me so I became a freelancer and that's what I do now.
When I was at school here I drew all the time. Yep even doodled through most of my maths classes. I simply loved it. I would draw anything. Ms. Barry was running out of objects. That goats skull kept me entertained though. Every angle was such a challenge.
About 5 years ago I realised that I hadn't drawn or painted in a long time! What was up with that? I started to put my pencil to paper but I just couldn't do it anymore. I was devastated. I had ‘lost’ my confidence in it completely. I felt the urge to draw and paint but it just wouldn't happen.
In 2015, I came across an old schoolhouse in Enniskerry in Wicklow that run art classes. I felt so stupid initially. I had gone to art college and worked in a creative field for 14 years at this point and here I was unable to start making marks on a white sheet of paper.
I humbled myself and decided to take a class and I re-learned how to draw. It fascinated me how I was able to learn this ability again and I started to improve. I had played around with oil paints in the past but never got very far. I just figured oil paints weren't for me. But now with this new ‘learning’ mindset I took a class in oils. I learned how to use them and now I was free to do what I liked!
I got totally hooked on learning. I was taking extra jobs to pay for workshops in pretty much everything and anything. I did sculpture, woodcarving, batik, watercolour, pastel, lifedrawing, egg tempera! Yes painting with eggs!?
I fell completely and utterly head over heels in love with art and creating again. I got my mojo back.
What I had done was gone from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset. Fear of judgement and fear of failure stopped me from trying for years. I had been good, then I wasn't anymore and it felt shameful but that was the fixed mindset. When I started to take fun classes in a non judgemental environment I switched into a growth mindset. I see fellow humans get stuck all the time. I still get stuck but when I do I ask myself is this just fear talking? What if you weren't afraid. What would you do then? I would constantly remind my friends of this ... sometimes annoyingly.
So when RTE we're looking for contestants for ‘Painting the Nation’ last year my friends were all over me. I was like eh no hope. I'll make a complete fool of myself! And they preached ‘ah you're just afraid go for it!’ Touché!
I had to swallow my pride and take my own advice. That show was a whirlwind. I remember the panic of the cameras encroaching when I was messing up my painting. There were a couple of real duds in there but I kept reminding myself that I wasn't defined by my failures and each new painting was an opportunity for growth so I kept on trucking.
Somehow I won the show and my painting as a result now hangs as part of the national collection in Dublin Castle!?
I wonder what me 5 years ago would have said to that. I think she would have just thought that impossible.
So it's all about continued learning. Staying true to yourself and trusting your own voice.
What would you do if you weren't afraid?
For more information on Ursuline Secondary School go to ursulinecork.com