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Biodiversity Week: Artist Jackie O'Neill

Updated: May 27, 2020

This initiative is supported by Cavan County Council, The Heritage Council, and Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

As par of Biodiversity Week in Cavan, the Heritage Office commissioned Cavan based artist, Jackie O'Neill to write about her work and in particular the influence and role nature plays in inspiring her art. Enjoy Jackie's personal story.

Happy Bio Diversity week Cavan friends. My name is Jackie O’Neill, I am a Textile artist and Illus-trator. You may also know me as Dotti Was A Deer which is the name of my brand and Art Studio located in the heart of Cavan Town. To celebrate the week that is in it I’d like to share a little bit about my creative process and how nature in all its life and glory has always, and will continue to be, my main source of inspiration. Maybe my process can be tried out by nature lovers on Biodi-versity week.

During my 4 year degree in art college we would visit museums regularly. It was wonderful to see all the great artist and designers of the past and read about their processes and concepts and of course view their visual masterpieces. It certainly inspired me and illustrated the high quality of work and level of professionalism that could be reached over time as a visual artist/ designer. The library in Art college was another world at my finger tips, A massive space filled with 1000’s upon 1000’s of visuals that inspired creativity.

Then there was the internet which of course allowed me to to view and read about every type of art and design you could possibly imagine. I was like a child in sweet shop!

But in 2nd year of college I realised I was overloading myself with other peoples ideas, The lines were getting blurred as to what inspired other creatives and what inspired me.

I was both mentally and visually overloaded with other peoples words and images.We were at the beginning of an important semester; the one where we got to set our own brief, creative control at last. This was what i’d yearned for yet I for but I was stuck. In an attempt to clear my busy head I took a walk out from my Galway apartment. I wasn’t living in a particularly rural area, I was in Gal-way city. But still there were trees and flowers in the park, birds and bees in the sky. Hedgerows full of berries, leaves, twigs, more flowers. there were Insects and mushrooms at my feet too. The more that I looked, the more that I saw.

I consciously opened my eyes to the museum of nature. It had always inspired me as far back as I can remember but i’d never really thought about it before.

On that walk I explored once again just like I had when I was little girl out on a nature walk with pri-mary school. I collected with my mind, hands, camera and sketch book. I was compiling a new li-brary of shapes, sounds, textures, patterns, colours and sounds. The next morning i got into college and printed some of the photos, ripped some of the notes from my sketch book and laid the col-lected flowers, berries, leaves etc out on my desk.

I created mood boards and colour ways. I paired different plants together in groups to create patterns and compositions. I ripped sections out of pho-tos and blew them up on the photocopier, every step that I took gave me a new visual. Some of the plants were beautiful enough alone.

The potential for creative scope was endless. Day by day I kept at it, playing with shape and colour. No matter what module we worked on I could apply my little nature library. I was able to dip into it for visuals and colours for drawing and painting. I was able to create shapes from it for screen print-ing, able to put together a full colour palette for a weaving project from examining just one tiny flower. I was able to use it to dictate motifs for embroidery and repeat pattern for print.

By giving my time and trust over to my nature library the work flowed out of me and took on new life in the form of art and design. Concepts arose and so to did my signature style.

This is the way I still work today.

in 2009 I graduated with an honours degree in Textile Art and Design. I moved straight to London and interned for various fashion labels and surface designers. The experience I gained from work-ing with these companies was invaluable and gave me the knowledge to start my own brand later on. Although I got to do a small bit of drawing and designing, most of my time in work was was spent working on someone else creations and looking at commercial and fashion trends. Outside of work hours a lot of time was spent traveling on the underground, buzzing around the city checking out the many art and design museums the city has to offer and generally living a fast paced city life.

My creativity suffered once again as a result. I remember towards the end of my time in London visiting the Natural History Museum in Kensington one Saturday and spending the entire day learn-ing abut the fascinating history of plants and animals around the world and gathering inspiration. Following this museum visit and using the same method I’d thought myself in college, I created my first Dotti Was A Deer collection in my spare time. It was around that time that the penny dropped and I realised (once again) that I needed to live in nature and let it dictate the shape of my work. And so in late 2012 I moved back to Ballyhaise, Co Cavan. A walk in Ballyhaise shortly after I ar-rived home inspired and give shape to my second collection.

Now let me show you examples of my work spanning from 2012 until present day. I am evolving all the time as an artist and so too are my themes and subjects of investigation. Folklore and research have now become a major part of my practice. However along side this research the complexities of animal and plant life continue to inspire the shape of my artwork.

Picture 1 : A print form my first Dotti Was A Deer 2012 collection, inspired by trip to the natural his-tory museum: Title: Oh Deer: Pen drawing, scanned into and manipulated on photoshop

Picture two pieces from my Different Perspective Collection, influenced by images collected on a Ballyhaise walk. Exhibited With Rianta Art 2013: Left: Bee On Thistle Part 1: Pen and water colour printed onto fabric with hand embroidered detail Right: Old Blue Eyes: Pen, Ink and tea strain prints on onto fabric with hand embroidered detail

My Next collection was my first Solo exhibition in Cavan Johnston Library 2013 “Caught in A loop” was created after a trip to Japan during the famous cherry blossom season. Themes of history and investigation into human behaviour started to appear in this body of work but still my process of go-ing for a walk and gathering in nature was how it all took shape:

See Picture 3: Left: Cherry Blossom Detail 1 Middle: Cherry Blossom Burst RIght: Cherry blossom Detail 2 all are watercolour and pen studies, printed on textiles with hand embroidered detail, frame made form Ashe Tree Trunk

The Hallow - 2014 exhibition launched in Cavan County Museum in collaboration with Cavan paint-er Michelle Harton, was a response to research and collected folklore stories of Co. Cavan. The flora and fauna description in the stories along with visits to story locations dictated the development of the artwork. The stories intertwined with the landscape to create something new.

See Picture 5: Title: Fionn Mc Cools Five Finger ( Shantiman mountain, Castletara) : Pen and wa-tercolour printed on fabric with embroidered detail.

Living thing 2015 - Developing on my ongoing fascination with Plants, Animals and now also hu-mans as living entities. In this body of work I look at shapes and pattern (just like I did in my college days) Every living thing has a shape, a form and a pattern - Humans, plants and animals take on these shapes, patterns and cycles. You can find a shape and pattern in all circles of life: Foetus, Baby, Child, Adolescence, Adult, Old Age. We grow, we peak, we deteriorate and finally, death, the end! Or is it? The mysteries of life within nature.

See Picture 6: The Soul Of The Bee - Pen and watercolour printed on fabric with embroidered de-tail.

Taste Of Cavan 2016 kitchen range: A collection of commercial prints to be launched and sold at Taste of Cavan food festival. Heavily inspired by visuals of local flora and fauna. Secalta Dar Dtalun - Stories of the Ground - An exhibition launched in Ballyhaise Agricultural col-lege in 2017 as part of HerItage week and Creative Ireland. This project was a collaboration with woodworker Joe Doherty and singer song writer Lisa O’Neill. All three of us created art work in re-sponse the natural shape of the Ballyhaise landscape. For my part the work was formed by inter-viewing people who live on this land, gathering history and of course, repeatedly walking the land and responding to the shape on this ancient landscape.

See Picture 7: Circle Of Life

Lastly is my HOME collection, which is still a work in progress. In this project I interview Irish Peo-ple living abroad and we talk about what the word HOME means to them, is it a place? Is it a feel-ing? Nature always seems to appear in the answer.

See picture 8: We’ll dance together until the end

If you would like to view more of my work then check out Dotti Was A Deer on Instagram or Face-book. Jackie O’Neill website is coming soon.

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