CORK artist and educator, Hilary O’Mahony, carries two heavy wooden boxes to Ballincollig’s Tesco, every weekend. Inside the boxes sit hundreds of colour pencils, markers and glue sticks waiting to be put to work by dozens of tiny hands.
The 30-year-old artist is the founder of a children’s art programme called Little Fine Artists, aimed at encouraging creativity in Cork’s young boys and girls.
Her students range from enthusiastic four-year-olds with large probing eyes, to shy and attentive ten-year-olds whose quiet presence, among boisterous cheers, offers a sense of balance to her classes.
On weekends, Hilary holds her workshops inside a tiny glass box designated for community work at Ballincollig’s Tesco, where her students create original artwork to the sound of Rock and Roll music.
Other times, she rents a small space for €30 an hour at Carrigaline Community Complex or holds workshops at Beaumont and Togher Girls Schools in the city.
The young art teacher cannot afford a permanent facility to hold her workshops at, however, she draws energy from seeing her students’ cheerful faces every day.
“It’s kind of our thing,” she says.
Hilary, who often reminds her students that rules don’t belong to her classes, studied Sculpture in Dublin, and worked in a Schools and Teachers programme in London for four years. She also worked as a freelance creative artist in Manchester for two years.
In 2017, the artist headed homeward and decided to merge her experience in working with youth, with her years of creative art-making, to teach imaginative art to Cork children. The result was Little Fine Artists.
“I’ve always been drawn to working with kids, even when I was in college, I would always run local sessions with kids in my community,” Hilary says.
She let her imagination run wild as a child, came up with themes and made birthday cards and ‘party hats’ for her family and friends — it was a childhood with a sparkle of magic that she wants Cork children to experience.
“I think my own childhood inspires me to work with young people now,” she says. “I like to promote the magic I knew growing up.”
When Hilary holds her classes at Ballincollig’s Tesco, shoppers watch her little fine artists with curiosity, and some later drop by to see if they can enrol their own children.
“A lot of parents have told me that they found it very hard to find art classes suitable for their kids in Cork, which I thought was very interesting,” Hilary says.
“Little Fine Artists is not about coming along and developing a particular skill, it’s more of a creative space, a place for kids to experiment with their ideas.”
I joined Hilary and her mini artists on a recent Saturday in Ballincollig.
Girls dominate Hilary’s classes, but the boys in her workshop also seemed utterly engrossed in their work.
Ronan Ó Mathúna, an eight-year-old boy, put down his colour markers at my request, and sat upright for a short conversation.
He loves the creative nature of Hilary’s classes.
“I love it because you can do whatever your mind asks you to, it’s great,” he says.
“I tried drawing when I was two, and I loved it. I do it all the time, when I’m at home, I draw all the time, and my parents say ‘Oh no, not drawing, you always do it.’”
Ronan describes Hilary as a ‘nice and always positive teacher’.
Sophie O’Brien, seven, who was busy making autumn-inspired artwork while laying down on her side, says ‘making stuff is fun’.
“I like the class because we do all different types of art.
“When I was three, I started drawing, and the first thing I drew was a rainbow,” she says giggling.
Isobel, an eight-year-old, says she was ‘very small’ when she first took an interest in art.
She says she likes her teacher and making art.
Hilary’s students remind each other that there is no rule if someone asks for a specific guideline.
“There is only one,” a tiny voice from the back of the room says.
“What is it?” Hilary asks, intrigued.
“Drawing,” a little girl answers.
“That is not really a rule,” Ronan responds to everyone’s delight.
Hilary thinks her younger students who are yet to reach school age respond better to the no- rule nature of her class.
“I think because there are lots of rules when you go to school, the older ones can be a bit confused at first,” she reasons.
Hilary hopes that her classes will be useful for children who don’t even want to be artists, as she considers creativity a requisite for pursuing any career.
“The great thing about art and using your imagination, is that when you use your imagination, you’re thinking for yourself, you try your own ideas, and if you fail it doesn’t matter because you can always try a different idea,” she says.
The young art teacher says she plans to apply for funding to the council and dreams of having a permanent, comfortable space for her students.
“As you can see, there is no sink here for children to wash their hands after working with glue and markers, and if they need to use the toilets, they have to be taken to Tesco’s toilets,” she says.
For more about the Little Fine Artists programme call Hilary at 085-1442823 or see Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/littlefineartists/