Mixing science, art and wildlife

Ahead of a premier art fair this weekend, Emma Connolly catches up with West Cork based wildlife artist, Eilbhe Donovan
Mixing science, art and wildlife
Wildlife artist Eilbhe o Donovan WOW Feature

A TALENTED West Cork- based wildlife artist is looking forward to taking flight with her work to the country’s prestigious premier art fair in the RDS this weekend.

ArtSource 2017 runs from November 10 to 12 and features 130 Irish and international artists and galleries showcasing painting, sculpture, photography, illustration, prints and ceramic arts.

Among the exhibitors will be Eilbhe Donovan who works from her garden studio in Lislevane (between Bandon and Clonakilty) overlooking a salt water marsh renowned for its bird life.

Much of her work is inspired by birds and nature in general and herself and her husband share their seaside cottage with a Border Collie, two cats and a bunch of free-ranging hens.

“We did have a guinea fowl called Gerard who used to walk around the village but he got hit by a car while out on patrol one day!” she said.

Wildlife artist Eilbhe o Donovan.
Wildlife artist Eilbhe o Donovan.

Originally from Greystones, Eilbhe has lived all over the world but says Cork has been interwoven in her life for 20 years and has ‘always pulled her back’ and is where she has called home since 2014.

She studied Art & Design in West Wales School of the Arts, majoring in illustration and went on to work as a decorative painter in Dublin, before the recession.

“I adored the work. It was challenging and demanding but I loved every minute. I remember standing on a ladder in a Georgian mansion near Powerscourt in Wicklow in 2007, looking out at the Sugarloaf Mountain, painting giant peonies on a wall and I thought ‘wow, this is amazing!’

“After the recession, I returned to college to do my HDip the Crawford College and worked for three years in Spain, Burma and Germany before returning to West Cork and buying a little cottage by the sea where I currently am, with my husband.”

She works from her garden studio which she says is a ‘special place’: “You can watch buzzards riding the thermals, curlews gather in the southern field by the marsh and we have swans, egrets and herons in the marsh. Down at the beach, there are more seabirds.”

She’s been drawing since she could hold a pencil, although acknowledges it can be difficult to make a living as an artist.

“My parents were amazing and sent me to art classes from the age of six, possibly in order to save their walls (I would draw on any available surface!).

“And I have always loved animals. I always wanted a dog as a child but never had one. I used to walk all the neighbours dogs instead. I remember a friend had a budgie in a cage and I sneaked in the back door one day and opened the cage to free it, thankfully it didn’t fly out and escape.

One of Eilbhe's pieces.
One of Eilbhe's pieces.

“My aunts were always keen birdwatchers and myself and my brother would duly get a BirdWatch Ireland membership for Christmas every year.

“My Nana also had an old bird book with beautiful handpainted bird illustrations in it.

“I used to be fascinated by the Golden Oriole and wish I would get to see one. I am still waiting to see one!”

Eilbhe works mainly in printmaking and ink painting.

“I really enjoy the challenges of printmaking,” she says. “There is a science involved and I love to mix science and art!

“In printmaking, there is a chemical process which bites into the metal plates to create a superfine line.

“I am extremely fastidious and like to create very fine detailed lines.

“Using ink in painting means I can also create similar superfine delicate lines. I use a lot of metal pigments so the work emits a metallic sheen which is not easily reproduced. Bird’s feathers have this same iridescence and I like to try and recreate that.

Another example of Eilbhe's work.
Another example of Eilbhe's work.

“Also, birds have movement and a lightness about them — they are so small and delicate yet resilient and graceful. I like to try to recreate that small perfection.”

She’s looking forward to ArtSource — which she describes as a ‘big event’ — but has exhibited in various group and solo shows previously. Most recently she worked on a Cork County Arts funded project in West Cork’s Barryroe NS.

“We did a project in Cyanotype, which is a form of photography. I combined the science aspect of the project with the design as I think design and science together make for amazing unlimited creations!

“I believe that students need to understand that the two are not at all mutually exclusive, in fact when combined, one can create magic.

“The students made their own darkroom and mixed up the iron salts themselves. Their images were incredibly haunting; beautiful and esoteric. The project culminated in an exhibition in the Skylight Gallery in Bandon.”

Eilbhe’s work starts at €35 and goes up to €2000; she’s open to commissions and also runs art classes and workshops for both kids and adults in Timoleague Community Hall.

See Seven Heads Studio on Facebook for more.

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