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Deborah Donnelly On The Importance Of Art During Lockdown

There's no better time to pick up a paintbrush.

Plus! We're giving one lucky Irish Tatler reader the chance to win a signed print of their choice...

It's safe to say the first lockdown brought out sides of ourselves we never knew. Some discovered a talent for cutting their own hair, some perfected the art that is baking sourdough bread while others set themselves the challenge of running 5k. Granted, when the restrictions were lifted back in June, those bread loaf tins went back to gathering dust in the kitchen cupboard and we practically sprinted to the salons to fix our at-home quarantine disasters. 

But as of October 19, the Irish government implemented level five restrictions mean we were once again confined to our homes.  Despite being over three weeks into the second lockdown, there's still flour on the supermarket shelves. Perhaps it was the copious amounts of freshly baked bread in March or simply that the novelty has just worn off but baking is no longer the answer to lockdown-induced boredom. 

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As we enter what seems to be the millionth weekend of being at home, there is no better time than the present to start a new hobby. Of course, lockdown shouldn’t be a time to put extra pressure on yourself. Forget those plans to write an epic novel and put away those unattainable exercise programmes – times are tough enough out there already. A new hobby, though, is a good way to go. Take art – whether that's painting, drawing, colouring – for example. It can be done from the comfort of your own home, is herald as being therapeutic and is an incredible stress-reliever. 

"Painting is very relaxing, it's like meditation," says Dublin based artist, Deborah Donnelly. "It's easy to be hard on yourself in these times. People are afraid to make mistakes but with art, part of the fun is making mistakes and being messy. It does help bring a sense of calm." 

Deborah Donnelly grew up surrounded by art, as she followed her mother’s footsteps to become an artist. She studied art in NCAD before she headed Stateside to work with an Art Gallery in New York. She later returned to Ireland and can now be found painting her exemplary works in Marlay Park.  "I major in bad art but every now and again I paint a winner," remarks Donnelly. "I can lose myself in my art and I love it. It has helped me get through some testing times and I truly believe expression beats depression."

It's true, experts say creating art - be it painting, sewing or decorating cakes - is one of the best ways we can help our mental while we're stuck at home. Picking up a new creative hobby such as watercolour painting is a great way to practice mindfulness and look after your mental health, while also giving you a sense of accomplishment. The best bit? It’s easy to get started. 

And to help with just that, we asked Donnelly to give us her top tips on getting started with painting, no matter what your skill level. From the paints and brushes you’ll need to finding ideas and inspiration, here’s everything you need to know.

how to paint: a beginner's guide

Step one: gather the right materials

When it comes to painting, a lot of people are put off by the fancy equipment they beleive they need to get started. But according to Donnelly, "all you need is a nail in the wall and a canvas."  As for what to use on said canvas, it's best to experiment with different mediums to see what works for you. "I use oils as I find them the best to work it. They stay wet for about a week or two meaning I can constantly re-work pieces. That said, water-based paints are great for if you're just starting out and especially if you have young kids!" says Donelly. If watercolour is the medium you chose, Donelly recommends investing in a watercolour sketchpad. 

Step two: source the best tools

Once you've got all your paint and canvas selected, the next step is aiding yourself with the best tools. "The brush is your best tool," advises Donelly. "You can spend €60 on a really good quality brush and it will last you years - you just have to look after it." To do so, Donelly recommends cleaning the brush well, ensuring no paint is left on the bristles. Then, put some washing up liquid onto the brush and wrap it in tissue.

Step three: decision time

Often the hardest thing to do when it comes to painting is deciding what to paint. "It's always hard to start painting, it's even harder to decide what to paint," says Donelly. "Never paint from a photo. Try and get out and sketch a flower to start with or stare at your hands and toes, they are good subjects."

Step four: go for it

Once you've decided on what you're going to paint, the next step is diving straight in. "Just make the time and give it a go," says Donelly. "Get art books from the library and start saving some of your favourite artist's work. Surround yourself with art and eventually, you will feel more confident using colours." And speaking of confidence with colours, "never ever use black paint when you're a beginner. Black can easily ruin a painting. Instead, mix together three colours you've used in your painting to make a far nicer shade of black that will be easy to work with."

Step five: make mistakes

Unlike most aspects of our daily lives, art encourages making mistakes. "I constantly make mistakes," says Donelly. "I major in bad art but every now and again I paint a winner. For me, mistakes add texture to the canvas. The thicker the paint, the more mistakes I made. Mistakes make you better!"


Once you paint your first picture, you won't be able to stop - trust us. So why not hang your very own gallery wall? To get you started, we've teamed up with Deborah Donelly to give one lucky Irish Tatler reader the chance to win a framed signed print of their choice. Simply answer the question below to enter: 

Main image by @deborahdonnellyart on Instagram

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