Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Artists in Focus: Meet the Dollybirds

Welcome to the first post of Artists in Focus, my brand new blog series. Artists in Focus introduces local artists and designers who work sustainability into their art and showcases their environmentally-friendly creations. Creating sustainable work often involves a great deal of creativity and you may be surprised by how much of it happens right outside your doorstep!

For my first post I had the pleasure of talking to Eimear Maguire, the artist behind the Dollybirds. I met Eimear for a coffee in the bustling Avoca in Belfast's city centre, where a selection of her work is available for sale. When we finally manage to get our cappuccinos and grab a seat, Eimear plunges straight into telling me about the Dollybirds and her inspiration for her work. There is no question as to how much she loves and enjoys her work. It also shows in her creations; Eimear's delicate portraits of native birds perching on branches in front of pastel backgrounds are beautiful to behold.

Having grown-up in a family of artists, drawing, sketching and painting has been part of her life for as long as Eimear can remember. Together with her father and sister, she used to own a gallery space in North Belfast. The inspiration for her work Eimear finds right in her back garden and on her long walks up Cavehill with her dog. "We don't appreciate the wealth of the nature right around us," she says, shaking her head.

So what's sustainable about the Dollybirds? There are a few things actually...

All about the Frames
Rather than framing her originals and prints in new frames, Eimear recycles old, discarded and vintage ones. She sources them from anywhere she can think of; salvage yards, second-hand shops, flea markets, friends and acquaintances. She fixes them up and works on them until they match her Dollybirds. To paint them she uses toxic-free, eco-friendly chalk paint from Annie-Sloan. Having worked with modern frames at the beginning, Eimear finds that she prefers the old frames. "They give character to the birds. They tell a story."

A House for every Bird
To give her birds a home, Eimear has also started to create beautiful bird-houses. She fashions them from reclaimed wood and old floorboards and using the same chalk paint employs a sanding technique to achieve a vintage look. With the native bird population in decline, bird-houses are actually a way to contribute to our birds' survival by providing them with a safe place to nest.
Working with organisations such as Headway and Engage with Age, Eimear also uses the bird-houses in community art workshops she runs with senior citizens and people who have suffered head injuries.

Left and Top: the beautiful Dollybirds display at Avoca, Belfast. 

When I ask what Eimear finds most challenging about her work, she sighs and exclaims: "Time!" Eimear, who trained as a secondary school art teacher, still teaches one day a week. With two young children to look after and the community projects her schedule is full to the brim. She paints when her children are at school and often late into the night. Trying to build a business is not easy even if you have all the time in the world, so Eimear had to be realistic in what she could achieve. "I had to do something that's accessible, something I could do from home."

Despite all the challenges, the Dollybirds have been a huge success. Having only started painting them last year, Dollybird prints and bird-houses are already available in Avoca, as well as in the lovely interior design shop Dandelion Lane in Portadown, the cute Olivia Boutique in Donegal and in My Shop Granny Likes It in Galway. A show of Eimear's work at the John Hewitt has recently finished and when talking to me, Eimear had just sent 17 original Dollybirds to an exhibition in Oxford. But the artist's head is still bursting with ideas and she's currently thinking about branching out  and collaborating with her sister to make aprons and other vintagy household goods. 'Hats off' to Eimear and her Dollybirds is all I can say and I can't wait to see whatever else she creates.

I hope you enjoyed the first Artists in Focus. You can ogle more cute birds on Eimear's website and stay up to date by following her on twitter.

If you're a local artist that creates sustainable work and would like to be featured in Artists in Focus, get in touch here.


  1. Such sweet paintings! Thanks for sharing!
    PS: I just found your blog and love it already :)

    1. Hi Greenaderella,
      Thanks very much! I'm glad you like it! The dollybird paintings are lovely... you can buy them in avoca...