‘Painting just takes your mind off things’

Aisling Hussey

Aisling Hussey had not lifted a paint brush since her Junior Cert; but lockdown has allowed her to explore her artistic streak once again.

Originally from a suckler farm in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, Aisling now works in communications in Dublin and misses her regular weekend trips home with the current restrictions on travel.

“It’s been really strange being away,” she says. “I like being home this time of year because the country is really coming into life and it’s so nice being back there, especially when you don’t have a garden in Dublin. I like Dublin; but it’s the lack of freedom really.”

But having started online art classes with Paintclub.ie, Aisling has found a new way to “escape” the monotony of lockdown life.

The Galway-based company usually runs group events, but since the outbreak of Covid-19, has gone virtual. “I kept meaning to do one of the events in Dublin,” says Aisling, who explains that while she loved art at school, she had let her old hobby slide as life got in the way.

It’s funny. You start it and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m awful!’ and then by the end of it you have something that’s actually lovely

To get going again, Aisling bought a €48 starter kit from Paintclub that included a selection of acrylic paints, brushes, a palette knife, canvases, as well as other basics. This offer also included her first virtual class (normally €10) where all participants follow the teacher via a two-hour tutorial on Facebook Live to create their very own masterpiece.

“It’s step by step, so you tend to start with the white, so you might draw a circle of white and then you might do the sky, so start with the blue and then you’d be layering it,” explains Aisling.

“It’s funny. You start it and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m awful!’ and then by the end of it you have something that’s actually lovely.”

To date, Aisling has completed several paintings, including a Northern Lights-themed picture, a Kerry landscape and a painting of cherry blossoms. While she jokes that she’s “no Picasso”, she has found painting a great method of mindfulness during these challenging times.

I think it’s something I wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for the lockdown

“You’re totally focused on what you’re doing at that time,” she says. “You’re not on Twitter or the RTÉ news app. It just takes your mind off things.”

Indeed, she has since invested in more supplies and says that at the rate she’s going, she’ll have “enough for everyone’s birthdays and Christmas presents.”

“That’s what people will be getting from me from now on!” she laughs.

More importantly, while acknowledging the huge challenges of COVID-19, she is at least grateful for the time she has found for a new hobby.

“I think it’s something I wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for the lockdown,” she says.

“What’s going on is terrible, but it’s a time as well where you can go, ‘What do I really like doing?’ and looking at doing things you enjoy.

“It doesn’t have to be ‘go, go, go’ from home to work and home again. It’s just about trying to find things in your life that you enjoy and that make you happy.”

Dolly Buckley with her great-aunt's tapestry that she finished during lockdown.

‘I love arts and crafts. I’d try my hand at anything’

Dolly Buckley

As an in-demand make-up artist, lockdown has meant that life has really slowed down for Dolly Buckley.

“All my weddings were cancelled, pretty much for the whole year,” says Dolly, who lives on a cattle and tillage farm in Co Offaly with her husband Frank and teenagers Ruby, Tobias and Lydia.

“People are now booking for next year, but it all came in a matter of one week, everything had stopped. I would usually be out on the road a couple of days a week, off to various locations and places to do photoshoots, so to have a very busy life and suddenly everything just stops is a shock to the system and obviously the bank balance.”

I was doing a big ‘sort out’ and I came across it a number of weeks ago and I thought it would be a lovely thing to finish

As a naturally creative person, however, Dolly has found no shortage of projects to tackle close to home, including finally completing a tapestry that was originally started by her great-aunt, Lady Madge Mole in the UK.

“She died in the late 1990s,” explains Dolly. “My mum was clearing through Madge’s things and found the tapestry and knows that I love arts and crafts. I’d try my hand at anything. So she gave it to me; and I had honestly forgotten about it.

“I’ve been living here in Ireland for 20 years. It came over in the packing boxes from London and it’s been in a cupboard for those 20 years. And during lockdown,

“I was doing a big ‘sort out’ and I came across it a number of weeks ago and I thought it would be a lovely thing to finish.”

It’s not the first sewing project that Dolly has undertaken: she began to make upcycled cushions three years ago after Frank bought her a sewing machine from Lidl and previously completed a tapestry of blue tits as a birthday present for her mother. She also knits chunky, colourful scarves for friends and has even run some giveaways via Instagram @makeupbydollyb as a way to cheer people up during lockdown.

However, she believes that this latest project could not have come at a better time.


“I find it very therapeutic. It’s very calming,” says Dolly of the art of tapestry. “I sit on the sofa with my little dog Lottie and I just work away and I can just have a bit of ‘me time’.

“It’s my sort of wind down after a hectic day with three teenagers charging around the farm. Then once I’ve made the dinner and done all the washing up, I just sit quietly and an hour could fly by. You just get so involved.”

And she is “absolutely thrilled” to have completed Madge’s tapestry, which appropriately enough, has a pretty spring floral theme.

It’s just a really lovely thing that reminds me of Madgie; and I hope she’d approve

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to put it in a frame and then I decided actually it would get a lot more use if I put it on to a lovely velvet cushion and it’s now pride of place in our TV room and I love it,” says Dolly.

“It’s just a really lovely thing that reminds me of Madgie; and I hope she’d approve.”

Indeed, she hopes that it will become “a little family heirloom” in time; though is convinced that without the lockdown, it might never have seen the light of day.

“I think it may have sat for another 20 years,” she admits. “I really had sort of forgotten about it, so it was like I found a treasure and I was delighted to have got it finished. I really was.”

Janice Casey Bracken, who has learned to cycle at 37.

‘I’ve finally learned to cycle at 37’

Janice Casey Bracken

As a chef at Dunbrody House Hotel and head tutor at the ICA’s cookery school in An Grianán, lockdown has meant a complete change of pace for Janice Casey Bracken.

“But I think the pressure of being a ‘muinteoir mammy’ is nearly worse than the pressure of a kitchen,” laughs the mom-of-two, who lives in Carrick-On-Suir.

However, the 37-year-old has used her time at home to fulfil a long-held ambition; to learn to cycle before turning 40.

Janice explains that growing up, she never learned to ride a bike because her family lived on a very busy road.

“I was just a little bit hyperactive, I think, and my mother and father probably thought that it wasn’t a great idea to set me off on a bicycle,” she says. “My two sisters learned to cycle and I, being the middle child, didn’t; but they were probably right.”

However, it was really only when her own children, Hannah (14) and Cormac (10), started cycling that it became more of an issue.

“Santy brought them bikes for Christmas and I braved it out into the back garden with them and taught them how to cycle, without them knowing that I couldn’t cycle,” she explains.

I nearly went over the handlebars twice, I crashed into two wheelie bins and my daughter ran inside in shame

“So I kept saying, ‘Before I’m 40 I’m going to learn,’ and I tried several times to learn and it hasn’t been very successful. It’s been quite comical for everybody else, so I just decided during lockdown that I was going to come out with some new talent.”

Starting off on her daughter’s bike, Janice admits there were a few accidents on the way; much to the amusement of her neighbours.

“I kept trying to hold on to the wall with one hand because my balance is horrid and I just couldn’t comprehend how a wheel that small was going to balance me and keep me up,” she says.

“I nearly went over the handlebars twice, I crashed into two wheelie bins and my daughter ran inside in shame!”

However, she explains that the key to finally finding her balance came from her 10-year-old.

“My son cycled beside me and he said: ‘Mammy don’t look at your feet, look ahead,’” she says. “He just kept going, ‘Trust me mammy, it’s ok: if I can do it, you can do it.’”

And having finally conquered her fear, Janice is looking forward to cycling local amenities like The Greenway in Waterford and the Blueway along the River Suir whenever restrictions are finally lifted.

“When the lockdown is over, we’ll be able to do these things as a family,” says Janice. “Before I felt like I’d just be holding them up; but now it’s something we can do together.”

Getting creative during lockdown

1 Take a look at what craft kits can be purchased online, especially from Irish designers.

We love the look of these embroidery kits €30 (pictured) from www.chloejodesigns.com to stitch away a sunny afternoon, while shops such as www.vibesandscribes.ie in Cork have everything from candle making to punch needlecraft sets, as well as sewing, knitting and millinery supplies.

2 Check out what your local museum or arts organisation is up to. For example, the Irish Museum of Modern Art is sharing a #ExploreratHome creative project every Wednesday for children and adults on their social media @Immaireland

3 Time to finally write that novel? The Irish Writers Centre is hosting a range of online workshops and courses. See www.irishwriterscentre.ie

5 Remember that YouTube is a treasure trove of tutorials for honing all sorts of new talents.

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