Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Lorna Farrell and I am a watercolour painter from Moate in Co Westmeath.
A country girl, I spent my childhood in the fields or drawing at the kitchen table.
The natural world, with its birds and wildlife and the changing seasons, have always interested me and feature largely in my work.
My artistic endeavours were briefly left to one side when I finished school and completed a BA in history and archaeology in NUI Galway and later an MA in local history from NUI Maynooth.
I started working in the public library service in Westmeath in 2004 and the books I am surrounded by every day are another huge source of inspiration.
When did you set up your business and why?
Coming back to art in my 20s, I curated and participated in several group exhibitions in my home town, before exhibiting in a solo show in Lowe and Co Café in Athlone in March 2018.
From this show, I was commissioned to do a series of works based on the suppliers to one of Athlone's finest eateries - Thyme Restaurant.
This was a wonderful project celebrating growers, farmers and food producers. My work is seen in the Fatted Calf restaurant in Athlone and also in Custom Cuts hair salon in Athlone.
Even at this stage, I saw my artwork as a hobby. During COVID, with a lot more time on my hands, I was asked to paint a dog that had passed away for his heartbroken owner.
I had often painted pets for friends of mine or little animal pieces as presents for new homes and new babies.
I posted a photo to my Facebook page and suddenly I was taking orders on a daily basis. I used my social media pages to advertise my work and the orders kept coming.
I signed up to a start your own business course through my local enterprise office, rebranded as Lorna Farrell Art and haven't looked back since.
I still work in the library, but spend almost as much time in my wooden studio in my garden, painting.
Can you explain your process?
If I have undertaken a pet commission, I ask the owner to send some good-quality photographs. I spend quite a bit of time sketching and planning how I will capture the spirit and character of the animal.
Only when I am happy with the drawing do I start painting. This for me is the most daunting part and where it can, and often has, gone horribly wrong.
In those cases, I start the whole process again until I am entirely happy with the piece.
I paint with watercolours, sometimes using ink and gouche paint to accentuate specific features.
I let the piece dry, sometimes adding the name of the pet to the mount before framing it.
I have used Strand Framing in Co Cork for many years. Their limed timber frames are good quality and suit my colourful creations perfectly.
At present, I am preparing for an exhibition in Portumna Castle gallery in August and am full of ideas and plans.
Preparing for my own show allows more creativity than the commissioned pieces and I have focused on my beloved birds, as well as woodland animals.
I also have a huge interest in the Irish landscape and its changes over the years and throughout the seasons too. Castles, abandoned homesteads and other landmarks will feature in the exhibition.
What is your best seller?
Aside from dog commissions, which take up most of my working day, my robin giclée prints are probably my best seller. People also love foxes. I have painted a number over the years and they have always sold out.
I have been commissioned to paint a number of cows also - with winning rosettes included! I can never guess what will appeal to people, which keeps me on my toes.
My blank greeting cards are also popular, featuring Irish birds and wildlife and are hand-tied with ribbon, feathers and dried lavender. It's the little touches that make all the difference.
What is it about your business that brings you joy?
Without trying to sound sentimental - I can't quite believe that I have created a business from doing what I love. It never feels like work.
I love every part of the process - the planning, the drawing, the painting, to adding the whimsical final splashes of paint.
I still feel anxious before handing over every commission and am a nervous wreck before unveiling a new exhibition. They are good nerves though!
Every sale, however small, is important to a business like mine. I love receiving photographs of the dogs I have painted beside their portraits! It’s usually a sign of a happy customer- canine and human.
The same people contact me every November looking for the year's Christmas card collection and that is such a lovely feeling. It's something I will never take for granted and it makes the long nights tying cards together with twine and feathers worthwhile.
What are your hopes for 2023?
I started 2023 hoping it would be as successful as last year and, so far, it has surpassed all expectations. I have cards and prints stocked in Split Space Art Joint in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and The Cat and the Moon in Sligo and the pet commissions are flying in.
I have a new range of greeting cards almost ready to be printed and I am busily preparing for my exhibition in the autumn. It will run from 6-31 August and will be launched by Leitrim poet Stephen Murphy. The exhibition is called Fading Light and I am already excited about it.
Most importantly, I am loving every minute spent in my studio. The Claud Monet quote springs to mind: 'I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it.’
What advice would you give to another start-up business?
Start small. Use your contacts, talk to people who are already in your line of work and listen to them - they have made all the mistakes already.
I have found other artists, crafters and small business owners to be hugely supportive. Support other small and local business people.
When you are in a bind and need something printed or framed in a hurry, it always helps to have a local company you can call on.
I'm definitely a believer in karma - be nice to your customers, your suppliers, your stockists and other business owners and it will come back in spades.
You don't need a massive body of work and a fancy website straight away. Use social media and use it wisely - like all aspects of the job, you need to be consistent with it.
Most importantly though, if you are starting a new business, make it one you are passionate about. Throw yourself into it fully, immerse yourself in the creative process, for if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life!
You can find me @LornaFarrellArt on Facebook and Instagram.