Alison O’Donoghue – Contemporary Folk Artist

A great day for Portland artist Alison O’Donoghue begins in her studio at 9:00 a.m. where she spends a lot time drawing in her sketchbooks. “Whatever I’m doing here (in my sketchbook) I’m putting into a painting in my mind,” she explains. “I often have an image in my head and create a lot of guidelines for the painting. The shapes, sizes, and colors might be in my head already.”

When O’Donoghue was a child, she discovered her talent for drawing. After moving around Portland and changing schools multiple times, the one stable part of her life became her artwork. There wasn’t much time to establish friendships or connections in school because before long she’d be at a new school. “It forced me into my internal self by not having a support system,” O’Donoghue says.

Out of all that solitude and drawing, O’Donoghue became a prolific artist. She went on to art school at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and focused on sculpture. It was the first time she was in a place for an extended period of time and was able to cultivate friendships. The culture and creativity of art school had a valuable impact on her, and she concedes that she wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t been for the experience.

After graduation, she joined a gallery, continuing her sculptural work there. But she soon discovered she wasn’t ready for it. There was a lot of struggling and fumbling while she figured out which direction her art would take. It took about ten years before she came to understand her focus.“But I never stopped,” O’Donoghue says. “That’s the main thing. I never stopped. I was always drawing, drawing, drawing.”

In 1997, she found the clarity she needed and her art shifted toward the work she is now well known for. Her contemporary folk art paintings are vibrant slices of everyday life mixed with the intricacies of our deep inner worlds. O’Donoghue’s child- hood may have been filled with solitude, but her current work is filled with characters, action, and interconnectedness.

While her artwork has hit a nice groove, there is still a lot more O’Donoghue wants to explore. New ideas for paintings are on the list to delve into. Lately, she has been working on several commissioned pieces and is preparing for her March 2016 art show at a gallery in Bellingham, WA. She also has an interest in experimenting with etching. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to fit in everything she has ruminating in her mind and in her sketchbook.

“Nothing inspires me more than just drawing,” she says. “I just love to draw. I’m in love with the pen. It becomes the most important thing to me.”

The tools for drawing are important, but what proves more powerful than the pen is the practice and routine of her drawing time. “Drawing is a direct benefit to my painting,” O’Donoghue says. “It’s like practicing an instrument. The hand is trained. You know where your pen is going; you know where your brush is going.”

About The Author: Kori Hirano

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