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'All the artists I know also have part-time jobs' - Kathy Tynan on the 'juggling act' of an artist's life

Kathy Tynan (34) is an artist. She studied at NCAD and currently has a residency at the RHA. She likes painting urban scenes with an offbeat angle. Born in Kilkenny, Kathy lives in Drumcondra, Dublin, with her dog, Kipper


Kathy Tynan (34) has a residency at the RHA.

Kathy Tynan (34) has a residency at the RHA.

Kathy Tynan (34) has a residency at the RHA.

I get up at 7.30am, and even earlier in summer. At the moment, I live in Drumcondra.

I've got a little terrier, Kipper, and I go for walk or a run with him. I run in a big field near the Tolka River. Kipper dictates a lot of my work.

I got him eight years ago. It was at a time when I was in between things. I'd just finished a master's in writing, and I was going down the art-criticism route. I had lost confidence in my practice. I couldn't see the point of being an artist. Then I got my friend to write a short story about my work, as opposed to a catalogue. That, along with the dog, gave me the confidence to go back to painting.

I started to understand my place in the world as an artist. I realised that it's OK to do whatever you feel like doing, and you don't have to have huge justifications for everything. You can actually look at things and make work from them. The act can be quite simple.

Walks are really important to me, and my dog really helps me because you are looking at the world in an unbiased way. Sometimes he will stop and look at something, so you are not going around with this purely adult-focused gaze.

I come home, have breakfast - boiled eggs and toast, and coffee - and then I walk to work. This is even more purposeful than the morning dog walk. I walk to the RHA. It's an amazing walk, and you see the city change and the buildings and the textures. The light is even different.

It's not that I'm trying to find things to paint, but my brain is relaxed. Sometimes I am listening to music or podcasts, or just half-listening, but it gets me into this relaxed state.

I have this residency here in the RHA for six months. I'm here until September, and then I have a show in the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery. I start at 10am. I procrastinate a lot, and I have to force myself to start painting. It's odd, because painting is my happiest thing to do. And I'm so happy afterwards, especially if it has gone well. I paint until lunchtime.

Sometimes I'll have something lined up, but then I might have seen something that morning. So I paint the freshest thing in my mind, the thing that I'm most excited about. It might have been a detail of a wall, or a weed, or a tree. It's always part of my everyday environment, which is usually an urban domestic environment.

I like to stay as true as possible to what I've seen. It's about the feeling of the moment and the energy of the moment. I like it to be close to the experience, time-wise. It's not about imagination; rather, it's about engaging with the world and celebrating that. And that doesn't mean it's always happy.

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On my walks, something will catch my eye. It is usually something a bit offbeat, something that doesn't fit in with the rest of the pattern. I might be looking at houses that are built in the same way, or windows, and minor variations within that pattern. I might do a painting of a house, but there is nearly always nature involved as well. That gives it movement.

I paint a cherry-blossom tree every year, and I always listen to Nirvana as I paint it. It's contrasting energies and new life. It's probably my favourite day of the whole painting year. But I restrict myself to one a year, because pink flowers are kind of dangerous for a woman painter; too girlie.

As an artist, I really like oil on canvas. It kind of allows for more mistakes, and layers, and wobbly lines, and the smell is lovely. I'll stop for lunch, but overall I paint about six hours a day.

I always wanted to be an artist. I was forever drawing and painting. When I was a kid, my mum asked me if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, to which I replied, 'I'm already an artist'. My whole family is creative. My mam is a playwright and psychotherapist, and my dad is an interior designer. They have always encouraged me to do what I love.

I've heard that you have to give yourself 10 years to be an artist. I left college 10 years ago, and I'm still at it. All the artists I know also have part-time jobs. It's a juggling act. Sometimes I teach, and do workshops. Recently I was doing children's portraits in the Ark [children's cultural centre in Dublin]. That was great fun.

I've done residencies abroad. That is very enriching. I've been in Paris and Iceland. I love being away, and I get inspired by my landscape. There wasn't much rough-and-ready graffiti in Paris, so I ended up painting within the museums. I didn't like Iceland as much as Dublin. Reykjavik was like a perfect toy town. It made me realise that I need a bit of grit.

After these trips, I come home refreshed, and I look at Dublin with fresh eyes. I was always like this. Even as a kid, I loved returning from holidays abroad.

One of the hardest things about being an artist is that people don't realise that you are working very hard all the time. It's not like a nine-to-five job, and you feel guilty when you are not doing things. I find it hard to take time off, but I try to take Sundays off so I can join in everyday life with everyone else.

After work, I like to go to exhibitions. It gives me a chance to catch up with other artists. And if the tide is in, I might head out for a swim at Seapoint.

If I'm happy with my work, I'll get a great night's sleep, but if it's been a non-inspiring period, then I'll dream about making work. So something is always happening, whether I'm awake or asleep.



In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Kathy Tynan's exhibition opens on September 5 at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin 8

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