Interview with Kiwi artist, Bella Mary O’Mahony

One serendipitous aspect of the business rebranding process was the realisation that I cannot just rely on others to grow my business. Though support is essential and always grateful received, it is up to me to leave my cosy ‘hobbit hole’ and promote my own work. However, I realised that we are a community, and I can also support others, and promote their work, which is why my blog will now include a new feature: interviews!

I am excited and delighted to interview Kiwi artist, Bella, of Bella Mary O’Mahony Illustration.

Bella Mary O’Mahony

Hi Bella. Thank you for your willingness to share your art journey with our readers.

I was very taken with your realistic depictions of nature in your artwork and have so enjoyed following you on Instagram. I love your delicate botanical watercolour paintings.

What is your background?

I’ve lived in Dunedin most of my life. My mother and older sister are artists, so I grew up surrounded by art, colour, pattern and endless inspiration.

After I left school, I went to art school for a while, dabbled in university and ended up training and working as a hairdresser until the end of 2019.

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I was on maternity leave from hairdressing when my brother asked me to do some drawings for him. I hadn’t done any drawing for a while after dropping out of art school but enjoyed it so much I kept doing it in my spare time once I went back to work at the salon. I started doing more commissions and eventually got to the point where I was getting burnout from keeping up with them all alongside hairdressing and parenting, so made the exciting/scary decision to leave the salon and put all my energy into art.

What inspires your work?

There are specific colours and combinations of those colours that give me no end of inspiration. I love gardening and choosing paint colours for the house and furnishings, I get so much satisfaction in surrounding myself in colours that I adore. I think my paintings are an extension of that. I just want to look at them and have the simple pleasure of admiring a beautiful portrayal of nature in an incredible palette.

What is your greatest challenge as an artist?

My greatest challenge is having so much motivation and excitement to work but being unable to find as much time as I would like whilst also being a busy mum to a 3-year-old!

I really identify with you there. I am not a mum, but I tutor children and I know that two or three lifetimes would not be enough to paint or embroider all my inspirations.

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I don’t have too much struggle with that, as I mentioned above. If I had all the time in the world I might but because I have to schedule my time around my busy life I really cherish and look forward to any time I get to paint.

What are your thoughts about using social media to expose your work?

I’m a massive fan! As an awkward introvert, I absolutely embrace sharing my work from the comfort of my home. I’m constantly blown away with the support and real connections you can make on there.

Same here!

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only take your most necessary art materials, what would they be?

A notebook and travel watercolour palette.

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Enjoy yourself. Don’t let the business side of things take away from the joy of making art. Just follow your enthusiasm and you’ll attract likeminded people.

So true. Good artwork is its own best advertisement.

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

I’m painting some incredible parrot tulips.

I can’t wait to see this painting. It is so beautiful.

If we return to being stranded on a desert island, please share your favourite book, movie, food and music, if you could take these with you.

Book – ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

Not a movie but the BBC ‘Pride and Prejudice’ miniseries.

Food – macaroni cheese – I’m a simple girl.

Music – probably something classical like Debussy that wouldn’t get on my nerves too much if I’m going to be stuck there a while.

I have put ‘The Shipping News on my ‘must read’ list (although it will probably be via audiobook while I am painting or sketching).

What is your favourite animal and plant?

Animal – all the birds (is that cheating?)

Nope! Every bird is an amazing inspiration for an artist.

Plant- Hellebore (at this particular moment)

We noticed some really unusual hellebore colours this season. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens has an amazing display of hellebores.

Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself and your work. It has been fantastic chatting to you. Where can we see more of your work, Bella?

Please check out Bella’s Instagram profile and follow her.

Check out next month’s blog. I will be interviewing Carey Knox, a herpetologist.

Until next time…


My Favourite Skillshare Teachers – Part Two: Ana Victoria Calderon

Dream Pony - 72 dpiLast month I reviewed Nina Rycroft’s amazing Skillshare courses. This month I am thrilled to share how much I enjoyed Ana Victoria Calderon’s Skillshare courses. This blog is briefer, so for those of you, who are frantically busy during the Christmas/New Year’s break, this blog will be a quicker read for you than my blogs are normally.

Despite painting with watercolours for several years, I was not at all happy with how my work was looking. I read several books, but my work continued to be unsatisfactory. I found Ana on Skillshare, and loved how bright and clear her watercolour paintings were, so I thought maybe some of her skill could rub off on me…and it did!

  1. Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level

I figured, since I had paid a Skillshare subscription, I might as well start with her beginner watercolour course, ‘Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level’. This course forced me to go back to the basics, and I learnt some use tricks.

In this course, Ana explains transparency, graduation, the need for improving fine motor skill precision for tiny lines and marks, and creating texture using bleach, ink and salt.

There is no harm in advanced watercolours working through this course. It is a good reminder of basic skills, and also reveals the areas that can always be improved.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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  1. Watercolor Mixing, Finding Your Color Identity

I loved this course. Prior to this course, colour theory was theory only to me. This course taught me how to implement colour theory. In the course Ana covered:

  1. Primary, secondary and tertiary colours.
  2. The Traditional (red, yellow, blue) and Modern (magenta, yellow, cyan) colour wheels. I was delighted Ana covered this, because my colour theory books did not, and I was fed-up with producing colours that were not vibrant. A word of warning: it is not true that you can mix ANY colour from a basic palette! I found this out the hard way. You can mix a lot of colours, but not all. Developing an understanding of the Traditional vs. Modern colour wheels takes a lot of frustration out of colour mixing.
  3. Warm and cool colours
  4. Complementary colours
  5. Analogous colours
  6. Working with lighter colours
  7. Colour temperature
  8. Monochromatic colour
  9. Intuitive colour mixing
  10. Creating a personal colour palette.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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I became a convert to employing colour theory in my illustrations, as result of doing this colour theory course. In fact, I started experimenting and reading up on even more advanced colour theory. I find the subject fascinating and feel that many people are as confused as I was, and colour theory really needs to be taught while giving the students the opportunity to implement what they have learnt. Ana’s course provides this breeding ground for growth and experimentation.

  1. Watercolour Textures

I was itching to do this course. It was so worthwhile!

Ana also introduced other illustrators, who I now enjoy following on Instagram, and I learnt how to tackle lots of detail in a controlled environment.

I cannot recommend Ana’s courses enough. I cannot wait to do more of her courses in the future.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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The primary rule I have taken away with me is: Thoroughly dry layers before painting the next. I am a very impatient person, so this rule is always a challenge for me, but onward and upward!

Ana has just released her first book:

Creative Watercolour - A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Ana reiterates, in this book, that she paints in a more illustrative style, which makes this book, and her Skillshare courses invaluable for watercolour illustrators. I loved the book, even though it covered a lot of her course material on Skillshare. It is really cool having, at my finger-tips, an excellent resource to refer to, and more importantly, a constant tool for inspiration.

If you are not on Skillshare, you could try reading Betty Edward’s ‘Color’ and Danielle Donaldson’s ‘The Art of Creative Watercolor’. I have found both these books very inspiring and helpful.

My watercolour style is very different to Ana, but I learnt so much from these courses.

I am very much looking forward to next month’s blog. I will be reviewing my new Mijello Mission Gold Pure Pigment watercolours. I am super excited about this blog and about these watercolours. So, if you are interested in expanding your watercolour palette, or you are thinking of buying your first set of watercolours, WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!!

Another big announcement: I will be starting to blog every fortnight! Yip! A while ago, a writing friend suggested that I review children’s books, discussing the cognitive aspects of them for parents and teachers. I will do my best to keep on top of the blogs and bring them out on the 12th (children’s book blog) and 24th (illustration blog) of each month. That is one of my New Year’s resolutions. The other is going sugar free! I eat little sugar anyhow, but I do want to cut it out completely.

Until next time…