Kathleen Davis – Ceramist from nearby Inishnee

I wrote this article about a good friend of mine who lives in Connemara and I’d like to include it here on my blog. You can also read this feature in the June edition of the Connemara Journal.



Kathleen Davis is a native of Inishnee, a small island across the bay from Roundstone. She is the artist and businesswoman behind the ‘Little Handmade Button Company,’ which operates in the village of Recess in Connemara.

Kathleen believes she inherited her love of craft from her parents – her father Pat Davis is a respected traditional Irish boat builder and her mother Bridie is a farmer and a community activist who inspired Kathleen with her strong work ethic.

Kathleen discovered clay at an early age while visiting local Roundstone potters Rose O’Toole and Seamus Laffin. She went on to study ceramics at the Limerick College of Art but returned to Connemara shortly afterwards, a place which she describes as part of being, the source of her artistic inspiration and her happiness.

The Button Company is designed to fit around family life – Kathleen lives and works in Recess with her husband Mark Joyce and their two young daughters Sadie and Alice. Kathleen goes to work each day in her studio which is located on the first floor of their family run craft shop ( Joyce’s of Recess ) where each button is carefully formed and glazed by hand. The buttons are transported on shelves which are slotted straight into the kiln in a nearby building.


Kathleen in her studio

Kathleen’s studio in Recess



Unpacking the kiln

Unpacking the kiln



Kathleen uses high fired stoneware and some porcelain and coloured clays. The button range is available in a choice of colours and there are also mixed packs in different colours and shapes. The buttons are packaged on site and sold in the craft shop downstairs. The business is small and perfectly formed and is ideal for expansion as family life permits. Kathleen combines her Connemara collection with a number of bespoke buttons which she makes for Irish knitwear designers – ‘The combination is satisfying and manageable with a young and busy household’ she explains.


Close up of buttons

Close up of buttons



When I ask Kathleen about artists she admires, she mentions Galway ceramist Katherine West and sculptor Dorothy Cross as well as Belfast born John Kindness and his use of greek imagery on industrial objects. Kathleen collects art books of all kinds and she likes to display an open book in her hallway for inspiration and as a conversation piece with her girls. I ask Kathleen what is the best advice she has been given as an artist and she tells me that she was once urged not to leave it any longer than three months without creating something, because we must ‘fan the flames of creativity in order for it to flourish.’  I ask what advice Kathleen might give to an aspiring artist and she replies ‘work as consistently as possible and enjoy it!’

You can purchase Kathleen’s buttons at Joyces Craft shop in Recess and you can contact The Button Company at 095-34604

Painting 2016

2016 has been a year of false starts and I have found it difficult to settle into a good working routine. I messed up a couple of paintings early in the year and it was all the harder to get back. There is always a countless number of tasks to hoover up my time when I allow them to. Then there were the usual winter related flus and viruses, one particularly nasty one has just made it’s way through three members of the family, myself included and here we are it’s May already.

If I have learned one thing over the past few months, it is that I need to allocate some time every week to painting and stick to it. Then I must use the time as efficiently as possible. I cleared out my painting studio a couple of weeks ago and this helped to make a fresh start. For me, it’s a question of focus and confidence. I visualise what I want to do and then I set about getting it down on canvas. I don’t worry too much about making mistakes, I just keep going until the painting is finished and it is usually fairly clear to me when I can’t do any more with a piece.

The inspiration for this painting came from a photo I took near Maam Cross in January. I used this image for the basic composition – the large mountain in the background, the strong cleft through the landscape and the swirling grasses.


Near Maam Cross



This is how the piece started out. I took the photo late at night so there’s some reflection. I thought afterwards that the mountain looked a bit too like Eyre’s Rock so I scaled it down a bit at the next stage.


First stage of painting



This next stage is interesting because the inks and paint are still very wet – the ink has bubbled where I’ve applied it. I’ve put in lots of contrast – blue to dampen down the background and dark brown to highlight the blue channel and some shadows in the grasses. I’ve tried to introduce lots of movement in these grass shapes with each application of colour.


Second stage of painting



This photo was taken once the paint had dried. The colours have died down, although the movement is still there. At this point, the piece is almost ready for varnishing.


process 3



I added some red paint in a few places before varnishing as I felt it needed a bit of warmth. I’m happy with this one and glad to be back to work.


DSCF3045 (2)

In Conversation with Mary Donnelly

Cover Image – ‘Sweet Song of Spring’ by Mary Donnelly

(This article will feature in the February edition of the Connemara Journal, out shortly.)


Mary Donnelly has lived and worked as an artist in Connemara for most of her adult life. She has received many accolades throughout her career, among them the Oriel Gallery Award for a landscape of distinction at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2004. She also received the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2013 and she has had solo shows in Dublin, Australia and New York. Her most recent show was in the Paul McKenna gallery in Omagh last autumn.

Originally from County Louth, Mary uprooted her painting studio from Dublin’s Temple bar in 1991 in search of a new landscape.  She found in Connemara ‘a place of extreme weather and sublime beauty,’ conditions that would combine to feed her artistic practice here for the next quarter of a century. Mary takes her inspiration from the contours of Connemara, often seeking out quieter places – a small copse or field, rather than the dramatic mountainous peaks you might usually associate with the West of Ireland. Mary describes her landscapes as ‘groundless’ and many appear to exist without a distinct skyline or depth of field in the traditional sense. More significant for Mary is the metaphor this provides for an exploration of the transcendent nature of landscape. She views the line of the horizon as a sacred place where Heaven and Earth come together. The surface of her paintings appear suffused with a silvery light, the half-light of winter, Mary’s favourite season of the year. It is under this delicate film, that the land and it’s timeless mysteries are revealed – the hidden furrows of another era or the gentle arch of an animal grazing, as animals have grazed here for centuries.


Dusk, Cow with Calf by Mary Donnelly

‘Dusk, Cow with Calf’ by Mary Donnelly



In some paintings, the activity of man is evident in the form of a telegraph pole or the faint outline of a building, but it is always unobtrusive. Others paintings contain an object within the work – a wire strung across the canvas might indicate a fence. Mary explains that the external nature of the additional material may serve as a gateway or threshold for the viewer.


Frosted Darkness by Mary Donnelly

‘Frosted Darkness’ by Mary Donnelly



The poetry of Patrick Kavanagh was an early influence and Mary cites the poems ‘March’ and ‘Wet Evening in April’ especially.  The lines from ‘March’ continue to resonate with her most current work –


‘There’s a wind blowing

Cold through the corridors,

a ghost-wind..


( Patrick Kavanagh 1904 – 1967 )


Other artistic influences include the sepia water colours of Victor Hugo, the light filled landscapes of J.W.M. Turner and the work of contemporary American artist Lawrence Carroll.

Music fills Mary’s studio, helping her to focus. Currently she is listening to ‘Stabat Mater’ by Italian composer Agostino Steffani and the music of contemporary mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. Mary quotes the words of William Blake who said that poetry, painting and music are ‘the three powers in man of conversing with paradise’

Most of the paintings are worked on for several months at a time, in some cases up to a year. Each begins with a drawing and layers are built up slowly and carved away to create the sense of a surface that has been revealed. Mary tells me that the best advice she has been given in relation to her art is to hold on to the adage to ‘never give up.’ I ask what advice she might give to aspiring artists and she replies; ‘to understand that being an artist is a privilege and to always remember that you are a seeker of truth.’


Mary’s work may be viewed in Clifden at the Lavelle Art Gallery or online at www.lavelleartgallery.ie






December Paintings

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my painting and this is largely because I haven’t done a lot of studio work since September. This combined with the fact that our computer hard drive broke down, so I can’t process my photos as I normally would. Life has been been demanding in all sorts of ways since September that I could not have predicted. I have found myself embroiled in a variety of matters associated with a number of committees and other groups that have taken up far too much of my time and energy. My resolution for the new year is clear – I’m not going to take on any more battles and I am going to spend a lot more time painting. How wonderfully simple is that?

Getting back to being creative after an intensive period of work is always difficult and I think that there is a natural cycle of creativity – a time for industry and inventiveness and a time to slow down and prepare for the next busy period. I feel like I am somewhere in between at the moment as I am thinking about my next body of work but also keen to finish some pieces before Christmas.  We sold the last of my seascapes a couple of weeks ago in our gallery and this has forced me to focus my attention in this direction. I wanted to make some winter seascapes, dark brooding ones that reflect the weather at the moment which is stormy and unpredictable. I imagine myself out at sea reaching back towards a shadow of land in the distance and in another piece, the sky is the dominant feature, broiling and curling over the waves beneath. Here’s a few photos – the quality isn’t great as I took them with my phone.



Wild Sea

I’ve kept this image small as it is slightly out of focus and this is accentuated when it is reproduced larger – insert another pledge for the new year – sort out my computer!



Seascape with wild sky



Both of these pieces were worked over a relatively short period. I find that the work improves as I gain confidence with my ability to express a mood as freely as possible and this often happens during short energetic bursts of work. If I get bogged down in technicalities, the paintings lose this energy. I need to give myself permission  to be in the landscape ( or seascape ) while I am working and to feel what it is like to be there. This might sound like fancy, but it is simply where I am at the moment with this work.

Of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Photography by Mark Furniss

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, caught up in catching up since my exhibition in September. Fortunately I have the Connemara Journal to bring me back to writing and this piece is in the the current November edition. It reflects what we have been seeing here in Connemara for the past few weeks, although we have had some wintry moments since. Today I’m looking out at clear skies and cool sun and I’m glad of it. I will post about my painting soon.  Continue reading

Exhibition – Clifden Arts Week

My studio has been slowly filling up with paintings for my forthcoming exhibition for Clifden Arts week 2015. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to focus the mind and I’ve been taking advantage of any free time available to get some work done. Continue reading


It’s been a busy few weeks and I am looking forward to having more time very soon – school starts in about two weeks and I will soon finish my part time job which will have lasted almost eight weeks. In the meantime, I’ve been burning the midnight oil at the studio in an effort to get some work together for my next series of paintings. Continue reading

The Clearing

Summer is always busy in Clifden and this year is no exception, in spite of the atrocious weather. There is a multitude of demands – children to be occupied, ferried around, fed and watered ( yes the basics, ) gallery business to be attended to, a new part time summer job ( teaching art at the Elm Tree Centre in Clifden which is an absolute joy for me ) and last but not least, paintings to be made. Continue reading

Into June

I drove out towards Moyard with my camera this week in search of some seasonal colour – the luminous green of new growth and some pinks and purples from the bog flowers. I did not find what I expected – yes there is new growth but it does not seem as striking to me as in other years and the bog flowers are certainly not in abundance yet. Perhaps it is still too early and there is no doubt that we have had very little sunshine so far this year. Continue reading