This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Exquisite Portraits And Still Life Paintings From Fiona O'Byrne

Studio Visit

It can sometimes feel like if you haven’t found success by your thirties (or thereabouts), that younger, brighter, fresher-faced contenders have somehow overlapped you. But for every wunderkind like Taylor Swift, there is a Vera Wang (aged 40 when she entered the fashion industry), Jon Hamm (waiting tables until 29), or Bram Stoker (wrote Dracula at 50!).

Fiona O’Byrne was 36 (honestly, still so young) before she took her first painting class, after establishing a career as a landscape architect. We chat with the artist about her incredible paintings, and pursuing art as a career.

16th May, 2019

Tonal painter Fiona O’Byrne at work. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Fiona with her stunning portraits and still life works. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Painting in process. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A suite of tonal paintings. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Studio detail. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Inspiration board. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Still life, with still life! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘Lucia, 12 years’ by Fiona O’Byrne. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Fiona finds inspiration in nature, books and galleries. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Miriam McGarry
Thursday 16th May 2019

‘I needed a new outlet for my creativity.’ – Fiona O’Byrne.

Growing up in a country town, Fiona O’Byrne spent most of her childhood drawing horses and cartoons, while her friends played sport. When she moved to Melbourne, Fiona combined her creative skills with a love of environment, and trained as a landscape architect. As her professional career progressed, computers ‘rugby tackled’ the hand-drawn landscape plans out of the role, and Fiona explains ‘I needed a new outlet for my creativity.’

At 36, Fiona enrolled in her first painting class, and after a few years contacted artist and teacher Lee Machelak who has become both a mentor a friend. Fiona’s precise and characterful works are predominately painted from life, where she has the subject (still-life or a model) in front of her. Her process involves an initial application of dark tones to establish a resemblance to the person or object. Fiona explains ‘once I get a likeness to my subject, I switch into colour and the focus becomes more about edges and brushstroke quality.’

Fiona finds inspiration in the natural world (including drawing upon her landscape architecture expertise and painting plants), in books, galleries, and by looking to other artists such as Australian Glen Morgan, and international ‘painting giants’ Vilhemlm Hammershoi and Andrew Wyeth.

Working from a tiny weatherboard studio at the back of her garden, Fiona is currently working towards a group show in November at Ladder Art Space in Kew…. and convincing her supportive husband Steve, and kids Lucia (13) and Remi (10) to occasionally sit for a portrait!

Follow Fiona O’Byrne’s art on her Instagram @obyrnefiona.

This Week

On The Market

A Rare Robin Boyd House Is Available To Rent

You could be the next tenant of this house, designed by Australia's most famous architect.

Art

10 Emerging, Affordable Artists You Need To Have On Your Watchlist!

From ethereal still lifes to striking ceramic work, and meticulous soft pastel drawings, these are the artists to start collecting now!

Homes

A Cosy Retro Rental In Melbourne’s North West

Dog lovers Michelle Campbell and Katy Louise share their warm and welcoming rented home in Maidstone.

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras

Interiors

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

Creative People

A Noosa Design Studio's Chic New Office, Inside A Former 80s Club

CLO Studios' have transformed an old music club into their dreamy new office space, and it's filled with eclectic design inspiration!
Christina Karras

Creative People

How Powerhouse Designer, Yuwaalaraay Woman Lucy Simpson Is Making Waves

How the Sydney based designer weaves stories of Country and culture into her collaborations with leading brands, such as JAG and Breville.
Jirra Lulla Harvey

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Interiors

Before + After: A Dated Brick Home Turned Coastal Holiday Pad

Dark timber and dated tiles have been replaced with light and bright interiors in this Mornington Peninsula beach house.
Christina Karras

Studio Visit

Dani McKenzie’s Detailed Paintings Look Like Familiar Photographs

The Melbourne artist recreates local streetscapes and everyday scenes, filled with intimate reminders of our own inner-worlds.
Christina Karras

Family

Journalist Nas Campanella On Parenting With Blindness + Building Disability Awareness

How ABC journalist Nas Campanella navigates motherhood as a person living with blindness and Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

Sustainable Homes

How An Architect Turned This 1930s Bungalow Into A Sustainable Family Haven

Architect Emily Sandstrom's warm family home runs off solar power, with a vegetable garden and impressive entertaining area hidden inside!
Christina Karras

Design Eye

How to Create Fun + Playful Interiors, With Studio Joy’s Kristel Marshall

The Melbourne designer shares how to balance minimalism and maximalism with playful colours and bold furniture – in a way that won't date!...
Christina Karras

Similar Stories

Creative People

An Enormous New Public Artwork From The Artist Who Paints With Fire Extinguishers

A massive new painting from celebrated Melbourne artist Ash Keating, created with no client, no funding and no limitations.

Creative People

‘Quietly’ Suspended Landscapes By Wendy McDonald

Exploring place and ecology with an artist/farmer, working from the Murray River floodplain.
Miriam McGarry

Studio Visit

Unforgettable New Landscapes From Sally Ross

The Melbourne-based artist takes us inside her new exhibition inspired by the Flemish Masters, opening in Melbourne tomorrow.
Elle Murrell

This Week

Sustainable Homes

How An Architect Turned This 1930s Bungalow Into A Sustainable Family Haven

Architect Emily Sandstrom's warm family home runs off solar power, with a vegetable garden and impressive entertaining area hidden inside!
Christina Karras

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

On The Market

A Rare Robin Boyd House Is Available To Rent

You could be the next tenant of this house, designed by Australia's most famous architect.

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras

Interiors

Before + After: A Dated Brick Home Turned Coastal Holiday Pad

Dark timber and dated tiles have been replaced with light and bright interiors in this Mornington Peninsula beach house.
Christina Karras

Interiors

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras

Studio Visit

Dani McKenzie’s Detailed Paintings Look Like Familiar Photographs

The Melbourne artist recreates local streetscapes and everyday scenes, filled with intimate reminders of our own inner-worlds.
Christina Karras

Homes

A Cosy Retro Rental In Melbourne’s North West

Dog lovers Michelle Campbell and Katy Louise share their warm and welcoming rented home in Maidstone.

Art

10 Emerging, Affordable Artists You Need To Have On Your Watchlist!

From ethereal still lifes to striking ceramic work, and meticulous soft pastel drawings, these are the artists to start collecting now!

Creative People

A Noosa Design Studio's Chic New Office, Inside A Former 80s Club

CLO Studios' have transformed an old music club into their dreamy new office space, and it's filled with eclectic design inspiration!
Christina Karras

Creative People

How Powerhouse Designer, Yuwaalaraay Woman Lucy Simpson Is Making Waves

How the Sydney based designer weaves stories of Country and culture into her collaborations with leading brands, such as JAG and Breville.
Jirra Lulla Harvey

Family

Journalist Nas Campanella On Parenting With Blindness + Building Disability Awareness

How ABC journalist Nas Campanella navigates motherhood as a person living with blindness and Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

Design Eye

How to Create Fun + Playful Interiors, With Studio Joy’s Kristel Marshall

The Melbourne designer shares how to balance minimalism and maximalism with playful colours and bold furniture – in a way that won't date!...
Christina Karras

Similar Stories

Creative People

An Enormous New Public Artwork From The Artist Who Paints With Fire Extinguishers

A massive new painting from Melbourne artist Ash Keating, created with no client, no funding and no limitations.

Creative People

‘Quietly’ Suspended Landscapes By Wendy McDonald

Exploring place and ecology with an artist/farmer, working from the Murray River floodplain.
Miriam McGarry

Studio Visit

Unforgettable New Landscapes From Sally Ross

The Melbourne-based artist takes us inside her new exhibition inspired by the Flemish Masters, opening in Melbourne tomorrow.
Elle Murrell

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net