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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.

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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 – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.