From painting pets to Painting the Nation, Ennis-based artist Elaine Gavin is helping to bring a bit of colour to television screens after being named among the finalists in RTÉ’s search to find Ireland’s best amateur painter.
The teacher in Lissycasey National School is one of seven contestants chosen from hundreds of accomplished artists who applied to take part in the second series of the popular Painting the Nation show.
She revealed that while she was supposed to keep her television debut a secret, she couldn’t help but let it slip to some of her biggest fans.
“I was actually at school when I found out the news and the kids were the first to find out. They probably shouldn’t have, because I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, but you know yourself. It was just so exciting,” she said.
The 31-year-old, who teaches senior infants and first class, said she couldn’t believe she had made it to the show.
“I had gone up to Dublin in one of the preliminary rounds and I honestly thought I would never get past that stage. It was just so exciting when I found out. I didn’t do any proper painting that you would put up on a wall until last year and when I came into the competition, I had only done 10 paintings. The others were just so experienced.”
She loves teaching the children art and it is always their favourite lesson. Elaine also teaches some children art locally. Following her debut on Sunday evening, she said there has been a great reaction.
“There’s great excitement at the school; they all saw me. Short of the red carpet, I’ve been getting the celebrity treatment.”
She was introduced to art at a very early age.
“I’ve been painting since I was four years old. My brother was taking art lessons at Ballyea school and he came home the first day and he had done some pictures. I said, ‘Mammy I want to do some funny pictures too’. So she asked the teacher if I’d be allowed do that and he did [let me], even though I was too young for the lessons. And that was it.”
Last year, Elaine began to really focus on painting, concentrating on capturing local landscapes on canvas. Elaine finds painting relaxing and said she ‘zones out’ in the moment.
When she is not painting, Elaine can be found practising or performing with her beloved Ennis Musical Society and spending time with her rescue dog Tayto.
In fact, it is her dog that has inspired her latest artistic endeavour.
“I’ve gone down the route of doing pet portraits. I started doing my dog, then my boyfriend’s dog. I’ve been doing a bit more for people and I’m available for that.”
On Sunday, Elaine and her fellow artists painted in the Botanical Gardens in Dublin, with Elaine making it through to next week.
She said she couldn’t believe it when she made it to the next round.
“I definitely thought I was out. When I watched the show, I could see how close I was to being knocked out in the first round. It was the most nerve-wracking experience waiting for the result.”
While she would not reveal how far she will go on the show, she said this Sunday’s episode will feature some very familiar landmarks.
“I can’t tell you how far I get; I haven’t told anybody. But I can tell you that the next episode is set in New Quay in North Clare.”
She said she really enjoyed the filming of the show and has kept in touch with her fellow artists. “We had great fun on set.”
In fact, they are now planning a joint exhibition in Dublin’s Zozimus Gallery, in aid of Pieta House.
“The show has been a great spring board and a great inspiration. When I went in first. I felt like in one sense that I didn’t deserve to be there. I was surrounded by these giants. who are amazing and talented and who had great backgrounds in painting and I felt I didn’t match at all. I didn’t know why I was there but I think I do now; I have a bit of potential.”
Painting the Nation, presented by Pauline McLynn is shown on RTÉ One on Sundays at 6.30pm. The winning artist will have the honour of seeing their painting hanging in Dublin Castle as part of the Office of Public Work’s State art collection.
Over the course of the series, the seven finalists will paint and sketch to impress the professional judges, acclaimed artists Una Sealy and Gabhann Dunne, with challenges including still-life, landscape and portrait. Painting against the clock, the painters will showcase their talents in the hope of making it through to the next round and stepping closer to being declared Ireland’s best amateur painter for 2017.
By Jessica Quin