As the unpredictability of 2020 continues, it’s more important that ever to support local businesses and nurture the beauty and effort of handcraft and art. I caught up with Galway artist and designer Barbara Bennett to hear more about her design inspirations, finding renewed creative freedom and fulfilment during lockdown and so much more. Prepare to be inspired…
You studied at NCAD, one of the most prestigious art colleges in Ireland. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
NCAD was an absolute whirlwind. I had three of the best years of my life there. I adored going to college, it was so much fun. I met so many amazingly talented and creative people and I would hands-down go back and spend another ten years, that’s how much I loved it! I always hated school when I was younger, but when I finally made it to NCAD, it really changed me for the better. I developed a great work ethic and produced so much work throughout my years.
Every day, waking up and going to college was a delight, meeting all my friends, learning from tutors, making new art, the anticipation of the monthly infamous NCAD Balls, (which were absolutely insane and I’ll probably never experience parties like them again!). There were always events going on, whether it be exhibitions, Sing & Song nights, table-tennis competitions, protests, parties – there was always something to look forward to every single week. That’s what really made me love the place. I really miss it, I couldn’t recommend that college anymore.
2020 has been a challenging year for all businesses but especially for artists and designers. What’s the biggest learning you’ve had from this year?
The biggest thing I’ve learned this year is if you have the spare time or if you find yourself bored with nothing to do…get up and be productive. You’re lying to yourself saying you have nothing to do! I’ve seen many new businesses pop up at the other end of this lockdown, because people really put their heads down and focused on what they wanted to do. I personally think this year has been great for creatives. There has been so much time to let ideas blossom. I recently joined a group on Facebook called ‘Shop in Ireland’ and it has been flooded with new ideas and businesses people have started over the lockdown!
You are bringing the worlds of shoe design and art together with your new business! If you could paint footwear for anyone (dead or alive) who would it be?
Oh tough one! It would definitely have to be some sort of celebrity whose style is similar to my own. Someone with a great love for vibrant colours and patterns. Possibly Miley Cyrus? I think she’s pretty cool and could definitely rock a pair of my customs.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
All of my business advice has been from my granny. She’s an extremely successful Galway businesswoman and has had her own retail store for 54 years, so I have learned a tonne from her! My favourite is probably, “Always remember to count to 10 when dealing with rude customers.”
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Literally all around me! I’m always taking in the view and looking at how different shapes work and how they can be applied to other things. I’m constantly taking photos on my phone of things that inspire me, (so much so that I’ve about 40,000 photos on my phone that I need to go through and delete).
My original shoe designs were all inspired by the fabulous flowers in my Granny’s garden. Throughout the summer, her garden is filled with hundreds of different flowers and colours. I spend so much time in her garden taking photos of flowers!
Lastly, I would say my own wardrobe reflects a lot of my work. I collect jackets, coats and shoes (of course), in very loud ‘out there’ patterns. I’m obsessed with colourful, stand out pieces. I’m a bit of a peacock, or magpie I guess too!
What’s your favourite campaign or exhibition that you’ve worked on?
Probably my Final Year Project in NCAD. My project was on red heads and how we’re a dying breed. Less than 10% of the world has red hair and then the combination of red hair with blue eyes makes up less than 1% of the world’s population. It was a really fun and interesting project. I ended up photographing all the redheads in NCAD and made a ‘Ginger Guess Who’ game to show the differences in the MCR1 gene (the ginger gene!)
I also designed some branding for a ‘Red-hair Shampoo‘ line. I painted a ginger Barbie and Ken doll. I produced tonnes of work in support of redheads! Really enjoyed doing it all and it got a great response at the NCAD Grad Show in 2017 with everyone playing my ‘Ginger Guess Who’ game. You can read all about the project on my portfolio site.
What’s next for 2021 and beyond?
Definitely going to focus on building up my shoes business. I’d love to print some of my textile designs onto leather and learn how to start making my own shoes. So I’ll be searching for a cobbler course come the new year for sure! I’d also love to start producing some funky patterned socks to match some of my shoes designs – I think that would be a cool idea. I plan to build a proper website to sell my shoe designs as well instead of doing everything through Instagram as it’s quite time consuming and I’d like to focus more on painting. But yes, definitely down the line I hope to design my own brand of shoes. That’s the dream, just have to make it happen now!
I could continue to add pictures of Barbara’s stunning designs, but for fear of turning this post into a copy of her website, I urge you to visit and get lost her her fantastic designs and a snapshot into her creative mind. From babywear to t-shirts and custom painted footwear, Barbara’s designs are just bursting with fun, creativity and passion for what she does.
I hope you enjoy as much as I did and wish Barbara continued success!
Find out more: Barbara Bennett