Dollybirds Art is an independent studio in Belfast. Founded in 2013, it was established by artist Eimear Maguire, whose love of art started at a very early age and developed into a full time career. Created through a love of nature and wildlife, her works include birds like the puffin found along the cliffs of the Antrim Coast to the swallows that return to Belfast every summer. Her work can be found in selected independent retailers in Ireland and the UK including Avoca, the National Trust and Kew Gardens London. In 2017 Dollybirds Art was awarded runner-up in the Irish Made awards.
What made you start up your company Dollybirds Art?
I started Dollybirds Art after redundancy and reading a book by Paulo Coelho called The Alchemist. I realised that I wanted to create my own job which would be flexible around my kids, allow me to be creative and my own boss. I felt in my bones that this was what I was meant to do with my life, to be an artist and make a living from my work. I had been teaching art and working in community development which was very fulfilling but left no room for my own creativity. So when I started Dollybirds I can only describe the feelings I had as an explosion. I still feel like that, I am very lucky to do what I love every day and I don’t take that for granted.
What have been some of the challenges and highlights you have faced on your journey so far?
There have been lots of both! I totally believe in the potential of Dollybirds and that belief has really kept me going throughout. Having my work stocked with major Irish retailer Avoca almost from the beginning certainly gave me confidence. They were very supportive and this helped me to push on ahead and develop my product range. Last year the National Trust commissioned me to create a new range of prints and notebooks based on birds from the North Coast of Ireland. Thankfully they have been a huge success and this year they will be introducing a new design to the collection. Most recently my botanical print collection has been stocked in Kew Gardens London which has the largest and most diverse botanical collection in the world. I am planning a trip to Kew Gardens and to develop my botanical range this year so its pretty exciting to see where things go with them.
I love painting and being creative but running your own business is about much more. It has been very hard work, a lot of perseverance. I have developed a very thick skin and I have learned to always trust my gut instinct. I have a young family and my husband works very long hours so I feel like I am constantly juggling my time. It can be a bit of a rollercoaster but I think surrounding yourself with positive and inspirational people really helps. I also make sure to recognise and celebrate every achievement along the way.
How do you manage a good work-life balance?
I am still working on this. I start every morning with a walk on the mountain, which helps me get ready for the day ahead while also being inspired by the everything see up there. I have a studio though which separates my work and home life and helps me to stick to a routine every week. I can really focus when I am there without any distractions. There are also lots of other creatives there so it’s like a little supportive community. I do paint at home a lot in the evenings, but it never ever feels like work.
What advice would you give startups looking to sell work outside of Northern Ireland?
Last year I took Dollybirds to Top Drawer in London which was great exposure. I met so many new creatives and gained lots stockists throughout the UK and actually doing the show gave me great confidence. I am definitely planning to do another trade show this year. There are so many to choose from but it is important to pick the one that feels right for you. So my advice would be to take risks, you will never know unless you try. Obviously Instagram is a great way to get exposure and to connect with retailers outside of Northern Ireland.