An Armagh artist has told how the rekindling of his love for art led to him securing a place at Ireland’s top art fair.
Paul Digby (44) has been a budding artist from day dot. A former pupil at St Patrick’s in Armagh, he received the highest mark in Northern Ireland in A-Level Art, before progressing to Art College.
“I wanted to be a comic book artist at the start,” he said. ” That’s what I always drew as a kid. I was kind of always into drawing people and drawing faces, maybe telling stories.”
At college, Paul focused mainly on illustration, not moving into painting until around five years after leaving college.
“After I left Art College, someone asked me to do a portrait in oils, which I’d never ever touched before. I was too afraid to do them and just thought they were out of my league,” Paul said.
“I just thought I’d have a go out of interest… then I really enjoyed it!
“I didn’t really like Art College so I didn’t touch anything for years until that portrait. That kind of kicked it all off.”
Eventually, when Paul was in his late 20s, he decided to contribute three of his paintings to an art fair Sol Art Gallery in Dublin. Despite having only painted them for “fun and experimentation with oil paints”, the first sale of the day was one of his paintings.
He then began to sell his work at a number of venues before taking a step back.
“Then life kind of got in the way and I went and did a bit of travelling and had a couple of kids.
“I think art needs a bit of consistency and at the time I was just dabbling, so I lacked consistency and momentum in what I should have been doing to progress,” Paul explained.
“After Covid hit, I bought a lot of acrylics just for something to do, but with the kids the consistency wasn’t there. But now they’re in school, I found that I had a bit of time.”
Eventually, Paul took the plunge and decided to get involved in Art Source in Dublin. Billed as Ireland’s biggest and best art fair, the event features art from hundreds of artists and galleries.
While Paul had visited the fair annually for a number of years, he initially thought it was “out of my league”.
He explained: “This year I just decided that I’m not getting any younger, so I should just give it a go and put my name in the hat. Lucky enough, there was one stand left. I got the stand and went from there with six months to work on it.”
The event took place in the RDS in Dublin from November 10 to 12 and it was an experience that Paul says he will never forget.
He continued: “It’s established artists that have been doing it for years, right down to amateurs like myself. There’s just a whole array of people doing it.
“That was the best thing about it for me actually, the community of artists there. Visiting you think everybody is a very serious artist but the community feel to it and everybody hyping each other up was just brilliant.
“Art Source gives you a really broad scope of who’s going to see your work, so you get to speak to a lot of people and get feedback on your art, which was a really good experience.”
He added: “It’s just really great to meet people, talk to people and just get a good feel for maybe kicking on and doing this full-time.
“I sold a few pieces and got five or six commissions out of it so it was a really brilliant experience. I’m definitely going to try and put my name in the hat next year to do it all again.”
So what’s next for Paul?
Alongside a number of commissions due before Christmas, Paul hopes to improve his work, focusing on an area of different sizes.
“Next year I’ll probably be a bit more tactical about what sizes, but I’m still going to paint the same and keep the style the same.”
Paul admits that momentum is “key” in the art industry, something which he has struggled with in the past.
He said: “I didn’t really realise that galleries need you to be hitting them with paintings regularly to build your name. Then just during Covid, the paintings just became better for me.
“I think I just got more understanding of what I was doing and because of Covid I had the time to experiment. After that it’s just taken off and has given me a bit more encouragement and a bit more belief in myself to go and do it.”
For Paul, the sky’s now the limit, with the chance for his work to appear in a range of galleries as he grows his profile.
He added: “I was always a bit too shy in that respect. I think this year I just thought if I didn’t do it now, I’d probably never do it. It’s always been a want of mine to give it a proper shot.
“It was a big step to take for me personally, but I think I wish I had done it years before!”