By Jonathan deBurca Butler
Artist Hetty Lawlor has been busy. Since reaching the final of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the year, the 18-year-old has been up and down the country and in and out of TV studios doing interviews with everyone from Ray D’Arcy to Dáithí Ó Sé.
The artist from Kilmeena near Westport, Co Mayo, blazed a spectacular trail through the competition with her portraits of celebrities David Tennant, Geri Halliwell and Emeli Sandé among others. On the night of the final, Hetty came in as a runner-up, there was a sense of disbelief across social media that she had not won.
Hetty started painting “seriously”, as she describes when she was about ten. Her father, Jimmy Lawlor, is a renowned professional painter and Hetty’s main inspiration.
“Dad told me that he won the Texaco Art Competition when he was sixteen, so I went mad about entering that,” says Hetty. “I take inspiration from him more than anyone. I feel a lot of people have taken inspiration from well-known artists so I’m trying to create my own style here and I don’t think I’d look at a picture and try and copy it.”
For the Sky Portrait competition, heats were spread out and quite often artists didn’t know where they were going or what they would be asked to do. Winding up in Halliwell’s house was certainly unexpected.
“That was very funny,” she says of her encounter with the former Spice Girl. “We’d be walking around the house and every now and then you’d see a Brit Award hanging on a mantlepiece. We were there for roughly two hours — an hour to do rough sketches and then we had more time to chat and ask her about the painting and how she wanted it to be. She wanted a kind of strong figure.
"She sat for me there and I think she kept the sketch I did of her. She was very talkative so I found it quite difficult to draw her from life so I actually asked her could I take a photo there and I worked from that. I used the time to chat to her and get to know her better.”
Though Hetty says she has “no real method” to how she paints, there is a strong sense of an astute and quiet observer about her. Given that she grew up in and around the beauty of Clew Bay it is a wonder she doesn’t paint landscape.
“If you put tree wrong in a landscape it doesn’t really matter but in a portrait, if you put an eye wrong it’s completely different so I like the challenge of it,” she says. “I try to get the best likeness and with that will come more their personality so it’s easier to get that if you have a good likeness.”
When she finishes her Leaving Certificate later this summer the plan is to attend art college. She admits to having a slight fear of enrolling in an institution and wonders if she might fall into the trap of overthinking things.
“In art college, I think you have to describe your work more and build up to how you’re doing it instead of just winging it and having fun,” she says. “There’s more planning in it which I’m not really used to. So there is a little bit of a fear that I’ll learn to over plan and lose the fun in it.”
Hetty’s older sister is currently studying animation at the IADT in Dun Laoghaire and the young artist might well follow her sibling to Dublin.
There has been a huge interest in her work since her appearance in the UK competition and more commissions have come from it. HettyLawlor is clearly an artist with a bright future.