FOR local artist Michelle Donnelly there is no better place to live than the Cooley Peninsula. Working primarily with driftwood makes the coastal location ideal for her business Shell's Driftwood, providing both raw materials and a constant source of inspiration.
“I collect my Driftwood on the beautiful Cooley shores, from Rockmarshall to Gyles quay. It's not in abundance at the moment so it takes time and plenty of nice walks on the beach to collect enough to keep me going’.
“The inspiration for my work is reclaiming and recycling wood that had a previous life somewhere! I find inspiration from the wood itself. As soon as I find a piece, I know exactly what I'll turn it into - that could be anything from a sailboat or a picture frame, to a 5ft floor lamp”.
For Michelle was the decision to swap her hectic customer service job for that of a fulltime artist that led her to set up shop in Lordship, where she has followed her dream for the past 6 years,
“I worked for over 25 years in an office environment and after my move from Dublin I worked in Dundalk for six and a half years in Customer Service. I needed a change and having taking some time off from work due to stress in January 2014, I decided it was time for me to do what I should have done when I left school so I followed my heart!’
“A busy office and buzzing phones are now replaced with peaceful mornings spent trawling my local beaches for materials. The peacefulness doesn't last too long though, as I then have to get the wet and heavy wood off the beach. No need for a gym membership when you're lugging wood up and down those steps in Gyles Quay”.
“Each piece is handmade in my garden workshop. What started at my kitchen table 2 years ago has expanded to 3 garden units. I use one for storing my materials, one as a workshop and the other as a display area. I don't have far to go in the mornings!”
For Michelle the sea is inspiration for her work,
“I've had a connection with the seaside for as long as I can remember. I spent my childhood summers on the beaches of beautiful Castletown, Wexford but it was only when I moved to our coastal home in Louth that I really became passionate about working with driftwood. It's such a versatile and unique material and the mystery behind each piece intrigues me’.
“My first piece was a Driftwood tree that I made at my kitchen table. Then I started making Driftwood boats which to this day are what I enjoy making the most. Each one is totally unique and having started with different colours and textures for the sails, I now mainly use Irish linen. I love how the boat comes to life once the sail is added and using my pyrography (wood burning), each boat has an anchor burnt into each piece regardless of size’.
“Driftwood Family trees are another very popular piece as each tree has the members of the family's names burned onto individual driftwood tags and attached to the tree. They make a really personal gift. I also create picture frames, mirrors, wall hangings, signs, lamps, dog-lead Holders, plaques - the list goes on and on!’
“I also love commissions, if someone has an idea or has seen a piece they like they just need to contact me. Each piece is unique but I can try and make similar, it may not be on the same type of wood but I will try and make it as similar as possible. Personalisation is very popular and customers love the fact that they can get their piece personalised with whatever they require. All the personalisation is done freehand by myself just like every unique piece is handmade by myself”.
“The most enjoyable part of my work is having the freedom to go into my workshop every morning decide what I want to make! It's the best job in the world for me as I can use my imagination on every piece I make and I love been able to bring a customers’ idea to life, whether it’s a personal poem or quote that means something to them or an idea they may have had for years. I love trying new things and this year I hope to have some new pieces and I also welcome commissions”.
To see Michelle’s work up close you can visit her at her workshop in Lordship or see her display at Carlingford Craft, River Lane, Carlingford.
“I joined a fantastic group of artists in a craft shop in Carlingford called Carlingford Craft last March where I have a large display of pieces there permanently. Our lovely shop in on River Lane up by Des Savages and we are open seven days a week. I also have a display area at home in Lordship, where customers can drop by or call first to ensure I'm there and not off beach combing! The best place to see my work is in Carlingford Craft at the moment”.
For more information on Michelle’s work visit her Facebook page shellsdriftwoodcarlingford or her Website www.shellsdriftwood.com or you can follow her on Instagram Shellsdriftwoodcarlingford