Scoil Bhríde Cailíní NS

Resident Artist

Hi, I'm Orla Kelly

I am a contemporary artist working presently with painting and drawing. On a regular day I can have about 20 drop in visitors to my shared studio space in Scoil Bhríde Cailíní to see what I am working on, to chat about art, materials, constructing and engineering, and life. It’s not a regular studio environment, as the average age of those I share with are 8-11 years old but it is a perfectly dynamic and rich one,  offering daily crits, posing meaningful aesthetic challenges, providing an enthusiastic and vocal audience for developing work.

The studio is almost always an ordered mess which is perfectly fine. After we visited Francis Bacon’s studio at The Hugh Lane Gallery on one of our cultural visits, we agreed that sometimes a certain amount of chaos is required for creating, although we didn’t want to reach his level just yet. When the young artists and I work together in the space we usually do so on the floor. It means we are all on the same level, investigating together. The conversations we share are a mixture of student –teacher technical inquiry, philosophical wonderings, aesthetic meanderings probing the nature of the arts and life. It is a generous and honest environment.

Orla and Room 13 Inquiry students in Draíocht's Artist Studio
Orla and Room 13 Inquiry students in Draíocht's Artist Studio

A New School Term

Being in the warm and dynamic community of a primary school is exciting and invigorating. Scoil Bhríde is a school that openly nourishes its people, both big and little, so they may grow. Not just to get bigger, but to be full of riches that good nourishment provides. From my perspective the arts are valued here, not as a funded resource that is provided and appreciated but as an essential part of the diverse ways we learn about life and relationships between objects, forces, people and ourselves. It is valued as much as singing and maths and English, all expressions and highly prized investigations of the human spirit. It is wonderful to work and engage with people who value what you do. This allows me to focus my attention towards valuable engagements rather than battling values. It feels good to return to the studio when a new term begins. I’m eager and apprehensive. I’m looking forward to developing my work, helping the children develop their work and helping Room 13 Inquiry in Scoil Bhríde develop as a space for the arts to flourish.

Shared Studio

Having a warm, bright, big environment to work in is such a dream. It is an ideal studio. The environment is dynamic and lively. There are sounds and movement and a constant audience to look at work. Some artists might prefer not to share a studio with so many enthusiastic students but for me it suits perfectly. It has challenges and at times one wants silence, to be alone, to be outside but I can find these things easily elsewhere.

To begin work in such an environment takes a little getting used to but it pays off for us all in many ways. It encourages us to dialogue on a consistent basis about what is interesting about my work, their work, we evaluate ideas, invent possibilities and share solutions for a huge variety of problems we encounter.


Some of the main challenges for me in Room 13 Inquiry at this moment are timetabling, getting work done before the school gates close, managing art materials, and balancing my concentration between making work and making time for anyone who walks through the door. Working in a studio where children are present has many challenges and one of the main ones I am focused on at present is use of materials. Previously I would have used oil paints and left materials and tools around in an unorganised fashion ready for use the next moment. Obviously this cannot be de rigueur for a primary school environment. Paint and their related products are somewhat toxic for young lungs and skin. They also smell, to me it’s an invigorating smell but not so wonderful for a primary school. I have taken to using oil bars, something I had forgotten the wonder of. I am also experimenting with different alternative materials, something that I had done a lot in the past but am returning to now. It’s not something that impinges on the movement of the work but something that informs new investigations.

Another challenge is using the studio in a way I might if it were in a studio complex with other professional artists. The opening times are different and the artists I share with are different but finding a balance in the work we do is always a challenge and working in Room 13 Inquiry is no different. Knowing the priorities is important. The work of the students is as important as my own. Finding ways that supports this is some of our work this year


My Work

My work as artist is multifaceted. One part of it addresses how to share the creative arts with very young children, their parents/ guardians and their carers. It is fun and playful but has a serious edge to it as my work is often some of the first curated creative experience children have and it is important that that experience is engaging, powerful, enriching and delightful for all who attend. I also mentor and teach at third level and understanding the academic underpinnings of my work is important so I can share my work and experiences so others can develop their work and experiences.

Another part of my work for a wider audience explores painting and drawing while referencing land, people, maps, movement and measure of movement. Recently my work has been emotional, gestural and not at all intellectual. As now there is some space to think rather than just feel, I am returning to ideas again. I was delighted by some work a young student made a few days ago who titled her visual work with musical language. It reminded me of a way of working that I had loved but forgotten. Working with and for children impacts my work on a number of levels but most interestingly it constantly reminds me that we add value by making meaning.

At present I find the work of sculptors most inspiring. Olafur Elliason is one of my favourites right now. He uses light like paint, immersing the viewer in the holistic experience of colour in space.

Shared Goals

In short we are continually developing the studio for the work of the students and professional artists, complementing the experience of learning about life and learning knowledge in a school environment.

Last year we engaged the whole school in our plan. This year we engaged smaller groups in the studio so that we could have a more focused and artistically rich experience for students. Engaging 5th and 6th class students in the main, with a small cohort of 2nd to 6th class students we explored work through new techniques, personal investigations, developing projects, group crits, sharing insights, and  developed their curatorial experiences, all defined with and by the students. All this work is being done both in the studio through making and researching and outside the school, visiting artist’s studios, exhibitions and cultural venues.

Personal Work Goals

Similar to what I hope for the students. I would hope to develop a series of art works that somehow defines and develops my explorations. I would hope to allow the children’s work to affect my work through dialogue and reflection.