About Paula O’Brien

Colorful figurative painter
Busy art blogger
Snappy dresser…

Thank goodness I’m blessed with good health, lots of energy and a fabulous husband who supported me and my efforts to help promote and support other artists. Dennis, we all thank you.

Where it all started…

I was always an artist and a dresser, always painting and making things. My parents were both designers so I got used to having different clothes and finally, tearfully learned to sew at about 16 on my Bernina 830 which I still use today.

After Fine Arts at John Abbott College in home town, Montreal, I traveled to Europe with my girlfriend Christine for a 4 month tour… but we never went home. The rest of my life happened instead. After 2 years as a professional sailor/cook on a 56 foot French charter sailboat in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, I met my future husband, Dennis. It was all over the moment I saw him and he had no chance of escape!

Our first 10 years together were a huge blur as we experimented with many different businesses on several different continents, including singing telegrams in London for a year. In our first 20 years together, we moved every year, dragging art supplies and sewing machine along as we went.

Paula O’Brien exhibition CV

1981 – 1983 Goldsmiths College

I did 2 years of Embroidery/Textiles at Goldsmiths College, London where textiles are used purely as a fine art medium, not for commercial or technical uses. For my final show, I created a wonderful group of dresses with painted backgrounds, full length “Fortuny” pleated silk dresses with fabulous machine embroidered yokes and beaded hems.

I nearly went ahead to produce this sort of thing professionally but instead a matching set of 2 boys and several TransAtlantic moves later, we settled in Gibsons, a small town  a 40 minute ferry ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

1992 – Sunshine Coast, BC

In 1992, I had a large one-woman show at our regional Sunshine Coast Art Center with over 100 pieces of exotic decorated furniture, eclectic jewelry, ceramics, paintings, banners, wall-hangings and garments. It was a joyous riot of color and happiness and had many ecstatic viewers.

Unfortunately, someone got too fond, came back after dark, cut through the alarm system and made off with 5 fabulous garments! Away went the pleated silk dresses and in a way, it released me. I turned towards making beautiful clothes that were really wearable as opposed to exotic, expensive, fragile things suitable for Oscar night. I have created nothing for the (toxic) dry cleaners since then, only beautiful things that can be washed by mere mortals at home.

1994 – Pavelka Design

Handmade buttons, polyform clay jewelry, sewing patterns
When my boys finally got off to school in 1993, I decided to take my creativity to market. I started to market my interesting embossed polymer clay jewelry which quickly led into making handmade buttons. As I tried to sell these “end points”, people kept asking about my own great clothes and I got the idea of making the “starting point” instead and so the sewing patterns were born.

I took a couple of months thinking about it then I blasted in on the quilt pattern business. In 3 1/2 months, I created my first 9 patterns, all quilts, and took them to the biggest international trade fair International Quilt Market to see if I had a business. Well, it worked and off I went!

For better or worse, I put my work as a visual artist on the side and dove into the quilting industry for the next six years, creating about 38 patterns for interesting clothing and funky quilts. I wish I had just continued with my painting… but hindsight is so easy, isn’t it… My friend Jane handles the sewing patterns now and amazingly after nearly 20 years, they are still selling.

Oh yes, the colored hair. I had always wanted pink hair but it took the sudden death of my first contemporary to make me take the plunge. What the heck was I waiting for? I had pink, violet and/or turquoise streaks on and off for about 20 years. As my friend Lou says, “Hair is just a toy, it’s not a tattoo, it’s only fun”.

Now I am putting my color into my paintings and blogs instead. These days, I’m going to snazz it up with funky hairbands and hair clips instead….

1998 – Bluewater sailing adventure

In 1998, my family set off on a BIG FAMILY ADVENTURE. We sailed our 42″ sailboat Sandingo from Vancouver, Canada down to Mexico and spent 2 long winters exploring small Mexican villages and meandering along the coastline. Our two boys home-schooled winters of grades 6-9 while we were afloat. I had to ditch the colored hair on the boat as it was just too much upkeep, especially when water was at a premium on the boat.

Read more about sailing in Mexican sailing trip.

2000 – Kidzsmart

After our 2 winters in Mexico and 9 months in total, we returned to Gibsons in 2000 and launched a new business. Kidzsmart creates those fun and informative colorful kids placemats and activity books you might find in restaurants or in schools. KidzSmart was brainstormed because we had kids and took them to restaurants and thought the things given to kids to play with could be done much better. Two months after our return from Mexico, we launched this business at Chicago’s National Restaurant Show, the biggest of its kind in the world, and it was hair straight back since then!

Kidzsmart was my training ground for work with databases, websites, graphic design, search engine optimization, so many great skills.

Happily, we sold the business in 2012 and are now able to move ahead with projects of our own.

2007 – Getting back to my artwork

After years of fitting my artwork into the cracks of my busy life, I was thirsty for the big consecutive blocks of studio time. My work shifted into figurative painting in oils. I am especially drawn to theatrical and dramatic subjects full of personal style and flair. I used to paint only from my imagination and didn’t have any interest in working from real life but now that is completely reversed and I only want to work from real life. Too funny! This was a major epiphany for me in September 2007 when I started back to weekly life drawing in Sechelt.

2010 – Artist Networking & art blogging

In 2010, I created two exciting artist networking sites.

Figurative Artists is an exciting large international site for all kinds of artwork that portrays the human form.

Sunshine Coast Artists is a smaller regional site for my local area.

These sites began as a form of public service and have evolved into something much more. These sites promote the art & the artists and help build community.

Being an artist blogger and networker keeps me connected to a wide, talented and diverse community.

2017 – And now today…

I am back in the painting studio as much of the time as busy life allows. Life drawing, urban sketching and plein air painting keep my eye sharp and studio work is created as time and life allow. I’m very connected to the local dance community which I love photographing in mid-flight.

I still create the odd wonderful wearable but only for myself these days. Hey, if you have to wear a coat for your climate, why not make it an art coat?

January 2017 saw me curating my second figurative exhibition at GPAG with Westcoast Figurative. February 2013 was my previous group show there – Press Release – Figures On The Coast

Bringing more art, color & laughter into the world is my mission. Sharing my adventures, enthusiasm for art, textiles and natural cosmetics recipes all adds to the mix.

Mentoring others in the art community, online and in my own neighborhood is a great way to share my knowledge.

Enjoy, experience & love as much as you can while you’re still breathing! It beats the alternative.

xxx Paula

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!