My journey as an artist

Where it all started…

I was always a maker, an artist and a snappy dresser. I grew up in a very artistic household with a house like a museum, filled with art and antiques. My parents were fashion designers and launched me as an innovative dresser.

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. 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.

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

Paula O'Brien, Pavelka Design, art textiles
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 – 2000 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 Pavelka Design 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 of family and business and dove into the quilting industry for the next six years, creating 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 more than 20 years, they are still selling.

2000 – 2012 Kidzsmart

After our 2 winters in Mexico 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.

Kidzsmart was my training ground for work with databases, websites, graphic design, search engine optimization, so many great skills. With a wonderful staff of 25 employees, it was hair straight back for the next twelve years!

Happily, we sold the business in 2012 and I am now painting as much as possible.

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. When I started weekly life drawing in Sechelt, my work shifted to figurative painting in oils. I am especially drawn to theatrical and dramatic subjects full of personal style and flair. I used to paint 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 direct observation.

I started being brave enough to ask strangers to pose for me and working my way into the local dance community.

Pink Hair

I had always wanted pink hair but it took the sudden death of my first contemporary at age 40 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 instead. These days, I snazz it up with funky hairbands and flowers in my hair instead….

1998 – 2000 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.


2010 – Artist Networking

In 2010, I created two exciting artist networking sites as a way of giving back to artist community and volunteering in the world.

Figurative Artists is an exciting showcase site with nearly 1000 highly accomplished international artists of the human form.

Sunshine Coast Artists is a local BC regional site.

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.

2012 - 2021 Landscapes, dancers & fishing boats

Capturing my West Coast world consumed me for the last ten years and fed my soul after I lost my lovely partner Dennis in 2017. I am blessed to have the meaningful world of art, curiosity and imagination to keep my hands, brain and heart busy.

Life drawing, urban sketching and plein air painting keeps 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?

I organize and curate exhibitions in my art community and volunteer with my local public art gallery.

Juicy florals, oil painting

I am now creating my own worlds to paint, working with images beyond my own local world which I collage together with digital painting.

Bringing more art, color & laughter into the world is my mission.

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

xxx Paula