The Warrior Artist Podcast [22] Bernadette Doolan – I never thought I would end up being an artist

Self-taught painter and ceramicist Bernadette Doolan chats to Éadaoin Glynn about imposter syndrome, falling into art, her intuitive approach to painting and being inspired by the resilience of children.

Based in Wexford, Bernadette is a self-taught painter and ceramicist whose work explores the vulnerability and resilience of the human condition, as seen through the lens of childhood. She has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, including Art Beijing, Nepal, The RHA, the Crawford Gallery Cork, the Royal Ulster Academy, the Society of Women Artists London and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in the UK. She has received awards from the Royal Ulster Academy and the Society of Women Artists London.

Did you always want to be an artist?
“I never thought I would end up being an artist. In school. Looking back [at school] art was my play, my escapism, all the other subjects were boring.. but in art class, I didn’t feel good at art, I always felt that I didn’t know what I was doing.. I think I just fell into art.”

Bernadette worked in retail and did an evening class in ceramics where she “fell in love with clay..I bought bags of clay and when the kids were in bed at night, I’d take clay out and sit at the kitchen table and I’d make stuff”

Bernadette paints for herself
“Things just happen…ultimately when I show up to the studio, I do it for me… It has always been about my enjoyment, my escapism, my development my curiosity..And I think by having that approach, it’s allowed it to evolve.”

Imposter Syndrome
As a self-taught artist, Bernadette struggled with imposter syndrome. “I think I have a degree, master’s, PhD in imposter syndrome..we tend to sabotage ourselves by believing things like I’m not a real artist or the imposter syndrome.”

Intuitive approach
She decided against going to art college in case it changed her intuitive creative way of painting. “what if I studied art? And then when I walk back into the studio, it’s all different. I don’t get out of the studio what I get out of now. ”
Bernadette never plans her work in advance and doesn’t work from sketchbooks.


Bernadette works quickly and intuitively, often leaving paintings for weeks at a time to decide if they’re done. “sometimes preserving that part is the walking away…I walk in one day and I go, It actually is finished. But it took that length of time to know that it’s finished.”

Bernadette’s paintings are inspired by childhood and memories. ” I’m using childhood as inspiration.. because I’m an expert at being a kid.”

“I’m still learning how to be an adult. As children, we learn our resilience, we learn about strength and vulnerability. Kids will fall down and they’ll get right back up again and they’ll have another go”

Favourite colours
“My colours are normally crimson, Payne’s Grey, white, ochre and burnt sienna.”

Bernadette has a small home studio and a large studio with the Wexford Arts Department, where she can create large work and store artwork. “It allows me to invite curators down or people down to view the work and to have the space to show it.”

Self portraits
Bernadette painted a series of self portraits where she gave herself a black eye, one of which was selected for the Ruth Borchard Portrait Prize.

She explains that the black eye is a symbol in overcoming self doubt: “[it’s about] not believing in yourself, or it’s about that moment where, you bite your lip and you suck it in and you go, no, I’m going to do’s about flipping it around and doing something different.”

Grant Applications
Bernadette hates writing applications. “Even when you say the word writing proposals and grants, I feel I need to take an antihistamine.”

Bernadette has exhibited with Galleri Ramfjord, Oslo, who she first discovered on Instagram. “Instagram is great, because you’ve access to all these galleries and countries that you wouldn’t have had before Instagram.”

Bernadette believes “when you’re pricing, you need to feel a bit uncomfortable. It just means, you’re closer to getting what it’s worth..I think it’s a case of being able to stand beside the work and justify to yourself – I know why it is that price and I think that encompasses .. your own value ..and all the experiences and the learnings that you’re putting into the work, not just the 10, 20, 30 hours that you’ve sat making the work.”

Bernadette follows her gut instinct in her work – “my gut is the best advisor ever”
“if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Change something and then the outcome is different.”

On Rejection
“I don’t see them as rejection… I reframe it as unselected, sorry but you weren’t selected this time. I don’t see it as a reflection that your work’s not good enough. It’s just maybe not the right fit”

The role of the viewer
Bernadette enjoys learning what people think of her work. “I always enjoy the interaction when the viewer is standing in front and they start telling me what’s going on.”

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