Kilkeel artist Melissa McKee (20) prepares for Christmas with her range of seasonal cards despite the impacts of Covid-19.
As a second year student of Fine Arts at the University of Ulster doing a BA in a subject she absolutely loves, Melissa is at home – literally with her palette and brushes writes Jim Masson.
Covid-19 has turned her education in art into more of an online experience by chatting to her tutors and fellow students on the University’s Blackboard platform, an intranet system.
Melissa, a former pupil of Kilkeel High School, said: “Once a month I can use the studio at University for a week but to be honest I just work at home now on my assignments and course work. I’m getting through it fine. But it’s certainly not what I expected my third level education to be.
“I’m quite busy just now finishing off my second Christmas card. I just love horses. I have three horses altogether and my dad and myself look after them. I also have taken part in show jumping events.
“So a lot of my paintings are about horses, but I love going for long walks around the Mournes and sketching nature. I live in Kilkeel so there is no shortage as the mountains with some great trails are on my back door.”
Melissa can remember being a sketcher from an early age and her early memories are of her scribbling on paper. “I can remember when I was a very small girl being asked by the teacher to paint a house on a sheet of paper.
“When everyone else made comments on their papers such as ‘This is my grand-dad’s house’, I wrote, ‘The door is the wrong colour’. Even back then I was quite self-critical of my own work.
“I was a budding artist early on, and over the years I gradually got into painting. I use acrylics mostly now, and do an occasional oil.
“My favourite artist would probably be the Impressionist Monet. He painted landscapes and there is often a subtle movement built into his painting. I love George Stubbs’ equine art, but a contemporary painter I’ve met is Tony O’Connor who is a marvellous painter of horses.
“My ambition is to become an art teacher or possibly teach art therapy. It would be a dream job for me. I would have to do the PGCE after I complete my degree.”
“I have a lot of great friends and a supportive family and after I left school following my GCSEs and A-Levels, they started buying my prints and art work. It really helped drive me on and give me more confidence… and more money. Sometimes it’s hard being sustainable being a working artist.”
Melissa explained that she had her work showing in ‘True Colours‘ for three years, an exhibition of art work from across the schools in Northern Ireland which showcases the work of top GSCE and A-Level art students at the Ulster Museum art gallery in Belfast.
“At one of these events I was mentioned as Artist of the Year supported by Donaghadee Rotary Club. I can remember having to carry in my two metre square paining of myself with a horse. It was a very big painting by my normal standards.”
But Melissa says that she has been busy for the past couple of years and pastimes such as reading and creative writing have definitely slowed down at the altar of her passion… art.
“At the moment I am fully booked up with orders to do sketches and a couple of paintings, and I have a number of prints I can sell. So from a business perspective, I have a busy order book which is a good sign.
“I can do portraits from a photo but it would need to be of a reasonable quality, certainly not over-exposed as you lose the small detail that way.”
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