Lorna Watkins The abstract painter from Sligo who brings poetry to COVID masks

I was always a frustrated painter. Eventually, I gave up my “normal” job to do it full time. 

Terrifying but best decision ever!

Before we jump straight into the fascinating life story of this marvellous maker, we need to make room for a big PSA!

Aside from keeping her painting business afloat, this Irish artist has been busy creating in an attempt to help the COVID crisis by making protective gear for frontline staff:

I saw a call out on Facebook looking for people in Sligo who had a sewing machine to help with making masks and scrubs for frontline staff. Within two days there were over 40 people sewing on a voluntary basis. Fabric and haberdashery were donated by local businesses. The Gardai were delivering and collecting masks. Such incredible goodwill, it is very moving to be part of it. I had forgotten how much I loved sewing. I used to make a lot of my own clothes, I even made my wedding dress! I have loads of gorgeous fabric in my home so I decided to keep making masks as I was getting loads of inquiries.

Lorna Watkins

She is calling them, ‘Cloth of Heaven’,


It’s one of my favourite Yeats poems, I rarely remember words to poems but always remember this one. I live close to where Yeats is buried in Drumcliff graveyard so he’s in my mind a lot.

The Cloths of Heaven Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light; I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B Yeats

Without further ado, we present to you our Meet the Maker of the week – Lorna Watkins!

Most of us will have experienced that one life altering moment where things are put into perspective and suddenly you feel the urge to change everything right?

Well for Sligo artist, Lorna Watkins, that moment came in the form of a soap making book she read one afternoon.

Growing up in Kildare, the artist had always been interested in creative work.

First dabbling the world of fashion and print design, it never crossed her mind that one day she’d found and run a global handmade soap company that’d sell products across the US, UK and Ireland. 

But that story comes later – first Lorna took us back to her college days where she completed a course in Printed Textile Design at the NCAD after studying at the Grennan Mill Craft School and Edinburgh College of Art

“I was always a frustrated painter, I chose to study textile design as there was loads of drawing on the course as opposed to a fine art degree.  I didn’t draw or paint for a long time between running my business, renovating, having children but really longed for it.  Eventually I gave up my “normal” job with a salary to become a full time painter 7 years ago.  Terrifying but best decision ever.” 

Taking her soap business as far as she felt she needed to, after seven years she sold it and used the funds to renovate the cottage in Sligo where she lives now.

Familiar with the feeling of success, it comes as no surprise that once Lorna swapped the 9-5 for a creative lifestyle, the awards and exhibitions came hurtling in. 

“I was selected for the 188th Open Exhibition at the RHA, Dublin and awarded a fellowship by the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in 2019.   My work has been shown in group exhibitions in London, Berlin and New York.  In 2020, I was awarded a residency at JOYA:AiR residency in Almeira, Spain and was selected to show work at the Zhou B Art Center, Chicago in Threads of Truth, curated by Sergio Gomez.” 

Coming up with new ideas night, noon and morning can get tough but the Irish artist looks to her surrounds for inspiration. 

“I’m influenced by what’s around me, my family, the sea, my garden, the mountains, dreams and sometimes all that mixed together.  Colour expressive mark making and process are very important to me and I’m not really interested in the end result..  I draw a lot and use my drawings to inform my paintings.” 

As for future aspirations, Lorna is interested in spreading the word about her collections via collaborations and global projects. She’s also keen to expand her genre to include other art forms such as printmaking and sound art, while continually maintaining her one-to-one weekend course to encourage more people to take the plunge and #keepcreative!


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