Growing my art business started with one drawing.
In the Summer of 2020, I was half-way through a course in Trinity College Dublin called 'Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship' when everything went online. Ironically, this course was teaching me how to turn my art into a viable online business. I was learning business skills that would be very useful in my new venture, Mary Duffy Portraits.
My first task was to get my work seen, so I set up a Facebook page and showed my artwork there. While I continued studying online, my first portrait commission came my way, through a lovely woman from Cork named Maura.
Maura's mother wanted to give something to her grandchildren during lockdown - a keepsake to remember this strange time when they couldn't come to visit. She asked for ideas and Maura found me in a Facebook group for artists and creatives called Bite The Biscuit. When Maura showed her my work she said yes!
Over the next few weeks I drew each of her grandchildren - six separate portraits of her six beautiful granddaughters. When all of them were done, I posted them to Maura who brought them to her mother.
She was thrilled. All the children were thrilled. And my online business was born!
Here's what Maura said:
"I have to tell you Mary, everyone in my family has been thrilled with the drawings.
My parents are delighted to gift their grandchildren something so beautiful. All the parents are delighted cause who wouldn't be thrilled to see their child's portrait drawn with such tenderness, and finally the girls themselves are delighted and also fascinated at the representation of themselves."
It was such a boost to my new business and gave me the confidence to keep going.
As I started to get more portrait commissions, I soon realised that the portraits were becoming a substitute for trips to family abroad.
I started to hear stories about visits from grandchildren abroad that had to be cancelled. I wanted to create something that would symbolise this longing for connection with those we couldn't see in person.
So I started sketching hands. People holding hands, children holding their grandparents' hands, parents holding their baby's hand, lovers holding hands. Hands became a symbol of all the connections that we were longing to have, and all the people we were missing.
Holding On was the first drawing that I drew in this collection and it was included in the RTE Guide's Top Gifts for the Home for Christmas 2020. Getting this one drawing into the Press had a huge impact on my business and encouraged me to continue to grow my online business.
The Meath Chronicle featured the drawing in an article called "Portrait Artist creating cherished keepsakes for loved ones abroad" and brought my work to the attention of another older audience who are not online.
As I grew my collection, I got an order from an Irish woman in Spain who wanted to send her daughter in Galway a framed print of my second drawing, Never Let Go, one that captures the bond between a mother and her child.
When her daughter received it, she sent her mam this message:
"Oh my goodness! The most beautiful gift ever just arrived at my door! It's stunning! Thank you so so much! I really adore it, you got it spot on. It will get a special place in our home, hoping you also can visit and see it soon too! It's beautiful!"
Her daughter has her own little girl now so this gift was perfect for her. Even though her mam couldn't visit, I was able to send a note with her message to make the gift even more personal.
Another way of making the drawings more personal happened by accident. I was contacted by a woman in Navan, Co Meath. She'd seen my work on Facebook and had been browsing my website but she couldn't find what she was looking for.
She wanted a New Baby gift and she loved my hand drawings, but she wanted a drawing with both parents' hands holding the baby's hand.
And so, In Safe Hands was born. When she saw it she was thrilled that this had been inspired by her request, and was delighted to give it to the new parents.
The bonus discovery was that this drawing could be personalised with the baby's name and date of birth and now I had a way to make it an even more personal gift!
I continue to do portraits, but I also love to create art that means something to you - not because it's a drawing of someone you love, but because it represents what you feel for them.
The Hand Collection has grown and become a series of Limited Edition Prints that mark the special occasions in our lives. But aside from marking our family's milestones, they also celebrate the relationships we have with those we love.
A photo captures the moment. A portrait celebrates it.
I hope you can find something in my work that means something to you and your family!