Monika and I are part of Cuidiú Dublin North West and that’s how I first met her. She works as a florist during the day and paints at night, when she is not taking care of her little boy or spending time with her husband. She is a very inspiring person and a beautiful mama! I think she could have easily pursued a modelling career too :)
I met her in one of my favourite park, the Santry Desmesne, one warm sunny evening for a photo session to illustrate this interview. I invite you to keep reading to find out more about Monika’s work and see Melanie and Lois in one of her beautiful painting.
Monika, when did you start painting?
To be honest I think I just never stopped painting as a kid :) Every kid paints, and most adults don’t, have you ever noticed? It’s funny, because art used to give us so much pleasure when we were small, how come most people forgot it’s fun when they grow up?
But if you’re asking about my professional experience I think the serious job started when I went to high school. There was a youth centre just across the street and I started to attend regular classes there, usually 3 times a week for 3-4 hours. It was very well tutored by the great artist Maria Sawicka-Biczyk. We had a half naked model in one room (as we were just teens) and still life subjects in the other. Everyone could choose what interested them most that day and work on favourite techniques. The tutor would only come to discuss proportions, composition and expression but we were absolutely free to choose the medium.
That was the real start of my art journey.
What are you favourite subjects?
I love to paint nature, but my favourite subject was always, and still is, people’s faces, expressions and smiles.
It’s also the hardest subject as with the trees of flowers you’re not necessarily expecting them to look alike, while with people portraits, especially family portraits, it is a key factor. But I can’t help myself, I just simply love it. I love painting kids in parents arms, couples and families.
It’s hard trying to catch on all those emotions and interactions between them but it’s so fulfilling when the work is done.
I know you are open to commissions. Explain to us how you can create the perfect family painting from different photos.
I am open to commissions indeed as I’m very happy every time I paint and I love to make people happy with my art.
I usually work from pictures, especially when it comes to kids/ family portraits. I very often come across the problem that the people don’t have one favourite picture they would like me to paint, or they think that they haven’t got any good enough pictures at all. But who will do a photo session before ordering portrait? It doesn’t make any sense and it is actually not necessary! I’m happy to work from pictures from your phone if there is a lovely smile captured, or the look in the eyes, or anything else that makes it dear to you. If you are not happy with your pictures because on the one where the mum is perfect, the baby is making a face or because the picture is not of a good quality etc. I need to tell you: it is not a problem for me at all! My paintings are realistic but I very often work from dodgy or low quality photos with great results, many times combining a few of them on my painting to obtain the desired effect.
For example when I was making a Valentine’s gift for my husband, I painted from 2 pictures: on the first one I loved my husband’s smile but wasn’t happy with my expression so I used another one for that. The other day I was painting one of my Cuidiú friend: a mother and her baby, and I’ve combined 2 pictures taken from very different angles to obtain the desired effect.
I also like to add some magic to my pictures and change a few bits here and there, like when I painted my son’s portrait from the picture I took in the car while he was sleeping in the car seat. The final picture is him sleeping under a tree, sitting on the grass on the blue hour after sunset. And when I painted christening portrait for my friend’s daughter I painted her as a little fairy with butterfly wings, and the other day I turned a mother into mermaid.
When do you find the time to paint between your day job and your son?
I am usually working between 4 to 5 days a week and including travel it really takes most of my time and then, I’m a part of the family and I have to do my share of the housework and find a time to spend with my husband and my son and to rest myself. It’s hard to juggle all this but painting gives me so much joy I’m usually staying painting late in the night as this is my only time do it is on the quiet evenings, if my son is sleeping peacefully after a busy day and I’m done with all the house chores.
Which painting would you like me to share here and why did you pick this one?
It’s very hard to choose one of your paintings but I think that I would like to share with you my maternity portrait of my friend which I called “The Safest Place”. It’s really sweet and dear, the moment captured in this picture is full of love and emotions.
I also love my family portrait which I’ve painted as a gift for my husband.
Tell us about your copy of Madonna Breastfeeding who got into the Irish President’s Christmas Card.
When I first heard that to commemorate National Breastfeeding Week Sabina Higgins, Irish First Lady invited Cuidiu and other breastfeeding supporting organisations to Aras an Uachtarain I couldn’t believe it! I was thrilled that I could be a part of that historical event, so I decided to paint some “breastfeeding pictures” as my personal thank you. I decided to paint a copy of some piece of art as was aware that it could be widely discussed event.
After a short research I choose the “Madonna Breastfeeding”, also known as “Madonna with the Green Cushion” by Andrea Solario. It’s also well know in Poland as for a long time it was believed that if you have this Madonna in your house, especially in your kitchen, it will save your family from the famine. The position of Madonnas fingers which stops overflow of milk is probably the reason behind that belief, which not many people is aware nowadays.
After I gave her my gift I spoke for a moment with Mrs Sabina about her plans of making a breastfeeding supporting Christmas Card. She mentioned that she struggled finding art on the subject so I offered my help, and later on sent her a list of about 40 paintings with breastfeeding Madonnas, with the places where they can be found nowadays if she would like to use them for the card. Then after some time her assistant asked whether they could use my copy of Andrea Solario’s piece for the official president Christmas Card and I felt really honoured and of course I said yes. It still seems like a dream to me: a reproduction of my painting went to every head of state around the world! Unbelievable joy and honour, I will be telling my grandkids about! I’m so proud and happy and also I really think it was a great way to promote breastfeeding as it brings discussion into another level: if breastfeeding was good enough for the Christ and for the president’s couple why not give it a go? It’s great to be a part of it!
Thank you Monika! I really enjoyed chatting with you and getting to know you better and I am sure I am not the only one.