A brush with one of Ireland’s most popular children’s artists

by Emma Nolan

THERE is a sense of nostalgia that surrounds Don Conroy as countless Irish people recall watching him on The Den after school when they were young.
The Gazette caught up with the legendary artist to find out what he’s up to, and how technology is changing the way younger generations engage with art.
He said: “I first went on The Den 30 years ago, and every five years you have a new generation of viewers, so you get to reach so many people, which is lovely.
“There’s an amazing connection between the generations – I talk to kids who are 10 years old who have watched me on Draw With Don, as well as 20- and 30-year-olds who used to watch it.
“I was in a very privileged position, because I was beamed into people’s houses and I could talk directly to them, and I would be able to say hello to the people I’d met.”
Don says that while he was working on The Den, he was also writing his Draw With Don books.
“With the books, I was visiting libraries and schools to give talks, so I became an ambassador for The Den even when I wasn’t on it.”
Don is still an avid painter and drawer who tries to make some form of art every day.
“If I hear of a fundraiser or something like that, I try to do a drawing or painting for it. Recently, I drew some barn owls for a hospice fundraiser,” he says. “I’m drawing and painting all the time anyway, so it’s nice if people can get some enjoyment out of it.”
With newer design software and techniques being made available, Don still maintains that you just can’t beat the classic pen and paper combination.
“I’ve never used computers for my art – and I have been tempted with the effects that you can do – but there is nothing more natural that putting a pencil to paper.
“As Michelangelo said, ‘It’s not about the result, it’s about the action,’ so when you’re doing a drawing you’re connected with every artist who has ever tried to draw.”
Don believes that with the widespread use of tablets and technology, a lot of children may lose their drawing skills.
“I think caring parents and teachers want to get them to realise that entertainment is not always presented to them professionally, but that they can create something and it teaches them to look at the world with creative eyes, and to me that’s so important.
“The more we’re pushing down this technological road, I think that sometimes people just need to stop and take a break and get a bit of balance.”
Don has teamed up with Haven Pharmacy’s Back to School Expert Hands Colouring Competition for children, creating a back to school-inspired illustration for kids to colour in and be in with a change to win some great prizes.
Copies of the illustration can be picked up in any of the 52 Haven Pharmacy outlets nationwide.
“Colouring is a great way for young people to be introduced to the creative form, and can kick-start their imagination, opening up the creative journey that will enrich their lives.”
“I want to wish all the children who take part in the competition the best of luck,” he says.

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