Esther Breslin (b.1987) is an Irish visual artist living and working in Norway. She graduated from the National College of Art and Design (Ireland) in 2011, with a BA Honours in Printmaking. In 2015 she established Tynset Grafikkverksted, the printmaking studio from where she now works and teaches.
Breslin has exhibited widely at home and abroad. She has artwork in both private and public collections and increasingly works on commission based work. She is a member of the Association of Norwegian Printmakers, the Association of Norwegian Visual Artists and The Watercolour Society of Ireland.
Breslin's work is largely driven by the desire to explore the technical possibilities of a medium. While printmaking has been central to her practice for many years she finds herself focusing more on painting. She is profoundly influenced by nature and sees her work as an act of preserving moments or instances from her surrounding natural environment.
What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?
I always loved to draw as a child. As the youngest of 4 I used to observe what kind of exercises my sisters would get in their art classes at school, and try to do them at home myself. I liked the challenge! I suppose it wasn’t until one of my sisters decided to study art at university level that I really began to consider becoming an artist as a viable option for myself.
How would you describe your own personal style?
In one word, detailed! I consider the act of observing as equally integral to my work as the process of drawing or painting itself.
What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?
Specialising in etching in the second year of my bachelor’s really allowed me to harness the interest in detail that I had always had. The process of creating an image on a copper plate is suited to fine lines and relies on precision. These properties opened up a world of almost microscopic detail to me. In terms of evolving, I am always trying to achieve greater technical accuracy. Thematically I am moving towards creating work that deals more with environmental concerns.
What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?
I think more than anything there is an inherent need to create within me. I feel a great deal of frustration when there has been a period of time that I have not been able to actively engage in my practice. This is immediately resolved the minute I start a new print or painting.
Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?
There are plenty of people who have both encouraged and inspired over the years but it would be a crying shame if I did not specifically mention my partner Marius Reed. He has a wonderful and vast set of skills, which have facilitated me in my endeavours time and time again. He also has a fearless attitude to trying new things and therefore helps me to be less intimidated by the unknown!
When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?
Although I have spent more time painting recently I will always love the process of etching. Everything about this highly technical process will always have an air of magic about it to me. Not to mention that the anticipation of lifting the paper off a new plate is comparable to none!
When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?
An ever present love of nature means my work often takes the form of landscapes. As a child I ended up the only student of a weekly nature class at a local park. There, an older lady imparted all her knowledge to me about the surrounding natural habitat. She literally made me hug trees. Today trees remain to be my favourite subject matter.
Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?
When in any natural setting I photograph incessantly, this way when I am back in the studio I have a whole visual library of my own creation to work from. In addition to this I will research things online, or chew out ideas through writing in notebooks. I may manipulate an image before I start working with it, combine elements of it with elements of another, or simply make small enhancements manually as I create the print or painting.
Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is it more a case of when the moment is right you work?
As an artist I have found there is no such thing as a normal day, or certainly I do not operate within a fixed schedule. Having numerous other commitments time is precious and I have to seize it whenever possible. This sometimes mean plugging away at the studio, even when I am not feeling very creative, simply because I cannot afford to let the opportunity pass me by. When I do get a studio day where I am totally in the zone, I can work for hours on end without remembering to stop for food!
When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?
A little bit of both. I tend to have one piece in focus at a time. If I have worked for a very consolidated amount of time on it and have begun to tire of it, or can no longer see it for what it is, then I often have smaller less challenging pieces that I turn to for a break.
How has your art evolved to be where it is today?
An interest in nature and a desire to achieve technical proficiency has always driven me to try and capture things like; scenes with a certain kind of light, the mood of a forest or the intricacy of a texture. The complexity of something and aesthetic preference have often been key factors for me in deciding on a subject matter. However, after spending a summer organic farming in Canada, and subsequently moving from the city to the countryside, I began to question more what it is that compels me to try to substantiate and preserve scenes from my surrounding natural environment. My work is therefore now evolving to focus more on environmental concerns. I am looking now to imagine the consequences of current actions on the future, than to capture moments already passed.
"A Brisk Daybreak in March", Esther Breslin, Watercolour on Paper, 2016
Which of your artworks are you most proud off?
Perhaps because they are the newest, or perhaps because they are some of my biggest artworks to date, I’m currently most proud of the recent oil paintings I’ve made. I think years of working with etching and breaking images down into layers has given me a greater understanding of colour and depth. Something which is lending itself well to oil painting.
Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?
I’ve never really been into the idea of idolising people or having any kind of a favourite artist. There are lots of people everywhere doing amazingly creative things all the time. I admire anyone who stubbornly sticks at making their passion their living and refuses to succumb to the financial security of a regular job!
If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?
I probably would have been more suited to a period where realism and landscape art were at their prime. I’m a little conventional in that sense!
What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?
Social media has given more people than ever a platform for sharing their form of creative expression. While this has it’s benefits it has also contributed to a saturation of the market. The distinction between amateur and professional artist is being increasingly blurred. In order to compete, the current professional artist is almost forced to dedicate more of their time to maintaining an active online presence.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?
Do your best to appreciate and maximise on the time and facilities that are available to you while you are studying. These are two luxuries that will never be more abundant to you than they are now!
Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is their another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?
Very gestural oil painting always grabs my attention as it is unlike from what I do. As someone who does not know when to leave things be, I often worry my paintings become too rigid. I admire the spontaneity and fluidity in others work.
We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?
As mentioned in the previous question, yes, I have a really hard time letting go! Etching comes more to a natural end point than painting. If left to my own devices I would rework a painting for eternity. Every break taken from a canvas reveals something new when I return to it. Usually deadlines are what I use to force me to call something complete.
Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature?
I’m not sure I would say it’s an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a certain theme, rather that they have an opportunity to do so. Some choose to utilise this opportunity and some choose to work from a more personal perspective. Both are an expression of creative nature but with different end goals. I believe my work is progressing more in a direction for advocating a cause.
What are you working on at the moment?
In general I'm working towards a body of work for my upcoming exhibition. Specifically, I’m just coming to the end of my largest painting to date, (measuring 1.2 x 1.8 meters) which depicts the view behind my house on a foggy autumn afternoon.
"Remembering When ...?" II, Esther Breslin, Etching (No:4/10), 2013