Artist used lockdown to pen children’s books

Maghera artist Patricia McNamee has made productive use of the lockdown to achieve a long-held ambition by writing and publishing a series of illustrated children’s books.

The most recent, Springtime on the Farm, has been influenced by events from her childhood days.

Until she was eight, she had been brought up on a small mixed holding near Trassagh in Co Armagh.

Like many another family farm, there were plenty of animals about, not just pigs and sheep but wildlife too. There were rabbits and squirrels, even the odd fox but her pet ferret was her pride and joy.

Life was busy and everyone lent a hand – even the children – Patricia’s job was to help look after and feed the chickens.

When not at school, she would play with her little brother in the meadow beside the house. One time, they found some clay pipes buried in the ground – her mother told that they belonged to the fairies.

Patricia’s childhood imagination worked overtime and she could see them everywhere. Years later, after her family had all grown up, she captured them, this time on the pages of the first book in the series, Woodland Magic.

She had long harboured the desire to write, illustrate and publish books. Her father was very well educated, spoke five languages and had always been an avid reader. There was an abundant supply of books in the house, many richly illustrated.

At the age of four Patricia was attracted by them and began copying the pictures. Her mother bought her a box of paints to encourage her love of artistry.

She also bought her some pretty clothes, later, sparking Patricia’s interest in fashion design.

When she was eight, Patricia was sad to leave behind her happy memories of the countryside when, with her two brothers and her parents, she moved a few miles away to a town house in Keady.

There, she recalls, at the age of ten, making a small book for her little brother as he was about to start school.

She wanted to go to grammar school and soon started at one in Armagh city, where, following in her father’s footsteps, she developed a love for Latin and French. She soon acquired a French pen-pal, which helped enormously.

They exchanged letters and holidays and are still in touch. During her final years at school she was able to sell her paintings of nearby landscapes and scenes to local residents.

She subsequently trained at the Belfast College of Art, acquiring skills also in sculpture, screen printing and jewellery design. During the summer vacations, she worked as an au-pair in France and catching up with her pen-pal.

Following graduation she became a teacher, specialising in art and eventually 
becoming head of the 
art department.

She had wanted to attend the Beaux- Arts in de Paris – just across the River Seine from the Louvre – and become a lecturer in art but her mother did not want her to go. Nevertheless, on one of her visits to the Louvre, she made a pencil sketch of the Mona Lisa.

Patricia’s love of the arts is not restricted to painting. She has a keen interest in film and animation and attended a summer school in these subjects at the Ulster University in Coleraine.

She made a short animated film for the Arts Council Gallery in Belfast, introduced film as an art form in art college and some of her films were studies in movement and light leading to work in Kinetic 

Nor has she lost her love for France, and has taken family trips there. On one occasion they drove to St Tropez and stayed for several weeks. On another trip the destination was Biarritz, also in the south of France, combined with a trip over the Pyrénées and into Spain.

Patricia’s books are on sale in newsagents in the mid-Ulster area, including by Nathan Spears in the Eurospar in Maghera.

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