An Evolving Career for Carmel

5th January 2018

Posted In: The Interview

She had always loved art, but, as a school-leaver in the dog-eat-dog recession of the 1980’s, Carmel Madigan chose to go the business route, and became an accountant.
 “It was felt that most opportunities were to be had in finance,” she recalls now, “and, as the 1980’s was a decade of recession, we all had to focus on what was going to yield a worthwhile job.”

Words: Áilín Quinlan

Back then this ambitious young business student could never have imagined that within a few decades she would be an internationally successful artist, author and founder of a Hedge School.
 After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Studies (Finance) degree from UL in 1983, Carmel spent the next 13 years working as a financial accountant in the banking and multinational sector.  “It was very challenging and very fulfilling career,” she recalls, “but with a young family I found the work was not flexible enough.
 “It is difficult to work through a corporate year end, right through Christmas to meet Nasdaq expectations, when one has very small children with traditional family Christmas expectations. 
“It was also very difficult, as head of my department, to take time out in the middle of a working day to travel for half an hour to take my eldest for speech and language therapy,” says Carmel. In the course of her work she had become deeply interested in graphic design through working with Windows 3, which she recalls “was the first time that user-friendly computing really became available.”

Carmel found the technology so fascinating, in fact, that in 1994, she left her job and established a company, Designer Print, in Ennis, employing a graduate from the Limerick College of Art and Design and offering a range of services from original design to small batch colour laser print.
 The company thrived, producing bespoke sales posters, auctioneering reports and even developed a range of wedding stationery, attracting agents throughout Ireland and abroad.
However, six years later, Carmel’s third child was born, and her graphic designer moved to Dublin. The businesswoman decided it was time for a change:
 “I wanted some quality time out to spend with James (my youngest) and his older siblings.  “I also wished for more creative expression,” she recalls, adding that it was around then that she began to experiment with paint and brush and various media.
 “At school I had won many artistic awards, and had taken Art at Leaving Certificate level and done very well.”
 In 2004, she and her husband Peter built a large creative studio beside their home near Ennis in Co Clare.  “The studio allowed me to create large work and gave me my own private space,” Carmel explains. 
“My quest is to pioneer, and through experimentation, I’ve worked with a very significant array of materials – ocean plastics, botanical materials, rock fragments, fibres, wires, and all sorts of found items. 
“Building collage tapestries from such materials is my preferred medium, but I’m never willing to be pigeon holed.”

Once Carmel began to promote her work commercially, her reputation as an artist grew quickly and her pieces were exhibited in galleries in Dublin, Clare and Galway, as well as at the RDS Art fair and others: 
“This was the Celtic Tiger era. My work was very attractive and energetic and it began to sell very well,” recalls Carmel.
 Dromoland Castle and other large hotels purchased her work, while the Office of Public Words and several government departments became clients. Her financial and management training stood her in good stead in the business side of the art world:
“My background in accountancy was critical to my success in promoting my work,” she says now.
 “I was very focused and professional in the way in which I approached galleries and art fairs and in setting up and curating my own events. You do need to have an understanding of marketing and finance.”

However in 2011 following the bailout, the art market suffered a major blow:
 “Art is the ultimate luxury,” she says pragmatically. “My sales dropped by 70% and I had to look elsewhere.” 
Never one to let the grass grow under her feet Carmel researched and published a book The Wildflowers of Loophead which she self-published in May 2012:
 “My graphic design experienced came in very handy in the design of the book which did very well.”
 Meanwhile she was not only researching her second book, published in 2014 – ‘Seasons, Species & Patterns of a North East Atlantic Rocky Shore’ – but establishing the Loophead Summer Hedge School, a series of creative and environmental summer learning modules aimed at visitors, schools colleges and corporate groups:
 “It took a full year to devise modules that would offer not only an art programme but also an ecology programme, for visiting professionals, tourists, and public at large,” she recalls.
 Over the past five years, and with the publication of her second book, the Hedge school has linked with other key players in the education market: 
“This year I devised and ran two fully booked and DES-approved CPD courses for teachers, while the hedge school has been successful in winning a contract to deliver the Explorers Education Programme for the Marine Institute. 
“We have had the Geography Department of Trinity College at the hedge school, in their quest to build knowledge around the ecology of Ross beach, with particular focus on bio-erosion and transportation. 
“Going forward, and with a background in the corporate sector, I’d like to offer ‘experience’ and ‘bonding’ sessions through engagement in both ecological and creative eco-systems,” she adds.

Since 2015, the art market has begun to improve and many of Carmel’s larger works are once again finding homes in Ireland and abroad with clients everywhere from Chicago, Vancouver and Ohio to Switzerland. 
Life for this accountant-turned-artist, teacher and author, it seems, is an ever-evolving series of creative ‘bursts’:
 “My work is my life and I enjoy everything I do,” she enthuses. 
“Everything I do feeds into the next thing I do!
 “My background in business and graphic design helped me with the business side of artistic life and, later, with the design and marketing of my books. 
“My work in ecology, research wildflowers and the coastline for the books has informed and improved my ability to intelligently represent nature in my art. 
“I find that everything I do informs my work or leads to something new. I never close the creative door – or my mind – to anything!”

You can find out more about Carmel and her work here>>