Entering the building of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp will already blow your mind. But wait until you see all the pieces of art that are created by the 540 art students working there. Grace O’Leary is one of them. She is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and currently spends her Erasmus in Antwerp. Grace studies Printmaking, where images are transferred onto copper plates by using special techniques, to eventually print them on paper. At the Art College at Campus Mutsaard we had a chat about studying internationally, creative challenges and finding your artistic talent.

What made you want to study art?

When I was in primary school I used to enter lots of art competitions and always kind of win. That was the only thing I was good at at school. In secondary school, I had amazing art tutors and we did some crazy projects that made me think of art outside of the norm at that age. One of our tutors studied printmaking in college so when she was teaching us in secondary school, as one of our crafts we studied print. That had a big influence on me. I enjoy drawing and that there’s nothing pretentious about print. It is what it is. It’s a humble art form. You can go crazy with it but you don’t have to.

You’re staying in Antwerp for a whole year. Why did you choose this city?

I’d looked through a lot of Erasmus options at home and it got down to three colleges: Oslo, Bergen and here. I think what made me decide here is because Antwerp is so central to Europe I could travel and get to see a lot. Another reason is the Royal Academy. Some of the first print houses of the world for reproducing production of the bible were actually in Antwerp. So for printmaking there’s really a lot of history which I thought would be inspiring.

Tell me your favourite and your least favourite thing about the college here.

I love life drawing where you’re drawing a nude model. It’s really nice, because for four hours a day you don’t really have to think about your work. You just look at the model and you need to draw it proportionally but you can have your own style with the drawing. I think it’s a very important practise that a lot of art colleges are losing at the moment. One thing I don’t love about this college is the space. I feel like in the printmaking studio, it would be nicer if there was a whole room of just studio spaces where people could have a desk and a space to leave their work. It could give you this kind of moment to relax when you come in and think about your work before you go on to actually start working. That’s the only real negative thing.

Have a look into Grace’s day at the Royal College


Does your personality affect your art?

I think everyone’s personality affects their art in some way. For some people, you can feel it and be like “this is clearly this person’s work, this is what they are trying to say”. I think for me I don’t fully know the answer to that yet, but I suppose there’s things that I notice with making work that reflect my personality. Sometimes when I create a piece of work I procrastinate. I think it’s the fear of starting it and messing it up and then when I start I realise there’s so much more potential but I’ve given myself so little time. That’s something I want to change.

You work on prints on the topic of architecture right now. Why did you choose that topic?

I became mainly interested in architecture when I started my first and second year in college in Dublin. There were loads of empty ghost estates and empty buildings around the city but then suddenly construction started happening. Cranes were all around and I think I was just observing the environment and it interested me. I had started last year with more of an abstract feeling of architecture but this year I wanted to learn how to print properly. So I just chose forms that I enjoy to look at or that I’m intrigued by in my environment. I think drawing them on a plate and having them printed individually makes you notice simple things on your daily walk and you just start to reobserve your city.

What’s more important for your art form: Talent or practise?

I think talent sometimes makes you realise you’re interested in it. But talent can be a bit poisonous because if you can feel so sure of yourself, you’re like “Oh, I can do this so I don’t need to do it today”. I think practise is the most important because practise means you try to do something every day. That is everything at the end of the day whereas talent is something some artists might have and some might not.

So practise can make up for talent?

Yes, I think so completely. I personally don’t think I have great talent. Like here people can really draw amazing images whereas for me, I don’t have that. But I still want to do something and say something. So for me practise will probably lead to me finding my own talent.