Francessca O’Donnell

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Well known local dance icon Francessca O’Donnell has been involved with the industry for over 20 years. She tells us about her other creative passion – designing beautiful mosaics.

You are one creative woman! How did you get into mosaic artwork? 
Art in all mediums has always been a great passion. I first dabbled in mosaic when I was studying for a fine Arts Degree many years ago. It was not until I discovered the breathtaking mosaics in St Peters Basilica in Rome that my interest in this medium flared once more. The works in Rome were not only on an enormous scale, but were so finely detailed that I had mistaken them for paintings until I was close enough to see the tiny pieces. 

Over the last few years I have developed ideas and pieces in collaboration with my partner Vic Compton, who is also part of our small creative arts business called ‘Out there Design and Mosaic.’

One of the pieces by Francessca

One of the pieces by Francessca

> Explain to us the process of mosaic artwork – the time and effort you put into the subjects.

Mosaic is very labour intensive, but fascinating to do. Once we have prepared the surface and draw up the design the fun begins. I generally have a rough idea of what I would like it to look like but once we begin to lay and glue the tiny pieces of tile, the design takes a life of its own. Each tile is hand cut to fit the design, which can be pretty fiddly. 

After all the tiles are in place and dried, the dirty work of grouting begins. We tend to grout mainly in black, as it brings out the colours beautifully. The grouting process is messy but also fun, when you see the mosaic finally reveal itself when you start to wipe the grout off each little piece. 

The final process is painting the back of the board and drilling holes so they are ready to hang. From start to finish most of our bigger works have taken about six weeks to complete.

> Tell us about your subjects, and where do you draw your themes from? 

Generally I have seen something that will stick in my head and I want to explore the idea further. I am one of those people who still go to the beach and come home with pockets of shells, driftwood and coloured pebbles, or wander off into the bush to find unusual shaped leaves, bark and gum nuts while Vic is playing golf. 

Needless to say, my golf is hopeless, but I have copious containers of ‘stuff’ I have collected to do something with ‘one of these days’. I also love buying books on artists and ‘how to’ books on anything arty. 

Mosaic is just one of many mediums I love to work in, but it is the one I keep coming back to. The mosaics we have recently completed draw on simple themes in nature such as the sea and flowers. I have tried a few nudes which were much harder to accomplish, although each one gets better. We have also done geometric pieces and designs incorporating Chinese symbols and glass tiles, which have been very popular.

A Mosaic from the collection

A Mosaic from the collection

> You also run the well known local dance academy Francessca Louise Academy of Dance. How do you balance the two passions?

I’m usually buzzing and rarely stop or slow down. Strangely enough, the two things actually complement each other. The mosaic is the zen part of my life I do for relaxation and thinking. Teaching children to dance has always been a very busy and demanding pleasure which consumes the majority of my life, but I love it.

> What do you think of the local Port Macquarie art scene?

Since I moved here in ’87 there is so much more to see and experience in the arts. We are fortunate in this area to have such a rich arts community who work in so many mediums, each with their own distinctive style. 

In recent years the exhibitions we have of local and imported artists have been of such a high calibre and so diverse in style and media. 

I think the Fresh Arts festival is a fantastic incentive and spring board for the youth of our area who have a passion for the arts to get involved and express themselves.

> Who are some artists that inspire you? 

I have always loved the rich colours and textures of Gustav Klimt’s work and the stunning simplicity of Melbourne artist Bruce Earles. I’m also inspired by mixed medium artists like Leon Pericles, who produced a huge body of work from painting, printmaking, sculpture and stained glass to calligraphy and kite making. 

More recently we met Krissa Wilkinson, a local artist who specialises in glass mosaic, and we were so inspired by the photos of her work.

 > How far do you wish to take your passion for art?

Art has always been a huge part of my life, and life has been a constant inspiration to create more. Since we exhibited at the Artist Markets in January, things have snowballed and we have quite a few pieces to complete.

The most exciting will be a very large mosaic work to form part of a medicine wheel garden at the Amber Healing Farm in North Haven owned by Jean Davey. The research and design for this exciting project has brought us in contact with local sculptor Dave Wilson, who is heavily involved with planning and creating works for the Healing Centre. 

While this will take up most of the year between our other work, I have always had in the back of my mind to some day get involved in community art projects. Later down the track I would love to start art classes for children, where they not only work on a variety mixed media individual pieces, but also worked together to produce large sculptures, mosaics and paintings to exhibit permanently around the Hastings. 

> Aside from the business and creating mosaics, what other interests do you have?

Well, to be honest there is very little time between these two consuming passions. But reading and music would be right up there. 

One thing that has really caught my attention of late was a report on 60 minutes about Michael Reynolds, who has developed an eco community in Taos New Mexico using recycled items to build homes and a community and the eco Village at Currumbin. Both are totally self sufficient, eco friendly houses and communities. 

I have decided in my next life I am coming back as a hippy, living in the Eco Village at Currumbin and spending my days creating pieces, growing organic tomatoes and playing my Djembe!

> Thank you Francessca.


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