MARCO ISLAND — O'Neill's tropical art graces private homes, shops and galleries on the Island and now she's taking her talent a step further — she's teaching others how to indulge their own creative side. On Nov. 5, O'Neill began a series of drawing classes at the Marco Island Center for the Arts.
"Teaching drawing is easy," she said. "What's monstrously difficult is teaching patience."
She notes that many students are anxious to draw a good image right away, but the key is to take it slow and steady and not be afraid to make mistakes.
"I tell them that they must be willing to throw out their first 4,000 drawings," she said laughing.
That could be an overstatement, but the lesson she teaches is to never stop trying, and that the adage "practice makes perfect" is really true. She stresses that students must draw something – anything – every day and put in at least three to five hours a week of practice. She admits frustration is common when you begin.
"My challenge is convincing somebody that they are going to get there."
Her classes are open to beginners and experienced artists alike. Many people have put their creative desires on hold while they raise a family or put energy into careers, she said, and now later in life they have time to indulge those desires and try something new.
On the other hand, some experienced artists feel like they've lost track and want to go back to brush up on basics.
Classes include a slide presentation, discussions on the subject and, of course, practice, practice, practice. She is convinced that beginning with a basic drawing class is the way to develop a foundation of knowledge that one can build on.
"Trying to paint without first learning how to draw is like writing with no vocabulary," she said, since drawing forms the basic structure of any image. And to those who have never attempted drawing and wonder if they must have natural talent to even try, O'Neill says, "It's a matter of love, not talent."
With a long list of credentials – degrees in both fine art and English-creative writing from the University of Southern Florida, and further studies in the U.S. and abroad in England, Ireland and Italy – O'Neill is not resting on her laurels.
"I take an artist's workshop every year, even if it isn't in my genre," she said. "It improves my comprehension."
When Anne Rudolph, owner of the Red Rooster, asked her to paint roosters on the wall of the restaurant, O'Neill replied, "Paint what? I've never painted roosters."
But she got to work, first sketching each bird on paper. Then using the drawings as a guide, she painted colorful images on each wall. Not only did she create and paint seven different roosters, but O'Neill named each one. Customers now dine with Dandyman, Big Daddy, Buster and other feathered friends looking over their shoulders. An image of Henry, the famous Island rooster, who inspired the café's name, watches over customers at the counter.
The Blue Mangrove Gallery in Town Center is sponsoring O'Neill's work and by December she hopes to set up a regular time one day a week where she'll be painting and drawing in front of the store.
In April, May and June of 2013 she'll have a one-woman exhibition of her oil paintings entitled "South Florida — A Villager's View" at the Historical Museum.
O'Neill's art work reflects her home and the scenery and wildlife that she loves, inspiring her every day. "Beautiful skies, lush mangroves, docks, marinas and flowers as big as your head," she said. "I would never have to leave this island. I'm surrounded by inspiration."