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'The colours are always changing': Meet the artist making a palette from Ireland's landscape

We spoke to Paula Barrett, the artist behind Turf Projects.

WHAT’S THE FIRST colour that springs to mind when you think of Ireland? Green, right? After all, we are known as the Emerald Isle.

Yes, Ireland’s landscape might be synonymous with the colour green, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Over the past few years, artist Paula Barrett has been creating Turf Projects, a postcard project dedicated to cataloguing “the particular quality of light and colour experienced in the Irish landscape”.

The roots of the project can be traced back to Barrett’s days as a student in NCAD.

“I studied Fine Art in NCAD and the work I’m doing with Turf Projects really started with something I was working on with postcards of the Irish landscape in the third year of my undergrad there,” says Barrett. “Whatever medium I used, my work always related to landscape in some way.”

Another time in Dublin City #paletteforireland

A post shared by Turf Projects (@turfprojects_ie) on

She went on to study interior design and spent a period away from Ireland. Upon her return, she started exploring Ireland’;s landscape once more.

I returned with a new perspective on Ireland’s unique landscape, it all sort of came together, spurred on by acceptance of one of my images into a collection organised by PhotoIreland. I then decided to continue building the collection of palettes from around Ireland on social media, put together a set of postcards, found some stockists and it’s gone from there.

Since then, she has photographed various locations around Ireland and documented the colours of Ireland’s landscape – browns, blues, yellows, pinks, greys.

Taking photographs of Ireland’s rugged, windswept landscape can be a trying experience, but it’s one Barrett relishes.

The thing about landscape photography in Ireland is that you usually have to battle against the elements to get a shot.  I enjoy getting out for a hike and visiting parts of the country I haven’t been to before so it works for me.  Having said that, we’re lucky here in that the same place could be photographed repeatedly with very different results.

“I’d describe the colours as being very rich and earthy but they can also have a subtlety and softness.  As vegetation changes with the seasons, so does the light, and so the colours are always changing.”

Choosing a favourite place in Ireland is difficult, but Barrett has a fondness for certain spots.

I tend to like the challenge of getting a good shot in a place that may not be so commonly known as a beauty spot.  I love the Blackstairs mountains but I can’t deny that the west coastal regions are hard to beat in their ruggedness.  I do prefer the most empty and desolate landscapes, especially in winter when you can find the richest colours.

Over the past year, Barrett has spent a lot of time on Bere Island, having received a grant to produce a colour palette for the island.

“I’ve been able to work down there to create a unique palette for the island, with a number of colours chosen by the residents making up a Bere Island paint range for use in future exterior painting on the island,” she says. “The aim is to promote a more sustainable and appreciative use of colour that blends with the landscape.”

Colours such as ‘Tra Ghabhalda Seaweed’ are now being used in projects on the island such as the painting of many of the farmers’ gates.

Barrett is hopeful that this will be a momentous year for Turf Projects. She is currently working with an Irish paint company and hopes to have a range of Turf Projects paints out very soon.

She is also planning on embarking on bespoke colour consultancy work and is eager to work with another community on a project similar to the work she undertook on Bere Island.

For Barrett, the creation of an Irish colour palette is important as it taps into our national identity and can help inform how we preserve our landscapes.

“I wanted to create a uniquely Irish colour reference made up of these palettes to be used in design projects that naturally work in the Irish context,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about how we should choose colour to harmonise with or accentuate features of our surroundings, or indeed how the creation of a local palette can be identity building.”

It is a positive take on the Irish experience, celebrating what we have that is unique here and accessible to everyone.

You can follow Turf Projects on Instagram here and postcard sets are available to purchase here.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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