With a spacious studio overlooking the city centre you could be forgiven for thinking that artist Daniel Devine had it all....
A fabulous creative space on the top floor of a three-storey building in the bustling hub of the city’s heart, his own business ‘Daniel Devine Portraiture’ and a chilled out lifestyle... but not so long ago it was a very different picture for Daniel, and the vista on his life was pretty bleak and dull.
The pull to search for greener pastures was there, and who could blame him? Sure many of his peers had left to find employment and a way of life, but that was not what Daniel wanted. With a positive mental attitude and gutsy determination, he drew on his love of art and his skill with pencils, and re-defined his life.
Daniel Devine’s confesses that after school and tertiary level study he fell into despair at the apparent lack of job opportunities.
“My life really has come full circle in the past two years,” said the 27-year-old artist.
“I am doing what I love most; drawing,” he says with a satisfied air.
A past pupil of St Joseph’s Boys School in the Cityside, Daniel went on to Limavady ‘Tech’ where he studied mixed media art before heading off to the University of Ulster at Magee Campus graduating with a 21:1 Honours BA in art in 2009.
“Then I hit a slump. I could not find my feet or where I wanted to be working. I travelled to New York two summers ago, thinking I was going to make a life for myself out there, but it was not what I really wanted,” he said, continuing: “As soon as I got home I got my inspiration back by looking at art that I had previously produced, but it was a big challenge for me to go into self-employment.”
Admitting that setting up his own business had been a “big gamble” Daniel can now look back and say with confidence that it was the right move - despite the nerves and pressure of the unknown.
“If you have something that you really believe in, you can make it happen, but it is hard. Nobody will come and approach you, you have to go out and do it for yourself. What I can tell people is that within minutes of putting my art on Facebook, I got emails from people all over the World. It is such a buzz to have that happen,” he said.
When he finishes a commission Daniel admits he loves watching people’s reaction to it when they see it for the first time: “When someone comes into the house I watch their face. Their expression tells me a story and it drives me too.”
Enjoying the fact that he now earns a living by being paid to do what he loves most, Daniel said he wanted to share what he had learned from his life experience to help give hope to others and inspire them.
“Coming back from The Big Apple to this city and not finding my feet brought me down, but I have come full circle in two years by valuing the skills that I have and using them. You don’t need to search out distant hills to make a life for yourself. You don’t need to leave your town or city. There are a lot of people from the south of Ireland and the north leaving university and going out to America or Australia to make a life for themselves when they don’t have to.
“All they need to do is focus on what they really want to do or enjoy doing and to ask for help: There is always help out there. Derry City Council is always very helpful to me and give me great advice as to what is out there, but you have to believe in yourself and you have to remember that you are only as good as your last job,” he said.
His advice is simple: “Put in 120 per cent effort and you will reap the rewards”.
The result for him has been what he thought he would find by chasing distant hills: “I now make a nice living out of my art, but it was difficult at the start. I am living my dream. Don’t think ‘there is nothing here for me to strive for’, there are plenty of opportunities right here in this city. Focus on what it is you love and want and go for it.”
Laughing at himself he recalls: “I was so busy at the end of last year that at Christmas they were calling me ‘Dan Frank’ because I never left the attic! I was in there for a month-and-a-half, but I loved it”.