There’s the notion that all children are artists, and some of them lose their ability only when they become adults. The real artists, who work at it well into adulthood, often draw from their childhood experiences to create their work. Others, like Meghann O’Hara, take it even a step further, turning out work specifically intended for kids.
One of her greatest childhood memories was being read to at bedtime. A love of children’s books grew in her, and eventually a love of drawing and painting led her to the work she does today. Her animal-focused images adorn the walls of children’s bedrooms across the country, and are available via her website, My Good Night, and through the online store Oopsy Daisy Fine Art for Kids. The work has also been featured at Pottery Barn Kids, Target and Chasing Fireflies. And it all began—in adulthood, anyway—at USF, where O’Hara was one of the newly formed Art & Design Department’s early students and graduates, earning a degree in Visual Art with a concentration in studio art and graphic design.
Growing up, Georgia O’Keeffe was her favorite, and as she got older and matured as an artist, she identified more with Paul Klee and other modern masters. Her love of simple shapes and an uncluttered style is part of what caused her to gravitate toward animals for the majority of her subject matter. Also, there was plenty there to work with.
“I found out I could put so much personality into an animal portrait,” she says. “I could assign each one human-like expression with those last brushstrokes…their eyes. I wanted to see how far I could push that ability.”
Her designs are available in canvas wall art or paper prints, on hanging growth charts or fabric wall decals, and even on night lights. They feature whimsical images of animals and classic life-of-a-child icons, including monkeys, sand pails and shovels, tigers, giraffes, lions, starfish, sand dollars, dogs, cats, songbirds, sea turtles, bears, geese, wolves, swans, skunks, hedgehogs, baby chicks, mama hens, fish and coral, horses, cows, pigs and piglets, walruses, goats and zebras. Twirling ballerinas, too. Her customized artwork could feature a child’s name near a sand castle, on a nautical life preserver, among storybook letters of the alphabet, or in some other tableau that a child or parent can dream up.
It was almost by chance that O’Hara ended up at USF, and at the start, the road to becoming a professional artist was not so clear. When high school ended, all she knew was that she loved art, that she had to go to college and that a dedicated art school wasn’t for her. Her parents convinced her to try USF for a year.
“It became a perfect fit,” she says. “Every course played a positive role in my growth as a student. Every professor had so much passion for their subject matter that my motivation for learning was revived after week one. I went from being a mildly enthused student to hard-working. I flourished at USF, and I am grateful for that experience.”
After graduation she thought she would become an illustrator. Thanks to her talent and drive, she found herself working in that world almost immediately. But she quickly determined that the politics and compromises of book publishing were not for her.
“At that time it was hard for me to depart from my style,” she says.
“I felt like every time an art director saw my work they wanted to turn it into something else—a collaboration of my work and their vision based on something they had seen before. It was hard for me to meet those expectations and feel true to my vision. It just was not the right path for me.”
So she began looking for other opportunities, and soon happened upon Oopsy Daisy. Before she knew it, she was licensing and selling her work. Today she creates her work without pencils or paintbrushes, which isn’t surprising, as illuminated screens are everywhere. What is surprising, however, is that when she is not creating artwork on a computer tablet with a pen she is doing it on her phone with her finger. A person can grow up, and the world can continue to evolve in surprising ways, but for someone possessing real creativity, the childhood artist remains.
O’Hara is currently searching for the next phase of her creative work, and it just may bring her full-circle. An avid bedtime storyteller to her daughters, she has been thinking of children’s books lately. Perhaps the thoughts that are flowing out of her hearken back to the magical nights of her own childhood when she was tucked in and read to sleep. “I would love to write and illustrate my own story,” she says.