Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison's bright and highly chromatic paintings bring a smile to my face. They're energetic, happy and so lovely. Equally lovely is hearing her write about how becoming a mother has changed her painting process a bit. I like how she talks about the thinking and resting parts of creating that are so necessary. Enjoy this one, and thank you Emily! I hope the long days of summer arrive in England soon!

 Tell us about yourself. How old is your child? Where can we find you?

I’m an artist and designer  living in beautiful North Devon on the South West coast of England, with my husband and my 14 month old son. I originally trained in fashion design and spent 6 years as a knitwear designer in London. Now I’ve gone full circle and returned to the place where I grew up and also to one of my earliest loves - painting.

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How has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having your son?

Having my son has been a massive boost to my creativity; my ideas come so quickly that I literally don’t have enough time to get them all out! Perhaps this is because I have so little free time now I really make the most of it. Before Ezra was born I’d just started to revisit painting but I wasn’t very productive. I think maybe I had too much time to think about things; it didn’t feel natural and I wasn’t allowing myself to relax into it. Now I lose myself in it completely, it’s my escapism and I find it very therapeutic.

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My processes, medium and inspiration are much the same as when I was studying art years ago - it’s as if I’ve picked up where I left off. I’m inspired by nature, at the moment mostly plants. I’ve become particularly fixated on leaves, especially variegated ones! This is what I plan to continue exploring until something else captures me. My parents are very passionate gardeners so I suppose I’ve grown up surrounded by amazing plants and this has obviously influenced me.

My work is always led by colour, usually in-your-face vibrant - I have tried to be subtle but that just isn’t me, and above all I want to be myself. I use acrylics and paint with large brushes a lot to try and keep my style loose, I find my work is better the less I over think it. When I was compiling images for my website I realised the bright colours I use mean that a lot of my paintings have quite a joyful quality; this wasn’t deliberate at all but it makes total sense because I’m very happy at the moment, motherhood is hard but incredibly rewarding.

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Is it easy or difficult for you to find/make time to create? Did you have to give anything up? Do you have advice on what works for you?

I’m very fortunate to live near my parents who are extremely supportive - they look after Ezra one day a week so I can have time to focus on my painting. Then for the rest of the week I try to cram in small bursts of creativity wherever I can. One of the things I’ve found crazy about being a mum is how quickly things change - I’ll find a routine that allows me to squeeze in some painting, and before I know it it’s all changed and he’s stopped napping as much so I’m having to rethink.  If I’m in the right mood I tend to use any precious chunks of ‘me’ time I get to paint - often this means allowing the house to be completely messy and just letting things slide. So I suppose you could say I’ve had to give up striving to be perfect in this area of my life! I’ve found this winter particularly hard as the days are often quite grey here so the light isn’t good for painting and the evenings (when my son is asleep!) are dark - I’m looking forward to the long, light summer evenings when I can take my easel out into the garden.

Luckily I’ve found that working in small bursts here and there does have its benefits (despite sometimes being frustrating). I’ve realised it’s good to have plenty of time to reflect on a painting in between stages; it helps to ‘live’ with it for a day or two and come back to it with fresh eyes to build up the colours. Also I think having limited time really pushes me to be bold and take risks; there simply isn’t time to procrastinate.

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How does being an artist make you a better parent to your child? What do you hope he takes away from seeing you as an artist doing something that fulfills you?

Painting definitely relaxes me - I need the creative release it provides. It also makes me feel that I have something of my own, that I have control over - my own identity I suppose. This in turn makes me more patient and focused as a mother (and a nicer person according to my husband!). I think one of the hardest things about being a parent is realising that suddenly so much of your day is out of your control; being productive with the free time I do have helps me to deal with this. Being an artist also gives me confidence - I have always defined myself by my creative ability, so if I’m not creating then I don’t feel great about myself.

I hope Ezra learns from me how positive it is to have a passion and to work hard to pursue something which makes you happy. I feel very strongly that I want him to grow up to be individual and follow his heart. He’s a strong character and I want to encourage him to be open minded and creative in whatever way he chooses.

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Where do you paint or create? What are your favorite things about your workspace and what would you improve? Do you ever create art with your kids?

Our spare room is my studio; it’s north facing so the light is good (if a little limited) and I love having my own space where I can surround myself with inspiration and not have to worry about tidying everything away as soon as I’ve finished. It’s a work in progress though - I’ve still got a lot more organising to do. Ideally I’d like a larger space one day, that’s my dream - more room and more light! The other place I paint is in my kitchen - we’ve put a shelf up especially for me to put a canvas on so I can get away with snatching the odd half hour whilst my son plays with pots and pans. I’m looking forward to Ezra being old enough to draw and paint with; he’s still a bit young to have the attention span for it, and he nevers stays still for long enough at the moment.

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Do you have any tips to streamline / delegate / outsource household and childcare activities so that you can focus more time on your art? Has your lifestyle changed in any major ways?

I am constantly trying to streamline our life but somehow it just never seems to get any simpler - I’m a very productive person so I tend to take on too much and end up feeling overwhelmed. I’ve got plans to seriously declutter my house this year in the hope that I can cut down on time spent tidying and tripping over piles of stuff; I’m aware this is probably futile with a toddler in the house! Mostly though I try to stop and get things in perspective to help me divide up my time as well as possible, and not devote too much time to things which really aren’t important in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes a day is better spent split between painting and spending quality time with my son than doing housework that could be left for another day.

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Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?

I’m still very much at the beginning of my journey and I feel excited by the fact I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. At the moment my biggest goal is to just fit in as much painting as I possibly can, just to allow time to explore my ideas and let my style evolve. And of course now I’ve started to sell prints I feel very happy about the prospect of my artwork becoming a part of people’s homes. I’d love to see my work on textiles - I’ve got some plans to get started this spring.

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