Recently, I had to chance to chat with Emily Hare, a brilliant watercolorist from the UK. I find her work to be at turns playful, moody, and ever captivating. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her life and work. Enjoy!
Thank you for talking with us, Emily! Tell me a bit about your work and how your artistic career began.
Hi Cory and thank you so much for inviting me!
I have the unoriginal ‘I have always drawn since I was little’ story as so many artists do, but I took a long time to get ON the track of making it a career. In my late teens and early 20’s I was doing pet portraits for people (which I found very boring and it was only ever very casual word of mouth) and while I had been addicted to anything fantasy (to draw as well as watch/read) growing up, by my 20’s I had sort of become disillusioned about it being possible as a career, or even that it was something that people DID do as a career! Even a professional illustrator who I’d visited while at college, to get advice from when I was 19, told me to not bother as you can’t make a living from art! Not very encouraging! I think this moment in my life was pivotal as I needed to be encouraged to keep going with it (looking back now), but instead I ended up with a mentality of ‘well, just because I can draw, doesn’t mean I have to be an artist’.
Fast forward a few years to when I was 27 and I had spent much of my 20’s doing the occasional pet portrait, non art jobs, trying to learn how to train horses (too big of a chicken for that to ever succeed), working as a receptionist in London and generally not spending much time making art really. A guy who I was dating back then saw some of my art from my teens and said why don’t you do stuff like this anymore, you should do fantasy art! It got me to thinking about it more and I ended up joining a message board run by Liam Sharp (comic artist) that was called ‘Sharpenings’. This was my first step into finding people who also were passionate about fantasy art and ended up with me meeting up with Liam in real life at a comic convention with all the other artists on that message board and that all lead to the first time I was published in anything and it’s all thanks to Liam.
It was a comic anthology and I illustrated a great retelling of Little Red Riding Hood called ‘Grandma’s House’ written by Iain Gibson. This led to me meeting so many other artists and seeing that it was possible for it to be a full time thing, although it would be a good 13 years till I managed it since I struggled with one thing particularly though, consistency! The change happened when I concentrated on using one medium (watercolour) and decided to paint the inhabitants of an enchanted forest which I will talk more about below. Being consistent with what I made and learning how to run a business was what helped things move in the right direction for me.
I know you used to paint digitally but these days you work primarily in watercolor. What led you to that change of medium and when did that start?
I started with traditional media growing up (pastels, pencil, charcoal, oils and acrylics and watercolour) and my animal portrait jobs were all pastels too.
When I got connected with the fantasy art scene in my late 20’s I figured I needed to learn how to paint digitally and thought that it was the best thing to do to get illustration work (and at one point wanted to get involved in creature design for movies). I think the medium gave me too much flexibility and so I would jump around with styles and techniques which made for a very messy portfolio!
I spent 2004 to 2016 making digital art and doing small illustration jobs here and there (as well as other non art jobs like photo retouching), mostly book covers and card art for small companies and self publishing authors. Then when I started my Patreon page, I decided that it would be a place to play with traditional media again. Best thing I ever did! I’m now completely addicted to watercolour, it is such an amazing medium and has taught me a lot (to slow down and be patient, mostly!) Having said that, I still sketch and work out paintings digitally and it’s very useful to be able to do both. I no longer use a Wacom Cintiq for these tasks though and use an iPad Pro with Procreate instead.
Tell me more about Strangehollow! How did the ideas for the world first emerge and what’s your current project all about?
The idea for Strangehollow came about as a result of trying to focus myself on one theme. Previously I’d been like one of the dogs in the movie ‘Up’ who would be distracted at the slightest hint of a squirrel, except for me, it was a theme or idea that would distract me. I would paint something and then instead of carrying on in that same theme, it would then suddenly be… ‘SQUIRREL!’ and off I would go and paint something completely unrelated to the previous painting. (I hope the readers have seen the movie otherwise this reference is potentially a little strange). My focus was all over the place.
When I published my Patreon page it started as being a place to concentrate on using traditional media, but with no specific goal or idea to concentrate on, then a few months in, I decided to start to illustrate the inhabitants of an enchanted forest to focus my mind and force myself to be consistent and I hoped creating a world would help with this. Initially I was thinking ‘ooh this will be all dark and spooky and mysterious’, but it is not really how it turned out. Whimsy wasn’t having any of it! As each creature appeared on the page, it became more obvious that it would be more enchanting and magical than spooky and moody!
As you’ve walked through the world for a number of years now, how has your conception of Strangehollow developed? Would you say it’s changed at all from your initial ideas or simply grown and evolved?
Strangehollow has definitely evolved since starting it 3 years ago (at least it feels like it has to me). Once I’d finished the first one I wasn’t sure I would return to the forest, but after a long break, I started thinking about it more and more and creatures and ideas would pop into my head. I decided to embark on creating a second book and had planned on it being finished a lot sooner, but then Covid happened and it did put a big dent in my creative output earlier this year. My watercolour skills (and patience) have also improved since I made the first book so I am able to achieve effects that I couldn’t the first time round which is really exciting.
Secrets Of Strangehollow is just an expansion of the world hinted on in the first book. It reaches right up to the coast, expands on the swamp and extends to the mountains too. This second book feels a lot more natural history based and my inspiration from years of being in love with nature documentaries as a kid has come through in this more I think. There is still a lot of whimsy around, however there is definitely the element of danger,
since while some of these creatures might look cute, or cuddly, it doesn’t mean that they won’t eat you for breakfast! There is definitely a ‘natural law’ as it were, within the world I have created but they have not been conscious ones, they have evolved as each creature has appeared.
What’s your process like? Does the writing come first or the creatures?
For me words usually bring forth creature ideas, but I don’t mean in a story writing way, but thinking up names of creatures. So if I hear ‘Darkling Glib’ (which is a name that a patron of mine Kat Cardy thought up for the first book), it IMMEDIATELY makes a creature appear in my mind. I’m not really sure why, and it doesn’t always happen that way, but words or descriptions about a creature will usually produce a visual in my mind. Also when chatting, sometimes a phrase or a word comes out the wrong way and it sounds like a magical place, or creature and that gets logged into my list of potential names for creatures or places!
Another way I find inspiration is watching nature documentaries and sifting through all the amazing wildlife photos on Pinterest, it is rich with crazy variety and if I am feeling stuck for ideas it is where I start. Matt (my other half, and incredible artist btw) had an idea for a creature called a ‘Follup’ and then a ‘False-Follup’ – the latter being an predator that evolved to look like the Follup to attract it… so that it can eat it.
The writing comes after I have made the art and it is a process I love.
Either describing the behaviours of the different creatures, or writing a short story to accompany one of the paintings.
For my work, one of the things I always want to give the viewer is an “imaginative springboard” a jumping off point to hopefully spark their own new ideas. What do you hope people find in your work? And what do you think it is about the world of Strangehollow, in particular, that people respond so well to?
I think most of all I want the viewer to be transported to another time or place and to hopefully forget about any present stresses. A lot of what I make is fuelled by my nostalgia for the fantasy movies I watched growing
up, or the fairytales I read and so it is definitely a form of escapism for me and I think (hope) it is for those who look at it. I have had many people say it reminds them of illustrated books they looked at growing up, which is lovely and I don’t think I really realised that connection with my own nostalgic yearnings, or where the desire to paint this kind of thing came from until people started saying that it reminded them of being little and looking at fairytale books. I find that really interesting how so much of creating seems to be intuitive and unconscious (at least for me!).
I’m not sure I can really say why people respond to Strangehollow so well, because I am sure there are many reasons! I definitely get an impression that the humour is very well received, and I do feel an accomplishment if I can make something cute and creepy at the same time! It is so fun to see all the reactions to different paintings and as I’m sure you are familiar with, you can never know which people will really like, it’s an eternal mystery!
Thank you, Emily! Where can people find more of your work and follow you online?
My website is www.emilyhare.co.uk where I have all my originals and prints and stickers and whatnot, I also have my blog there and if you want more in depth ramblings of how I got where I am now then you’ll find that there too.
I also have a Patreon page where I share all my behind the scenes process of whatever I am working on with my Patrons (and they get to be involved in the creative side too, including naming creatures and things)!