Bayou Artist | Emily Morris
article by Starla Gatson
photography by Kelly Moore Clark
The moon is high in the sky, the kids are tucked in, and the dishes from dinner have been washed and put away. For many, these things signal bedtime, especially if putting in hours at work preceded them. But for Emily Morris, they mean it’s time to paint.
Morris spends the lion’s share of her day at Merrill Lynch, where she has worked as a financial advisor for nearly six years. She explains, “I oversee finances for families in the area and all over the country. We have clients anywhere from California to New York to Tennessee to right here in Monroe.”
Financial advising is her day job, she says, and after she clocks out and spends the evening with her husband and children, she picks up a paintbrush and spends the next few hours letting her creative juices flow. Painting is the Monroe resident’s escape, something she feels she needs to do after spending her day crunching numbers.
“It can be difficult at the end of the day to have the energy to devote to painting,” Morris admits. “But I just get up there and do it. I go upstairs and paint until I’m too tired to stay up anymore.”
Art has held Morris’s interest ever since she was a little girl oohing and aahing over her grandfather’s paintings. Her passion for art and creativity led her to Louisiana Tech University’s graphic design department in 2012. Despite loving to draw and paint, the then-freshman quickly discovered that graphic design wasn’t right for her — “I didn’t like doing art on a computer,” she explains.
At the end of her first year of college, Morris switched her major to speech communication, the field in which she would earn her degree a few years later. After graduation, she put art on the back burner.
“I graduated, got married, had two kids, and was moving all across North Louisiana,” she recalls. “It was a crazy four years.”
But when things began to settle down for the Morrises, the mother of two decided it was time to reconnect with her creative side.
“I always wanted to get back into some form of [art],” Morris says. “I was always trying to do a craft or something with my kids, and finally, in August 2021, I decided I needed to do this for myself. It’s how I keep myself grounded.”
So, for the last two years, Morris has allowed herself that release and settled into a routine of heading upstairs to her studio — “I just use my spare bedroom,” she shares — and swiping brightly colored heavy-body acrylic paint onto canvases. She sells her finished products and takes on commissions occasionally, but going into business wasn’t her intention when she first began this practice.
“I wrote my goals down for 2022, and one of [them] was to maybe sell a painting,” she recalls. “I didn’t think anyone would buy anything; I was just painting stuff to hang on the walls at my house. But almost all of my paintings sold.”
The bright colors Morris often uses certainly call attention to her work — she loves color and has since the color theory class she took with Joey Slaughter her freshman year — but the subject matter of her paintings more than likely draws people in. She makes a point to spend most of her time painting images of ordinary, everyday things. A hand hovering over a cup of coffee, rows of Jeni’s Ice Cream on display in the Whole Foods freezer section, a tube of NARS limited-edition lipstick — these are the types of things Morris puts onto canvases.
“I love a beautiful flower or sunset, and I like to paint those,” she says. “But I’m very inspired by the mundane. I look at my unmade bed, and I could make the scene so much more colorful than it is and bring life to the ordinary.”
She goes on to say that her inspiration can come from anything, and it isn’t unusual for her to spot something she’d like to paint while doing things as simple as driving down the road or making a meal.
“I’m like, ‘OK, that’s a gas station. But how could I paint that with such color and vibrancy that you see it in a new light?’” she explains. “I have this one painting that’s a breakfast scene. It’s of things you use every single day and don’t even pay attention to. I want to draw attention to the fact that little things can be extraordinary.”
Not everyone will understand Morris’s fascination with such seemingly unspecial things, but it makes perfect sense to her. She views the world through a lens of beauty and wants her work to inspire others to do the same.
“I think there are things in life that are inherently beautiful, like springtime when all the flowers are blooming or when the leaves change in the fall,” she states. “But those only happen at certain points of the year. This ordinary day in August when it’s extremely hot outside is just as amazing as that stunning day in May when all the flowers are in full bloom. That’s the point I want to get across. You see this [object] every day, and it becomes normal to you, but it’s not. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Morris enjoys the hours she gets to spend in the evenings appreciating the beauty right in front of her through painting but make no mistake: she has no plans to abandon her nine-to-five for the pursuit of art full-time. Her clients depend on her, and the work she does is a challenge she enjoys.
“I am just trying to get better every single day,” she tells BayouLife when asked about her painting goals and plans. “I don’t want to paint full-time until I retire. I love my job; it stimulates me. I love my clients, I enjoy the people I work with. My goal is to hone my craft and be so efficient that by the time I’m ready to retire, I can have my style nailed down and know what I’m doing.”
Morris is more than content starting small and working up to bigger — perhaps that’s a side effect of the eternal optimism her husband always tells her she has — and that’s the advice she offers anyone who wants to pursue art, whether part- or full-time.
“This is something a lot of people don’t realize: you have to build up stamina as an artist,” she advises. “You can’t just go in and paint for four hours. Start small and build from there, and eventually, you become quicker and able to get more done.”
Even though she’s been consistently working on her art for the past two years, Morris admits she hasn’t quite built the creative stamina she’d like to have. She shares, “I’m not an artist who can crank out paintings every single day. Paintings will take me months.”
This used to bother her, she says, but she’s giving herself permission to travel her artistic journey at her own pace and rest as needed, especially on days when the motivation to paint isn’t there. “It takes me a little bit longer; I’m learning that’s OK,” she says before adding that what matters most is that she’s making art at all.
“If you want to paint or draw, I believe your art needs to be in this world,” she declares.
Morris urges anyone who feels the urge to create to do it. It might be difficult to balance it with other responsibilities, she goes on, and you might not have the ideal studio space. But those shouldn’t be hindrances; if you want to make art, find a way to make art.
“One of the artists that I absolutely love lives in Austin, Texas, and started out in her living room; she taped off a square and it was her art square,” she shares. “You don’t have to have this perfectly lit space; you can make it work for you. You just have to figure out what you like and what’s going to get you motivated to practice your art.”