Elise Morris on Art and Bravery

You'll love her paintings as much as her thoughts on life.

Livingly's Inspiring Artist series asks talented women of all creative mediums to share their work and how they live life beautifully.

Inspiring Artist: Ana Zaja Petrak

Elise Morris' paintings capture the essence of nature brilliantly—its light, its dark, its magic. Every piece she creates is both soft and striking, spontaneous and thoughtful, with layers of color that promise to make you feel all the feels.

Needless to say, I was eager to ask Elise about her craft, her inspirations and her approach to life as an artist. Read on for some words of wisdom, including the exact podcasts you should be listening to right now.

Dawn's Patience, Elise Morris
Dawn's Patience, Elise Morris

How would you describe your art?

I create abstract paintings based on my experiences in nature. I start with shapes that I collect – silhouetted branches or falling leaves, shadows and overlooked details. I paint in many layers, intent on creating space and a sense of reflected light.

Do you have a favorite painting? What makes it special to you?

I don’t usually play favorites with my work – but one recent piece seems to be something new, which is always exciting. It captures a sense of light that I strive for, and it actually started as a very dark painting that I kept re-working. In adding layers of lightness, I carved out shapes from the under painting. Dawn’s Patience seems to be about the persistence and effort that can lend a distinct richness to our lives.

Winding Ways, Elise Morris
Winding Ways, Elise Morris

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

Leaving my day job to paint full time, and then converting my garage to a studio so that I could work from home - all after going through an unexpected divorce and struggling in my identity as a single mom. Trusting my path is still the most rewarding risk to take.

And your proudest moment?

In my career, that would probably be my first solo show, and every single show since. Putting my work into the world feels challenging – it’s the culmination of so many steps in my creative process that when the show actually happens, I’m relieved and proud to see it all come together.

In my personal life, it was when I got married this summer – which is really choosing to move on and forge a new life with a wonderful partner.

Who is your favorite artist?

It’s a revolving door! I think that question is hard for any artist.

I am so visually stimulated, that all artwork is important to me. I’m also kind of an old school painter and really love to see classic works in museum collections. While in Ireland this summer, I saw a few Vermeer paintings that made me swoon. Right now I can’t look at enough Bonnard paintings and love the darkness and light in Darren Waterston’s work.

Bravery will always be important to me. Walking into my studio every day takes not only a fierce work ethic, but also a reminder to be brave.

–Elise Morris

Painting by Elise Morris
Painting by Elise Morris

Where is your favorite place in the world?

Standing in my backyard, I can’t imagine a more perfect little place – it is perfect in what it means to our family and the opportunity to build a home in a wonderful community. Working at home also makes this particular place on the planet feel important.

This summer we took a big family trip to Ireland, where the magic and history definitely captured my heart and my imagination.

What's the most played song or album in your music library?

I actually don’t listen to music in my studio. I find music so distracting! Generally I like my studio to be quiet, but lately I listen to endless podcasts, of all kinds, from science to storytelling to parenting and interviews with artists. Something about hearing interesting people talk keeps my mind going to allow the artwork to happen. Some of my current favorites are Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert, Happier by Gretchen Rubin, and Star Talk with Neil Degrasse-Tyson.  Other good ones are The Moth, TED Radio Hour, Radiolab, This American Life, Reply All... There really is an endless source of information, ideas, and inspiration out there to listen to.

The only time I put on music is for my son and I to do crazy dance moves in the kitchen!  Or Christmas music during the holidays (I am a fanatic). So my most played song would be something embarrassing.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.” Degas

I also love any quotes about bravery – I have a cool print of “He who is brave is free” framed in our kitchen, and I have a decal on the wall above our dining table that says “Be Brave." Bravery will always be important to me. Walking into my studio every day takes not only a fierce work ethic, but also a reminder to be brave.

Spring's Shade, Elise Morris
Spring's Shade, Elise Morris

What does living beautifully mean to you?

Paying attention and being kind, and having a complete vision for your life. It’s important to me to stay true to who I am, and keep my priorities intact. I’m a big planner and love to look ahead – but I need to remind myself to also stay present in the moment.

I also think that living beautifully has to do with being open to new things. My six year old son makes crazy messes of paper and cardboard boxes and scraps of wood, and I have learned to embrace it all. In fact, this summer I witnessed a change in him, watching gears turning in his head. He’s figuring out that the possibilities are truly endless. The sense of discovery is palpable.

Elise Morris

See more of Elise's work here.

Editorial Director of Livingly's lifestyle group.