Inspired by colour, nature and the emotional experience, mother artist Neslihan Ergül Colley creates time for her art in the margins of her day. In this Artist Meets Mother interview she shares with us her practice and the motivations, influences and struggles that under pin her work.
Tell me a bit about your art. What inspires you to paint?
Vivid colors are what inspire me most. I crave color and the mood it defines in a scene. Often, just meditating and clearing my head leads certain colors to just pop into my mind, which then develop into a vision of the painting I want to create. Emotion also has a strong effect on creating this vision. Sometimes a piece of music, a photograph, or a natural scene inspires an emotion. This creates a snowball effect that attracts me to certain colors, which then develop into an image that supports that emotion. All I have to do then is hold that vision and translate it to the canvas.
Can you share anything of your journey as a mother with us? How many children do you have?
My husband and I have two children, Aiden and Sahra, who are now 11 and 9 years old, respectively. We were already busy adults, with both of us working full time jobs. When Aiden was born we made the decision to change our work schedules so that we wouldn’t have to send him to childcare. I cut my hours at work and my husband began working nights, while also writing his first novel. At the time I had an easel and canvas, but pursuing my passion for painting just didn’t seem to be an option with all that was going on at that time. Two years later Sahra was born and that definitely kept us busy. At first, I think being a mother limited my opportunity to paint. Painting is a messy profession, and with two toddlers running amok it can be very difficult to settle into a routine that leaves time to pursue that passion, not to mention finding the energy. So in the meantime I stuck to drawing. I worked on concept art for my husband’s novel, but mostly I kept drawing for myself. At that time most of my friends and family didn’t even know I was an artist. I kept it mostly to myself, as a personal intimacy, an inward journey if you will. Once the kids got a little older, they created the “drawing club,” where we would gather in the loft and draw in our sketchbooks. Now we paint and draw together all the time!
Do you feel that motherhood has changed your experience as an artist?
Absolutely! I think being a mother has taught to be patient as an artist, to give time to a painting and see how it develops. I’ve learned to sleep on a painting and come back it to it with fresh eyes the next day. Probably most importantly, I think my kids have helped to be more optimistic and happy, to have that excitement each day and leave the adult self and all its worries behind. Since my painting is largely affected by emotion, this makes a big difference in how approach art and how I paint.
Tell me a bit about your process. Do you involve your children in your art at all or is your time spent creating time for yourself?
I like to create from an uninstructed place, where I am free to let my emotions guide my brush. I usually start with a feeling, or sometimes an image or color that invokes a certain emotion, and work forward from there. I try to make the colors and scene in the painting match that emotion. But every once in a while, a painting takes on a life of its own and I just have to step out of the way and let the painting be what it wants to be. Depending on which direction a work takes, it could take anywhere from a few hours, to days or weeks depending on the number of layers and how long it takes me and the canvas to agree on a final product. I prefer oil on canvas as a medium, which takes much longer to dry, though I do use acrylic as well at times. It can be really hard to declare a painting done, too. Sometimes I try to be a perfectionist and keep tweaking little bits and pieces until I finally have to stop myself. I’ve dabbled in digital art some, as an illustrator for my husband’s children’s books. This was quite the challenge, not just because I had to learn to use new software programs and an art tablet, but because the artwork itself starts with an expectation. It comes with a preconceived notion of what the final product should be, which restricts the creative process some and makes it a bit harder for me.
For me, painting is a little bit of both a family activity and alone time for me, where I can disconnect from the stresses of life and recharge. I often paint and draw with the kids. I set them up a spot next to my easel and we all work on our projects together. We love painting together, particularly watching Bob Ross on Netflix while we create. Especially my daughter; she’s a born artist. She can draw for hours, meticulously adding detail to her art. But when the kids are off playing, I’m turning up the music, pouring a glass of wine, and finding my happy place somewhere between the brush strokes and the canvas.
Describe to us your workspace. Where do you create?
Whenever it’s warm enough I paint outside, on our back porch. We have an amazing view, with fields and open space right behind us all the way to the mountains. It’s very inspiring, particularly near sunset. When it gets too cold I move inside to my bedroom where I’ve set up a little art studio. That way I get to stare at the painting I’m working on and visualize the next steps while I am resting.
What positives do you feel being a mother brings to your artistic practice?
Art is an awesome activity that I can share with my kids. It lets us spend quality time together doing something we all enjoy and forms a special bond between us. On a personal level, being a mother changes a lot of things beyond just having something to do with kids. It heightens your empathy and strengthens emotions, which is empowering for me since I start from an emotion and create outward from there. In some cases, their life experiences inspire specific works, such as my son’s unfortunate incident with a stapler. While painful, it inspired a book by husband, who is an author, and subsequently a lot of artwork by me. Having children expands your horizons and teaches you patience, which can directly translate into practicing art.
What challenges does it bring?
Time is probably the most challenging. Due to my husband’s opposite work schedule, our evening routines only involve one parent. After my day job, activities, homework, and dinner, there’s not much room left in the day for me to paint during the week unless I stay up late. Sometimes I do, if I’m particularly inspired, but it can be exhausting if you have a deadline to meet. Weekends can fill up fast with family time and friends, but I try to make sure I squeeze time into the schedule to paint. Summer is a bit different; that’s my time to bloom. I can usually set aside time to paint a couple of days during the week, and the added daylight inspires me more, and makes me crave certain colors.
Being both a mother and an artist can be a difficult balance. How do you try and manage this?
When my kids were born I knew I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. They grow up so fast! I had an easel and some paints that sat in the closet collecting dust for many years. I knew the day would come when it would be the perfect time to paint again. Then one day, when my kids were six and four, I sent them out on a play date. For the first time in years I picked up a brush. I spent hours out on the back porch, soaking up the view, letting my emotion and passion for color guide me. The next day I went straight to Michael’s and stocked up on canvas and paints and brushes and all the cool supplies my heart desired. Since then I haven’t stopped. It took some time to settle into a schedule where I could make sure I was spending the time I wanted with the kids and yet reserving time for art, too. Now that they’re older and more independent it’s a lot easier to take that time for myself when I need it. The best part is the kids love art too, so now we get to work together all the time. They’re my biggest fans and they get inspired whenever I create a new piece.
Where can we see more of your artwork?
Also, some of my original artwork will be on display at the Wasatch County Library, Utah from February 27th to May 7th, 2017.