Art can be a transformative form of therapy, so Lyla Harris-Quinn found when she put brush to paper and developed a whole new talent.
As told to Miranda Wilkinson
At the beginning of 2020 I was going through something in my personal life that was very traumatic and would result in a long and arduous work-based issue that would last through most of Lockdown. I was signed off with stress and anxiety just a week before the whole country ground to a halt. I knew that my mental health would take a nose dive if I didn’t do something to occupy my mind. Not being able to see my loved ones, especially my mum, during this time of high anxiety could have sent me over the edge, so I looked for a distraction. I instinctively felt drawn to the untouched palette of watercolours my mother-in-law had gifted me a few weeks earlier.
I always knew I had a creative side, but for one reason or another I never really had the headspace or the time to do it. Plus I didn’t know what I wanted to create and I didn’t have the self-confidence to try. I dabbled with art when I was younger, and made a few pencil sketches and acrylic canvases many years ago, but I’ve never had any formal training in art.
For inspiration and motivation, I started following some watercolour artists on Instagram. I finally put brush to paper around May and was really pleased with the outcome of my first ever watercolour painting, entitled “Curious Chicken”. This surprising success spurred me on, and I began painting almost every single day. I found I was naturally talented — especially at painting animals — and with the encouragement and support of my loving husband and two boys, I became more and more confident in my abilities.
I soon started to dabble with resin and polymer clay, making jewellery and coasters. Using my hands to actually physically create something felt so good, and the process of creation was, and still is, extremely therapeutic. I had finally found my “thing”.
One evening as I was soaking in the bath (another of my therapies, so much so, the boys are convinced I am a mermaid) a notion entered my head and I decided to set up my own art page on Instagram. I remember doing it really quickly as I knew the self-doubt might start to kick in – what if no one follows me, or if they think I’m not that good? It was at that point I knew I had a shift of thought. I had gone through so much in my life, what’s the worst that could happen? I knew I needed to do something different to take my mind off not being able to see my friends and family, and to also fill my time with something while I was sitting at home doing nothing but watch TV all day every day and worry about the work issue. This would hopefully help fill the void.
Soon I began to get a few followers and a lot more likes than I ever expected. I was even beginning to have friends and family message me privately and ask for commissions! Of course I happily obliged. What I realised then is that people might actually buy my stuff, and a little seed was sown in my head, which would eventually lead to me opening an Etsy shop.
After the first Lockdown ended I saw an opportunity to have a market stall in a local arts fair – I applied for a place, and was given it…I couldn’t believe it! The day was so much fun and such a success, the local Church asked me to come back a few weeks later for another sale, and I was again asked to come back for a Christmas Market, which took place last week (with social distancing rules in place).
I have made so many new friends during this creative process, the community on Instagram is so supportive and friendly and welcoming. Friends I hadn’t spoken to in many years got in touch with me to congratulate me or even ask for commissions. My world has expanded, in such a positive way.
The investigation at work ended in June and the rightful conclusion to the issue was upheld. I got the closure I so greatly needed. Returning to work was very different because I am now working from home. Whilst I miss some of my colleagues, I don’t miss the travel time as it gives me time to spend on my art. I have been so busy in the run up to Christmas – I’ve had a lot of pet portrait commissions and I’ve also sold some jewellery, hand-painted Christmas cards, and some resin coasters with a tray.
I love to make jewellery and resin bits and pieces, but my true passion lies in painting people’s pets. The fact people trust my skills and think I am good enough to paint their beloved animal makes me so happy. The thought that something I created will be displayed on a wall for all to see is just fantastic. And I am making back some of the ton of money I have spent on art supplies now too!
This venture of mine got me though a very difficult period of my life, which was exacerbated by a global pandemic. I am so glad I found the confidence to do it, and effectively change my life for the better. The sense of achievement is just awesome and I am grateful for this silver lining in an extremely tough year.