Artist Insights ~ emerging artist Harriet Merry

Artist Insights ~ emerging artist Harriet Merry

You won this months Portfolio Plus £50 Pegasus Art voucher. Congratulations to emerging artist Harriet Merry! Do you like entering art competitions?

This is the first art competition that I’ve entered! But I definitely think it’s valuable as it’s a way to set goals for oneself, and also to gain (or lose!) confidence. I’ll be entering more after this.

Gil asleep by Harriet Merry

What inspired your winning painting? Tell us about the process and materials too please!

This painting was part of a wall of oil pastel paintings of fruit and veg that I set for myself to do during lockdown. I was at home with my two young sons and had been doing a letter a day project with my youngest where he practised letter formation and I drew something beginning with that letter.

Quite a few of the things were fruit and vegetables. We found ourselves craving for fresh fruit and veg at the beginning of lockdown. The arrival of our fortnightly organic fruit and veg box became a sacred occasion, so I then decided to fill a wall with more oil pastel paintings of these precious food items.

Nice Melons

‘Nice Melons’ was one of the final pieces and, as well as becoming more appreciative of receiving fruit such as melons during lockdown, I had become more adventurous in what I wanted my painting to convey. Melons are so unctuous and when you eat a slice of one, it kind of spreads itself all over your face and hands. Eating one becomes an all immersive experience.

I wanted my picture to portray some of this experience, hence the colours spilling out of the slippery melon. I really like using oil pastels for this too, they too are unctuous and slippery and I love how you can get different textures with them. My preference is to work with the darker colour first and you can add light afterwards, as with oils and acrylics.

Cezanne pastel by Harriet Merry
Cezanne pastel by Harriet Merry

Are you a full time artist, or do you balance your painting with other jobs?

I am a full-time mother but my youngest is starting school in September so I will be going back to work part-time and intend to spend the rest of the time drawing, painting, experimenting and hopefully making some money from it.

Orange by Harriet Merry winner of Artist of the Month at Pegasus Art
Orange by Harriet Merry

What is your preferred medium and which brands do you favour?

This is a really tricky question as I have phases of loving different mediums. Willow charcoal for drawing is a favourite – I like it best on cheap cartridge paper. I used to love oil painting but I currently have to do my art at the kitchen table and am often disturbed by little boys wanting me to play Lego.

An hour of painting is all the time I have!

About an hour for a picture is all the time I can afford which means I have had to diversify to oil pastels and chalk pastels and sometimes watercolour. My set of Holbein oil pastels which I have had for about 20 years are great, and I also have two sets of Sennelier oil pastels and some Caran D’ache ones too. The Senneliers are gorgeous for layering and getting a thick beautiful colour, but I prefer to start an oil pastel painting with the Holbeins as they make a more light and interesting texture; they are less thick.

I can’t find any replacement Holbeins so I’m hoping that the Caran D’ache (which I haven’t tried yet) will qualify. I like brown recycled paper best for oil pastels. My chalk pastels are Sennelier and I like the Sennelier pastel paper too. I also like ink and watercolour wash and I use Winsor & Newton fine liner pens and watercolours.

A letter a day by Harriet Merry
A letter a day by Harriet Merry

Were you formally trained or self taught and do you think this matters?

I did art A-Level about 25 years ago, I still remember a lot of what I learnt but I would like some more formal training as I think it’s really important to learn and be influenced by artists and art teachers, there is so much technique that can be taught. Something I would also highly recommend is studying the work of the masters.

Lockdown Art Projects

My current lockdown project is to study and paint/draw work influenced by the great artists themselves. I am studying an artist a fortnight and this has entailed the work of Van Gogh, Constable, Hockney, Cezanne, Seurat and Durer. I did History of Art as a subsidiary subject at university. Looking at their paintings and studying technique alongside trying to paint in their style has opened my eyes to different ways of approaching subjects. Through different mediums I am working towards finding my own style. 

Harriet Merry Self Portrait winner of Artist of the Month A&I magazine
Harriet Merry Self Portrait

Do you paint every day? What keeps you going?

I aim to draw or paint about 4-5 times a week, it is tricky with young children so sometimes this is just a 5 minute sketch. I think it’s important to draw as much as possible, and since I have been drawing regularly, I have been far more inclined to experiment and care much less about the end result. When I care too much about the final picture, I find I restrict what I do. I am still very much in the experimentation stages of being an emerging artist!

Do you attend art classes yourself?

I attend a weekly art class with the artist Helen Tarr ( It’s important to do a class where you are pushed to experiment, use new mediums and subject matter. I like classes to be about drawing and painting from real life, not from photographs. It’s far more satisfying and challenging to consider one’s own composition and the vicissitudes of light and shade within a scene or object.

Seurat Gil by Harriet Merry
Seurat Gil by Harriet Merry

Which websites can you recommend for resources and support for an artist. Is it important to be part of a group, society or club? How do you stay in the loop?

Pinterest is good sometimes to see what other people are doing with similar subject matter, and also to look at other famous artists’ works. I also love instagram for looking at current artists. I’ve even bought a few artists’ works through the Artists Support Pledge on instagram.

Which websites can you recommend for resources and support for an artist. Is it important to be part of a group, society or club? How do you stay in the loop?

I’m in a WhatsApp group with my art class, and also another with some artist friends with whom I have been doing my great artists project. It’s a great way to see what other people are doing, and also to keep me working daily. If other people post something, you feel you have to too! It’s also been a lifeline during lockdown as everyone has been so isolated – it’s easy to get despondent when you produce a bad drawing/painting but it keeps me motivated and determined to start afresh each day.

Failures….not just successes

We have also been posting our failures as well as our successes (I would like to see more of this in general – every artist has a bad day!) which has, I think, been not only funny but really helped to keep everyone confident and stick to it, whatever they produce.

Thank you so much to Harriet Merry for answering our Artist Insight questions. If you would like the chance to win a £50 Pegasus Art materials voucher by being Artist of the Month, enter online here.