hello there, friends,
today's interview is with emily gaines demsky. emily's blog was one of the first blogs i ever read, way back when, alongside soulemama and habit, which she was a co-founder of. i cannot tell you how pivotal it was for me to read the words of other women as they journeyed through their days. knowing i was not alone was crucial in the early days of my mothering. emily continues to inspire me with her art, her encouragement, her creative process, and her gratitude practice. her words about gratitude and what she's finding inspiring lately will move you, i just know it.
Emily Gaines Demsky is a painter, a mother, and a light seeker. She makes bold bright paintings of flowers and horizons, photographs her creative process and the natural world, and writes about her belief in possibility; and then she goes home to drive carpool, make brownies, and walk the dog.
Emily’s greatest wish is to ignite conversation and challenge perspectives around light and darkness, positivity and negativity, hope and doubt, through her paintings, her photography, and her writing.
You can learn more about Emily on her website or find her on Instagram @shiningegg, where she shares bits of her life and creative process, and where she maintains a daily gratitude practice and encourages others to do the same.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day in my life. I wish there were, and I’m working to find more rhythm and routine because I thrive on rhythm and routine.
My kids are teenagers, and they’re pretty independent, but I am up with them in the mornings, getting ready for school. We are all in the kitchen together making and eating breakfast, making lunches, and getting out the door. I drive my kids to school most days, except when my husband does, and that’s where the predictable part of my day ends.
My work is fluid; I might be painting or writing or photographing my paintings or purchasing supplies or meeting with clients or the gallerist or the printer. There are so many different elements to my work and I am constantly searching for a better way to manage my weeks and my days.
I have had to learn to be both flexible and rigid about my time. Flexible, in the sense that I have to be willing to pivot from work to family and back again as necessary, and rigid in the sense that I have to protect my work time because nobody is going to do that for me. This means that I have to say no to lots of things that sound delightful or intriguing so that I don’t let my studio time slip away.
The second predictable part of my day comes after I pick my kids up from school in the late afternoon. We are usually home between 5 and 6 p.m., and I’m making dinner and they’re unwinding and having a snack and doing their work. We’re talking about the day or the news or whatever is on our minds -- orbiting around each other in the kitchen and the living and dining room, each doing our own thing and in concert with each other, too. Once my husband comes home from work, we all sit down together for dinner as a family with place mats and napkins, a well-set table, something (hopefully) yummy and nourishing to eat, and a chance to check in and reconnect with each other.
In the evenings after dinner, we are most often all around our big dining room table, each of us doing our own work. Last school year we watched Friends together as a family, which was a nice treat in the evening and we’re looking for a new series to watch together this year. Now that my son is seventeen, he’s often the last one awake -- I’m not sure I’ll ever be used to that.
I aspire to go to bed by 10:30 and maybe saying it here will help me stick to it!
What does gratitude mean to you and how do you incorporate it into your everyday life?
It would be hard for me to overstate the significance of gratitude in my daily life. Gratitude has become my companion, and the lens through which I see the world.
Last September, I was coming off of a challenging summer and we were heading full tilt toward my daughter’s bat mitzvah. I was feeling really down and I was determined that I was not going to approach this milestone, this occasion for rejoicing, in a state of frustration or sadness. I had heard, read, and known about the power of practicing gratitude, and I’ve tried it myself on and off over the years. I generally consider myself to be a grateful person, and I didn’t really think a concrete daily practice would make much difference but I was committed to doing whatever it took to change my perspective.
I emailed three friends and told them that each day I would be sending them a list of three things I felt grateful for, that I needed their awareness and accountability to commit to the practice, and I invited them to join me. All three friends said yes enthusiastically and for the months of September and October we emailed each other daily with gratitude lists that were almost always longer than three items -- there was so very much to be thankful for, even on the hard days. Eventually those emails faded, but I had been so changed by the practice that I couldn’t and wouldn’t give it up. I moved my daily gratitude lists to Instagram and I paired those lists (which are more abbreviated now that they’re out there for the whole world to see) with photographs of the light. I’ve been doing it that way ever since.
The combination of the practice of naming my blessings alongside a photograph of some form of light or another has made the practice really tangible for me. Recognizing the things I have to be thankful for is a literal exercise in looking for light, in finding bright spots, in a busy or hectic or hard or wonderful or uneventful day. In the same way, the exercise of finding light to photograph requires me to be thoughtful about the rising and setting of the sun, the shadows on my bedroom wall, the flickering of a candle, a beautiful chandelier, and the places in my life that are bright even on a cloudy or a rainy day.
My gratitude practice has influenced my life and the way I see the world in subtle and not so subtle ways. The little things that used to cause me to grumble and complain now act as a trigger for me to look harder for the goodness. We all have bright spots -- we all have darkness and we all have light, and I choose to look for and to focus on the light.
How do you stay connected to those you love?
This is such a thoughtful question and I wish I had an equally thoughtful answer.
I heard Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth discussing their family’s practice on the Happier Podcast, and I’d like to adopt it! They all -- Gretchen, Elizabeth, and their parents -- send regular email updates (which they self-identify as boring) with information about the bits of daily life -- dentist appointments, soccer games, and so on -- to each other so that they are aware of what’s happening in the others’ worlds. They may have said, or I may have decided, that the practice keeps them all current with each other so that they can pick up easily when they talk or email, and it helps them to feel engaged with each other from afar. I love this, and I’ve been meaning to start the practice for myself with my family and my husband’s family. Even if nobody else picks up on it, it will be a nice way to invite connection.
What’s inspiring you right now?
Lately I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the people and the things that inspire me, and I’ve been keeping a list. I often find myself scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, or the news, or another email or another or another, that don’t fill my well, and I like having a list of inspiration to come back to.
A few of the things inspiring me right now:
Autumn’s changing light
Heather Day’s largescale bold abstract paintings
Lari Washburn’s marks on paper and on ceramics
Ben Parks’s film photography
Julia Miller’s new shop
Annie Koelle’s line drawings of the human body
Heather Chontos’s bold paintings and textiles
I could go on and on and on!
What is on your bedside table?
I recently wrote a blog post about how the pile of books on my bedside table is overwhelming and unmanageable, and this question reminds me again to edit, to focus, to curate that pile so that it feeds my spirit instead of making clutter. Some highlights from the pile of books on my bedside table right now:
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman, which I’ve recently finished but haven’t yet put away
Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson, which was recommended to me by Molly of Remedial Eating and which I’m reading now
A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which I keep nearby at all times
A Year with Rumi by Coleman Barks
And next to the pile of books there is:
A candle that smells like the beach, sitting atop a ceramic coaster with a baby footprint from when my son was tiny
Two beach rocks -- one large one in the shape of a heart, another smaller one that looks like an opal
One seashell collected on the beach in North Carolina years ago
Three brass seashells that I picked up at an antique shop on Cape Cod this summer
Burt’s Bees lip balm in a felted bowl gifted to me years ago by a blog friend
A notebook for morning pages, and a pencil
Emily will be taking over the hello there, friend instagram feed on Monday to share more with us and respond to your comments. We hope you take the opportunity to check in and say hello to her!
Thanks so much, Emily, for sharing with us today! We're so grateful for you! xo.