Artist and owner of Emily Jeffords Studio
Home: Greenville, South Carolina
Kids: Two daughters (8 and 7) and a son (6 months)
Family furball: A lady-bunny named Max
Pregnancy craving: Shortbread and quinoa tabbouleh
First thing you bought for baby: The cutest bonnet from Briar Handmade
Dream vacation: Iceland with a big stack of canvases
Last song played on your phone: “Sourire” by Madeline
The air in Emily Jeffords’ bright studio—a 1890s home named the White Whale where she and eight other artists work—smells heavenly thanks to the resident floral designer, and the music from her playlist is softly punctuated by the babbles of her sweet baby boy, who’s still small enough to snuggle in a wrap carrier while she works.
If being a professional artist sounds dreamy, it’s because it is. “Not that it is glamorous or easy, but it is totally my dream, which makes every part of it worth any struggle or annoyance,” the mom of three explains. “Of course there are parts of my day that I enjoy more than others—painting versus emails or accounting—but even the dull jobs are furthering my ambitions.”
As an abstract impressionist painter, Jeffords is adept at creating striking landscapes and calming botanicals. She is often inspired by nature, however grand (the vibrant dance of a sunset) or small (the vines quietly creeping on her porch). But the parallels between her life as an artist and a mother are impossible to ignore because when she became one, she embraced the other. “When [my oldest daughter] was born, I left my unfulfilling retail job and decided to stay home with her and pursue my fine art career,” she shares. Since then, her business has grown alongside her budding family, which welcomed its newest addition in November.
“My son decided to arrive 10 days late. This was especially hard to deal with because my body was so ready to have a baby, and had been since 35 weeks,” Jeffords recalls. “I remember feeling at once very in touch with my body and then like it was a total mystery to me.” She spent hours writing, baking and painting in an effort to distract herself from waiting for labor. When it finally did happen, his birth didn’t take long. “I feel like I earned that easy delivery, though, considering all the mental laboring I went through leading up to the day.”
Because Jeffords struggled with postpartum depression after her daughters were born, she prepared for it to happen again. Studio assistants were trained and waiting to pitch in; her husband, Daniel, was ready to support her however she might need. “I was planning on staying home and being cozy with my baby for a solid two or three months,” she says. “What happened was rather the opposite— surprise! I was so excited and in love with him … I needed to show him off, so we were out and about rather quickly.” She began working from home at four weeks postpartum and took two road trips before he was 3 months old.
“We’ve fallen into a pretty good rhythm that I would describe more as a blending than a balancing,” she explains. “I don’t leave my work behind when I leave the studio, but I also don’t leave my family behind when I go to the studio.” She means that in a figurative but also very literal sense. While the girls are home- schooled by a tutor or attending co-op classes, she escapes to the White Whale for a few hours of painting, her son alongside her. In the afternoons, the girls wrap up lessons while Jeffords paints at home. “We’re blending life a little more than is typical, grafting the best parts and making it work for us!”
That fluidity in her schedule allows Jeffords to focus on her children or other interests whenever she desires (and it’s also what gave her the liberty to sleep in during the exhausting newborn days). “It is so healthy to pursue your passions—whatever they may be—and to give your children the gift of a happy, fulfilled parent.” For Jeffords, one of those passions is travel, so it’s no surprise that she’s begun hosting creative retreats abroad, where participants can attend workshops in oil painting, floral design and photography. “Last year we took a month and traveled around Europe as part of our daughters’ schooling—and for fun, let’s be real—before and after the retreat, which totally changed their little lives,” she says. This year locations include Dangeau, France, and Barcelona, Spain.
But it doesn’t take a trans-Atlantic flight to get her excited. “We like to celebrate random things liberally. Day trips just to get doughnuts in a different state, movie nights because it’s raining.” And that’s kind of her approach to all things, finding the good and, like the plants she’s inspired by, growing toward the light.
“Motherhood could be defined as creating beauty out of nothing … taking our broken life experiences, forming them into something meaningful and using them to nurture our children to be even stronger and more beautiful than we are,” she says. “In my artwork that is truly how much of it comes together as well—the paint colors inspiring me as they blend on the palette or on the canvas, making something beautiful out of piles of pigment and oil often feels more intuitive than intentional.”