Heather Gwinn on discovery, vulnerability and the struggle of the artist

These monochrome depictions of haunting figures are the work of Heather Gwinn, who only recently – and unexpectedly – discovered her passion for drawing.

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My artistic experience so far has been tiny and explosive. I didn’t start drawing until 2012 after a brief bout of depression and haven’t stopped since. Drawing takes up every available moment, filling in the cracks of my full time job (as an Information System Security Analyst), three children and amazing husband. It is a balm to me, soothing and fulfilling and, at this point, necessary. My formal artistic education ended in elementary school, where I aced glitter … but didn’t enjoy much of anything else, so my penchant for drawing came as a surprise to everyone.


Raising a family is a huge inspiration. Children are complex and being a parent (when I’m not entirely sure I feel like a grown up) is even more so. Watching my girls attempt to make sense of a world that is sometimes inherently nonsensical feeds so much of what I do. The rest comes from my own struggles to tame the chaos of my experiences and emotions.


My process, much like the inspiration, is organic. I rarely sketch or plan my pieces. Sometimes I’ll sketch primary figures, but the backgrounds and patterning are often done on the fly, just in ink. The ‘eraser free’ approach gives me so much leeway to follow where the curves take me. In many ways, much of my works are just doodles taken to full fruition. The images seem to know where they want to go, and my pen just follows.


Someday I will have a studio, a bright room all my own to fill with drawing tables and huge sheets of paper and cameras and lights and mountains of pens. For now, I create at a small desk in my bedroom. It’s cozy and gets the job done. Copic Multiliners have been my pens of choice from the very beginning. I’ve tried other fineliner options and come back to the Copic every time. They provide a lovely rich black and the fine nibs let me get into the niggling bits that are my favorite to work on. Tiny and lovely.


The drawing routine always involves coffee and audiobooks. I love to read, but really can’t effectively read a physical book and draw at the same time. Rather than picking between my two loves, I find that audiobooks let me do a bit of both.   In theory I work alone, but with three children, one is never alone. My work is perpetually interrupted by requests for treats, questions about homework, the settling of quarrels and bedtime routines. While I treasure long stretches to work, the interruptions also feed into the process and require that I step away from my work and view it from a distance at regular intervals.


I don’t know where my art will take me. Two and a half years ago I didn’t draw and now I’m illustrating books, prepping for gallery shows, fine-tuning my online shop and spending a fair amount of time each day talking with fans from all around the world via social media and email. I could never have imagined I’d be here so I can’t begin to imagine where I will be later. I dream of being in a position where I could create full-time. I can only imagine the bliss of putting the kids on the bus in the morning, making a pot of coffee, picking my book and drawing for 8 hours. The notion makes me swoon a bit.


The last few years have brought incredible change, growth and passion to my life that I could not have anticipated. If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that you never know. You never know what latent passions you have, what hidden talents may emerge if you are willing to step outside a comfort zone and make a new space for yourself. You never know how much love and support are out there until you ask for it by making yourself vulnerable. At 37 I thought I had all the answers to those questions and now, almost three years later, I’m realising how big everything really is and how much of ME there is left to discover. It’s like being a kid again, but with wrinkles and a mortgage.

Learn more about Heather on her website.