Whether the work of Morgan Harper Nichols has been filling your Instagram feed for years, or her name is entirely new to you, we’re so excited to share more of her story on our blog today on being an artist, writer, mother, and 2019 Yellow Conference speaker! One of the most striking things about Morgan’s work to me has not just been her words that make so many of us feel seen, or her gorgeously fluid art that feels like diving into a sunset – but the fact that the pieces she shares are written for strangers. She welcomes anyone to submit a story, whether their own or someone close to them, to her via Instagram direct messages, and from there she draws her inspiration to create something beautifully encouraging. Get to know more about Morgan’s own story in our interview with her below, and join us in August to hear her speak in person!
What was your work background before you became the illustrator & poet we all know and love? How did that lead you to the work you do now?
When I graduated from college, I was a college admission counselor for a couple of years. While I was in that career, my little sister had launched a career as a full-time singer-songwriter. My husband and I ended up leaving our jobs and going on the road to travel with her. From there, I begin to write and share my own music. I started creating visual art and poetry in a season where I had been touring for years, but was craving to find other ways to share my art.
It was an uncertain season for a while because I didn’t really know how this could be a career. Then, as I slowly begin to share, various organizations and brands begin to ask me to create commissioned work. This was exciting, but I was still nervous about this new venture becoming a full-time thing. I began asking people to submit their stories and I would write for them.
By doing this, I was reconnected with what I loved about my careers before this one: people and their stories, and making connections one person at a time.
That’s what has always inspired me to keep going and to keep creating.
Our conference theme this year is Align – and we’re so excited to hear you speak on this! Have there been any specific moments in which you had to make a change, or take action, to align who you are with the work that you do? Did that come with any hardships? If so, how did you overcome them?
When I was faced with a career change after touring full-time in music, I was terrified and discouraged. Not only did this drastically change my main source of income, but I was unsure of what kind of work I was even qualified to do beyond that. I felt like so much had been taken away and all I had left was a head full of ideas. I began to write and create art because I realized that this was something I could do while I figured everything else out. Little did I know, that small step would lead to all of the others.
Your illustrations and poetry are rooted in encouraging and empowering others. What do you draw from within you to find the right words to give to others?
My main source of inspiration is from people and their stories. Since I was young, I have always been intrigued by those around me and the stories they tell with their words, and with their lives.
I truly believe that our stories connect us and we can see ourselves in one another.
I have always had a hard time trying to articulate how I feel, so when I have the opportunity to look beyond myself into the life of someone else, I feel like a connection is formed. And through that connection, I am able to write the words and make the art that I likely need to hear myself.
You (very recently) became a mother! Has this life change affected how you view your work and/or goals?
Becoming a mother has taught me to slow down. I have a habit of overworking because I honestly love what I do. But I have learned that even when I am loving the work I do, I still have to make room for play. I still have to make room to just be, and not worry about doing anything. When you work for yourself, this can feel irresponsible, but I am being reminded daily that making time to rest is what fuels me. Watching how much my son needs to rest reminds me that I need that time as well!
Any tricks of the trade you would like to share with fellow writers and/or artists out there?
Start small. Create something for one person at a time. Paint a portrait for your grandmother. Write a poem for your best friend. Make music for the person you were ten years ago. Take photographs that you would like to hang up in your own home.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to creativity, but ironically, endlessness can become rather limiting.
So instead of trying to speak to the entire world or even to an entire community, speak to one person at a time. So many of the most meaningful connections in life are formed just that way.
What is something (practical or profound) you wish you could tell yourself five years ago that you know today?
It does not make you irresponsible if you need time to sort things out. Five years ago, I felt like I had to have a plan for everything. I didn’t think it was possible to sustain a living or be at peace with where I was unless I had an answer or an explanation for everything. Now I know that I cannot squeeze all of my life into a series of perfectly curated boxes. It’s okay for projects and ideas and thoughts to spill over into one another. It’s okay to say “no” sometimes and not feel like you have to explain yourself. It doesn’t make you irresponsible to take it one day at a time.
What growth do you hope to have in your work in the coming year?
Continuing to get out of my comfort zone. I am 29 years old and I feel like my entire 20s was filled with a lot of moments where I had to step out into the unknown, and sometimes, I secretly wish that turning 30 meant that I was finished with that part of my story. However, I know that I must continue to embrace the unknown. I must continue to do things that go beyond me.
What has been your greatest struggle as an artist and poet?
Trusting that I am worthy of being heard just as much as anyone else.
I have a habit of selling myself short because I feel like someone else is more qualified, interesting, or worthy.
I am slowly unlearning this, but it is a daily challenge for me. I am forever learning the difference between humility and not thinking less of myself to a detriment.
What are you most looking forward to at the Yellow Conference?
I am most looking forward to connecting with like-minded people! I often work alone, at home, so real-life connections can be hard to come by at times. I am excited about meeting others, making connections, and exchanging stories.
Images courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols