Uncomfortable and Thriving


I guess I started to notice it last year sometime. Some days it would feel strong and almost pull me – toward what, I didn’t know. Other days it would be more like a little nudge from the corner. I couldn’t put it into words, but I felt it almost every day, particularly around studio time. Something was shifting.

My morning commute to the studio was a short one, about 20 feet or so. Coffee in hand I’d go out our french doors, past the creek and the pond and maybe gather a few fallen leaves from the garden along the way. My studio was a sweet little cottage with just enough room to make a good mess. It was picturesque, still, quiet, and private. I’d often look out at the lovely yard and the beautiful trees and marvel at how lucky I was. I was in a great home routine for 17 years; things were simple and calm; and my work was good. I was comfortable. Ya, I said it: COMFORTABLE. Hmm.

 Not a good place for me. I realized I needed to be uncomfortable.

That little something I could feel was my creative mojo growing restless, and it began shouting at me, “Move. I needed to move my body, move my mind, and yes, move my studio to a much more untamed, loud, active place. I needed to disrupt. I needed to be afraid, to experiment, to feel vulnerable, to create new, unexpected things. And I needed to have the energy and space to do it. It was time for renewal and reinvention. While I was craving change – my art required it.

So, when the universe (and a gorgeous and generous human named Donna) presented me with the opportunity to take a studio space in downtown Victoria, I jumped at it. I moved in March.

This new space feels limitless and exciting. A bright spark has been lit in me and my work. I open the windows wide above the city street and am serenaded by the sounds of people laughing, cars honking, musicians playing, construction, alarms, bikes, skateboards, tourists, sirens – the sounds that have awakened that little part of my artist soul that was pulling and nudging me. Downtown can be loud. It’s always fluid. Every day I move, connect, explore, and watch. There’s a new energy flowing around me and it feels magical. 

While much has changed, much remains the same: my brushes, paints and canvases wait for me each morning; there’s always wine in the cabinet; strong coffee is never far; a decent playlist is constantly cranked; and things are still a little messy. 

 One day I’ll return to my beautiful home studio, but for now I’m happy here – uncomfortable and thriving. 

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”  ~ Anthony Bourdain

Laura’s studio is located on Yates Street in Victoria, BC, and is open by appointment only. 

Embracing Possibility

“How can you possibly part with this one?” she asks.

“Some are harder than others,” I reply, hand on my heart. “And this one hurts.”

When I first started painting, I would get very attached to certain pieces. I’d hang them in my home and ponder them deeply. I’d stare at them, study them, try to remember each brush stroke and layer, and why I decided to leave ‘that’ there. Completely afraid that I wouldn’t be able to manifest something as wonderful ever again, I’d find myself trying to replicate the circumstances that yielded each most recent piece. I tried to remember what music I was listening to when I created it; which brushes I used; whether I was wearing my comfy pants. I’d compare each new work to the last one and critique it accordingly. I was no longer in the moment; joyful, in flow, creating, soaring, inventing, reveling in happenstance, making glorious mistakes. Instead, I was essentially stuck.

I realized that I needed to LET GO. I needed to embrace the possibility that my best work is always yet to come. And, in order to continue to LOVE what I do, I must experiment and grow. I now paint for the sake of my creative mojo, my soul, my practice. By letting go of overthinking about the past, I am free to evolve… no strings attached.

Last season, I began working on a new body of work. Although the pieces carry my recognizable textured style, they are quite different from anything else I’ve done before. They are contemporary, tone-on-tone and minimalist. Taking a leap in a new direction, no matter what your vocation or lifestyle, can be terrifying; but I needed to do it. In fact, I ached for it. The process of creating them was exhilarating, totally nerve-wracking and absolutely soul stirring. The final pieces hit the spot and I fell deeply in love with a few them… sigh. 

I’m honoured to say that my new work has been met with tremendous response and support. The 5ftx5ft blue piece (above) is entitled ‘Inside You’ll Find a Sigh’… a little nod to one of my heroes, Joni Mitchell, and a recognition of my heartfelt farewell as it makes its way to a new home.  

Now, let’s see what’s next.

Create What You Ache For

Six years ago, in honour of my 40th birthday, a large group of us rented a picturesque villa in the heart of Tuscany. Having believed I was Italian until I was in my teens (that’s a whole other blog) it made perfect sense for me to travel to ‘my homeland’ (delusion in full swing, but I’m ok with it). I imagined gathering with good people and sharing delicious food and wine under the proverbial Tuscan sun. Well, we did just that and more. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. 

La Poggiolaia is an elegant hilltop farmstead that is strategically positioned in the middle of Florence, Siena and Pisa. It takes its name from the vast groves of olive trees that surround it in every direction. Believe me, I could go on describing the sights, smells and swirling emotions; but let me just say, it’s heaven on earth.

When I asked the owner of the villa for the name of a chef who could help us with my birthday dinner, Paola replied, “Judy can help you. She lives down the road.” What I came to understand is that when it comes to a deep, rich, culinary knowledge of Tuscany, no one knows more than Judy Witts-Francini. She is a legend in the making with her market tours and cooking classes bringing the very essence of Tuscan living to your core. She is a woman full of purpose and passion, and what she brought to our gathering was a deliciousness-defined that I savour to this day. 

I find my open hand pressing on my chest whenever I speak of my time in Tuscany – like holding my heart somehow makes finding the right words easier. Simply put, there’s a beautiful, authentic, rawness about the land, its people and their food. This trifecta join together in a kind of potent mojo, that convinces every part of your being that it’s ok to let go and live, already. Eat bread for God’s sake; drink wine and laugh from your belly; share secrets; build things; dance like a wild-woman; love from your very core; honour family and celebrate friends; make time to stand alone amongst the vines and breathe in the stillness and power of it all (I’m clutching my chest again.) 

This trip marked a shift in me. It was there, overlooking the golden hills that my private, deep-down voice said clearly, “Create what you ache for, Laura. It’s time.”  I listened.

Now as I sit looking at the shiny new 2016 calendar on my desk, I’m happy to report that my little voice has grown mighty strong and guides me daily. She’s the director of many exciting events this year, one of which is a return to that magical property – this time with my paints and brushes. We’re offering our Beautifully Imperfect Painting Retreat in that magical place. Paola is there ensuring our beds are feathered, and my good friend Judy will be waiting to teach us the secrets of Tuscan cooking and charm us with her local magic. 

To mark this New Year and the awesomeness that it holds, I’ve asked Judy to share one of her delicious recipes. I hope you enjoy it. 

Love, Laura
#CreateWhatYouAcheFor  #FuelTheCreativeSoul  

For information on all our retreats, visit my website or email me at lharris@islandnet.com  Tuscany, please book before Jan 22, 2016.

London Town

I’m sorry I haven’t written for a while. It is my intention to change that. Lofty goals are in place, just you wait.

The dust has settled into the corners of our new home and my studio feels like I’ve been there for years. New images are taking shape on the canvas, a delightful side effect of a change of scene. These summer days have a comfortable, easy flow to them and I’m strangely tempted to stay put all season. But life is too short and delicious for that.

I’m writing this from a cozy little spot in London. Oh how I love this city... the smells, the light, the sound of the tube as it wanders the city with the bustle of wickedly interesting, stylized humans of every shape and colour. I'm always overwhelmed and crazy-inspired by the innovators and creators who have shaped this iconic place over the centuries, the real-deal-original “storytellers and makers”. As I navigate the cobblestone, a little voice whispers "the Masters walked here, can you feel it?". I try to soak up just a smidge of that juicy mojo and tuck it away to use when I get back to the studio. 

I have stood gobsmacked and teary in front of paintings that shaped who I am as an artist. I’ve stared at the actual brushstrokes of Van Gogh and Rothko’s edges and thought “My God, I can almost feel them.” Tate Modern, Saatchi, The National Gallery, Portrait Gallery. The mere thought triggers a deep sigh. 

And the pubs, Lordy, the pubs! Epicenters of connection and daily celebration, they define and honour community in a way that is sadly lacking at home. The first photo above was taken while sitting at one of my favourites. 

For me, travelling rekindles a romance with self. It reminds me what I’m made of, who I am. It fuels my creative soul, reminds me that I’m human, I’m brave and I’m free. It makes me believe, once again, that anything is possible.

Notting Hill is the current home of two dear friends of mine, who continue to amaze me with their generosity of spirit and courageously big living. We will walk, shop, dine and laugh our asses off before heading to Lisbon tomorrow. Mind the gap.

A New Year

One year ago I was completely dedicated to a plan… I would happily continue on, in my cozy home with my daughter, content with my tiny studio and I’d walk each morning on the paths by the coast, as I’ve been doing for 14 years. I’d be happy, strong, brave, free and fulfilled, and damn it, I’d do it on my own. 

Since then, I’ve learned that sometimes a detour offers a much sweeter journey. I’ve learned to always leave room in the plan for a little magic. Once again I learned to trust the unknown, for it knows better; that the truest courage and bravery is wrapped in a wide-open heart, and that fear is dangerous. I’ve learned that real freedom exists in the confines of unconditional love and that what I always thought was possible, is. Severe tendonitis, taught me to LET GO and for God’s sake appreciate what I do for a living… HONOUR it. I discovered that there’s wild strength in asking for help and that I have some Super Heroes waiting for the call. I learned that adapting is much cooler than controlling, and I’m now certain that ‘messy’ is my style and that beauty lives there. I learned that a good cry is as good as a laugh; joy is severely underrated; creativity is divine; red wine helps; and that dogs are highly evolved. I learned that everything is going to be ok; that time is precious; that we all have to dream bigger, give more and love harder. I realized that my daughter’s wisdom is super natural; my Mom’s touch is in everything I do; and my Dad will always, always show up just when I need him. I learned that friends stay and friends go, and that all of them leave a beauty mark. I was reminded to say Thank You and mean it. I learned that a full dinner table is sacred and that there is nothing sweeter in the world than the sound of laughter in our home. And this year I learned that the unplanned route may lead you to a place more magnificent than you’ve imagined.

In our painting workshops I suggest that we be present in the moment, let go, find joy, trust the process, and that our mistakes are gold. Perhaps tuck a few of those gems in your pocket and carry them through your days… I’m going to. Bring it on 2015!

From here in our new home with my new studio lit up in the distance, I wish you a joy-filled, new year full of glorious mistakes and unexpected detours. I’m off for a walk on my new favourite path by the sea.


Finding Home

In this moment I am grateful… grateful and peaceful with a good pinch of inspiration. Shocking really, given the myriad of challenges I’ve been handed this month… relocating home, studio and heart… to state the obvious.

Last week I presented at a Sparkfly event hosted by Pam Lewis at Nourish Bistro… a little, inspired space nestled sweetly in the country. When Pam and I first spoke about presenting, I hesitated given the timing of the event and the looming demands related to all the things mentioned above, but I said yes. The plan was to set up a little corner easel and canvas, crank the music and let the paint fly (like no one’s watching), and then we’d all have a little chat. The theme was ‘connection’.

What I couldn’t have imagined was the undeniable, vibrational, energetic, magnetically good shit that occurred. After my nervous hand calmed, the music came in and moved my brush…  I was in the zone. I was certainly aware of everyone behind me, but their purpose was loud and clear… they were along for the ride, moving with me, on board and connected. When the music stopped and I turned around, the emotion was palpable… some wiped away tears, some sat silent, and beaming smiles lit up the room. Accepting and channeling the love in the room was my divine pleasure. I was shown, once again the power of this little thing I do… something far beyond me.

If you were to ask what I know for sure (Oprah) I’d say this: recognizing and honouring your own creative spark will lead you… whether it’s painting, cooking, gardening, writing, singing, accounting, whatever truly floats your boat. It will open you, lift you, free you, and most importantly connect you… to yourself, to your purpose, to the highest love, and to all those who champion you. It will bring you home to your very core.

So there you have it… I’m grateful for the fact that no matter what is going on in my life, no matter where I am (interim studio or Nourish Bistro) I can pick up a brush and instantly find ‘home’. 

“Recognize what brings you joy… crave it, honour it, practice it. It will lead you.”  Laura Harris.

Photo by Sara Hembree, thegritofit.com

Giggles & Watermelon

GIGGLES & WATERMELON, 60”x40” 2003

I’m in the process of moving and I spent most of last week in the basement with one of my oldest and dearest friends, surrounded by cardboard boxes and tape. What to keep and what to toss was the theme. I uncovered all sorts of treasures and made some difficult decisions. As I sifted through old family photos, high school love letters and sweet-smelling baby clothes, I was reminded of who I am, where I came from, what I’ve been through and how and why I love. What a gift. 

In one corner of the basement was a stack of paintings I haven’t looked at in years. This is one of them and I’m thrilled to have it. I can see my sense of play, my joy… my wildly unapologetic approach to the process. The evolution in my work fascinates me. Perhaps I’ll revisit this style again soon.


I love to eat and food is a huge part of my life. I must confess that when it comes to planning for our workshops, more time is spent preparing the menu and sourcing the food than any other component! Our goal is always to prepare and provide healthy, nourishing meals for both body and soul. Rachel and I are always concocting new workshop recipes and testing them out on our closest friends (yes, there have been a few late night test kitchen cook-off events!)  

People often ask, ‘what’s in this?’ and honestly the recipes are all quite simple. The secret is in the ingredients. We use organic and local ingredients whenever possible and always use the very best olive oil and salt (I swear to you, this makes a huge difference!) I have been promising our recipes for years and I’m thrilled to finally deliver. Here’s a delicious salad to start us off and I’ll be posting new recipes regularly including our gluten-free roasted vegetable pie, the salmon cakes and oh yes, the quinoa chocolate cake! I hope you enjoy.

Arugula Salad with quinoa, basil and sweet cherry tomatoes

I sometimes eat this on its own for lunch. It's delicious, simple and fresh. And the basil! Lordy, Lordy, the basil… so yummy.

2⁄3 cup quinoa
1 1⁄3 cups water
1 cup loosely packed, chopped basil
4 cups loosely packed arugula
2 cups fresh, sweet cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
½ cup crumbled goat feta (or cherry size buffalo mozzarella as shown here)

½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
a good pinch of Fleur de Sel (to taste)
dash of black pepper

Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow the quinoa to cool. In a large bowl, toss together all the salad ingredients, including the cooked quinoa. Add the dressing right before serving. Share. Eat. Be happy.


Change is Good

Change is Good. Metamorphosis is Messy.

From where I sit, I can see the 'SOLD' sign on my front lawn. Believe me, I understand and fully embrace the concept that 'change is good', but this feels more like a complete metamorphosis. My heart is deeply rooted in home. Anyone who knows me could suggest that's an understatement. This is huge for me (the messy-good kind of huge).

For fourteen years this home has embraced us. Here we have fought fevers, tended broken bones and broken hearts. Big decisions have been made fireside, with a cup of mint tea or glass of scotch. In this living room we've laughed until we cried, welcomed new puppies and bid tearful farewells. This home has set the stage for outrageous dinner parties, beautiful family gatherings and gloriously-lazy movie nights. It has endured countless storms and one excruciating separation. It was here in this little white house, that my beautiful daughter was conceived and it is here that she now thrives. The pencil marked doorway trim tells the story (my God that one stings). 'Maddie 1 year old', 'Maddie 2 years old.'  Actually, I can't bear to leave the trim – it's coming with us. The memories we made here are palpable and my heart aches to the brim with gratitude for every single one of them.

And, then there's my darling little studio. Nestled in the backyard, it is there that I painted my heart out, literally. Simple and tiny in form, its service has been enormous. It's been my therapist, my retreat, my meditation, my journal, my outlet for the highest love and the deepest pain. I will miss it.

But, it's time for change. Time to expand, to trust. Time to love whole-heartedly, to embrace, to leap. Time to EVOLVE.

With an extraordinary man, his beautiful daughter and the support of our loved ones, we are redefining our family. New home. New studio. New life. Things are about to get messy. Stay tuned.

I'm off to purge the tupperware drawer.

"What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”  - Erin Hanson