If you ever need proof that you can turn your creative dreams into a viable business, then artist Emilie Van Camp is it. She started experimenting with watercolour painting in early 2017 and launched her online shop, IyaGallery, less than a year later. Today, her beautifully minimalist, abstract work has fans all over the world and regularly appears in stylish homes on blogs and Instagram. Abi Dare caught up with her to find out more about her journey, the highs and lows along the way, and where she finds her inspiration.
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
“I’m originally from Belgium, but I left home to be with my other half and I’ve been in the UK for nearly eight years. After a few years in the Peak District and the Scottish Highlands, we’ve now settled down in London. Yes I know, it really should be the other way round, but I guess we like doing things differently!”
Have you always loved painting?
“Art in general has always been an important part of my life, whether in the form of drawing, photography, writing or painting. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I genuinely couldn’t live without it. Being creative is probably the one thing that gives me pure joy and makes me feel alive. When it comes to painting, I used to have a very different style and strangely enough oil was my medium. I had never used watercolour before and a whole decade had passed without me holding a paint brush, until I found my true style last year and IyaGallery began to take shape.”
How would you describe that style?
“Pure, minimalist and poetic. The essence of my work is very much inspired by two of the main characteristics of the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic: kanso, which means simplicity, and seijaku, which means tranquillity. But as I’ve only been using watercolour for a year or so, I would say that my style is constantly evolving as I experiment with the medium and learn how to express myself with it.”
Speaking of Japan, it seems to have a particularly strong influence on your work. Where does that stem from?
“It’s funny. Have you ever loved something or been fascinated by something and you don’t know why? Well, I have that with Japan. I always had a fascination, even before experiencing it in person. When I was 18, I suddenly decided to go to night school to learn Japanese, and I’d been dreaming of visiting the country ever since. In December that dream finally came true, and it was life-changing. For me Japan is beauty, respect, precision, purity, dedication, commitment… It feels like home.”
What else inspires you?
“Life, nature, serendipity. And other artists, especially California-based Satsuki Shibuya – I’m in absolute awe of her art and it was actually her work that made me want to experiment with watercolour for the very first time. I owe her the happiness I’ve found in my painting.”
Do you go through any particular rituals or processes when you paint? Do you need to be in a certain mood or a certain place?
“I wish I could paint any day, any time, any place, but I definitely need to be in a particular frame of mind. I usually put on some background music (most of the time it’s my Japan playlist) and then sit in my studio, aka the floor of my living room with the coffee table as my desk! And I need to be alone.”
You launched your online shop last year. How did it come about?
“Launching some kind of artistic collection was something I had been wanting to do for a very long time, but I never felt confident enough. Then one weekend when I was home alone, I woke up early in the morning and thought: “I just need to do this”. I painted from 6.30am to 1.30pm without a break, and when I finally stopped and looked around me, I had about 15 pieces on the floor and the biggest smile on my face. I felt a mix of pure joy and exhaustion. It was the best feeling ever, and something I’ll never forget. A few months later I opened my Etsy shop, first under my own name before changing it to IyaGallery in homage to a cherished place I visited in Japan.”
Did you experience self-doubt along the way, and if so how did you overcome it?
“Definitely – I felt extremely shy and vulnerable about sharing my work. The biggest driver to overcoming it was the constant support both from people close to me and people whom I have never met but who have followed the journey with me. The genuine kindness I received is what made me want to push myself and pick up the brush again and again and again. IyaGallery would never have seen the light of day without it, and I’m so grateful.”
What self-care steps do you take to improve your wellbeing?
“Painting is actually the greatest act of self-care for me, as I experience it very much as a mental exercise. When I paint I find myself in a different state of mind, almost as if I’ve been transported somewhere else. I become oblivious to my surroundings and lose any notion of time, and I can be like that for hours. When I eventually come out on the other side, I feel bliss and total exhaustion, but most importantly I feel connected with myself.”
Do you have a particular morning routine that helps you prepare for the day ahead?
“Breathing exercises are the first thing I do when I get up. I sit in bed and concentrate on my breathing for a few minutes to clear my always-busy mind. I then make some green tea to enjoy in silence, before putting on some music and jumping in the shower. While having my breakfast I quickly write a to-do list, which most of the time I never manage to finish by the end of the day! Then it’s time to work.”
What’s next for you and IyaGallery?
“I dream of having my own studio one day and exhibiting around the world. But for now, I’m enjoying the journey and making the most of the opportunities, the support and the lovely exchanges with customers along the way. That said, I do hope to share some very exciting news soon, so watch this space…!
Finally, do you have any words of advice for others who want to follow their dream and launch their own creative business?
“Just do it. If I can, you can! Joking apart, I’d say the key to success is finding you ikigai – a Japanese concept whose meaning roughly translates as ‘reason for being’ and which encompasses joy, a sense of purpose and a feeling of wellbeing. Then, when you’ve got it, don’t let go of it and don’t be shy about sharing it with the world. The world will be a better place for it.”