Back in 2006, artist Emily Williamson swapped the Isle of Man in the UK for Colorado in the USA.
Freshly graduated with a degree in fine art and in love with an American man, the decision to move across the Atlantic was easy.
After all, why stay on a small island in the Irish Sea when there was a big world to explore?
Fast forward to 2021 and Emily, 39, is firmly settled in Trinidad, Colorado, with her husband and four children.
She also runs a successful portrait business, Sand of Soco Art Studio, and works with clients around the world from her home studio.
Emily loves her life in America. But the pandemic and travel restrictions have highlighted the sacrifices most people have to make when they choose to establish a life elsewhere – most notably, missing family.
We spoke to Emily to find out more about her life at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and what she’s learnt about herself during her years in America.
How did you find the first few years living in America?
Very fun for the most part. Trinidad has around 300 days of sunshine a year. The weather is either hot, bright and sunny or really cold and snowy. There isn’t a whole lot in between. We did however have our first child and bought our first home in those years – both of which can be very tiring. But Trinidad has a slow relaxed pace and the weather contributes to its residents being very friendly on the whole and we love that.
When and why did you start your business?
I began my small business about eight years ago. I studied art and design from 16-years-old and got my degree in fine art. There came a time when our children were more independent and I was eager to get back to doing what I love. I also really wanted to contribute to our income.
I started by doing an illustrated watercolour family portrait for a friend for a gift. Then another friend saw it and paid for seven more custom family portraits up front that she then gave out as gifts. It gave me the confidence to start selling this marketable style and start an online shop on Etsy. Although I offer realism portraits in watercolour and acrylic, and more traditional ink sketches, the illustrative watercolour approach I started with is still the most popular. Maybe because it’s the most customisable.
Over the years what has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
I would say finding balance. The most important thing for me is that I am producing a high quality of work and that I am enjoying the creative process. A great space, plenty of time and being relaxed and happy are all big factors in the enjoyment of it. But with a small business you need to make time for shop and site upkeep, social media, sales and communication, shipping, development of new ideas and avenues, as well as being a parent who is present and engaged. So balance has to be found and my work can only be done at a manageable pace.
What have you learnt about yourself in the process?
That ‘I can’. I am unfortunately a natural pessimist. I can always see very clearly why something wouldn’t work or what could get in the way. Writing end goals, breaking them down into lists and working through them at a manageable pace has enabled me to see that, despite all the reasons I felt ‘I can’t’, I actually can. Sure, it may take a few more steps than I thought, I may come across difficulties and my end goal date has to be moved out, but that’s okay.
What is the best thing about living in America?
I think it’s the accessibility to adventure. Although I moved away from the coast on the island and I really miss it, we find we have fairly easy access to a variety of experiences. The cost of living here is low and the weather is ideal. We live five minutes from the lake so we spend a lot of time paddle boarding or kayaking. We are at the foot of the Rockies so there are endless trails to hike, rocks and cliffs to climb and mountains to slide down on snowboards. We go camping in the lakes further into the mountains. And if we are desperate for the coast then it’s a long drive – but a very doable one – with the Grand Canyon and plenty more to experience on the way to the West Coast.
Has the pandemic impacted you?
We live in quite a small community so its impact on daily life has been minimal. We wear masks and for a short while businesses were closed down, but our cases have never been excessively high. My work comes from all over America, Canada, England and sometimes Europe. It seems that was a big enough catchment area so my work hasn’t slowed down.
It has affected me personally in that we were due a family trip back to the UK to visit my family, some of whom I haven’t seen for eight years. But because of restrictions it isn’t happening and it may be a while before it does.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone planning to start a new life overseas, what would it be?
I would highly recommend it. We live in an incredible world with amazing people that will broaden your perspective. However, it could be worth considering how often you would like to see family and visit home. We have four children so we are a family of six. Although we live in a low cost area, travelling back to the UK is costly and I didn’t realise how little I would get to see my family back home. It is of course possible to visit more often than I have, but it’s well worth considering and planning for.