Erin and Harrison Connally are artists. They live in a yurt. Their studio is a converted closet with big windows and a great view. They are working on a series of paintings depicting their visions of “thin places.” Harrison uses organic material gathered from their 14-acre property to make paint.
They just bought a bathtub.
Erin is 29. Harrison is 27, though he sometimes forgets and says that he’s 26. They have been married for almost two years. They are giddy in their love for each other and serious about their art.
WACOAN: How did y’all meet?
Harrison: I worked at Hole in the Roof [Marketing] years ago as a graphic designer. A friend of mine, a fellow designer, sat next to me every day, day in and day out, and was good friends with Erin.
Erin: Me and Becky [Murphy, now Simpson] played chess every Thursday. She has written a book called ‘I’d Rather Be Short.’ She’s pretty amazing.
Harrison: I was helping out at the arts ministry at the church I was going to at the time. Becky said, ‘Hey, you should look at my friend Erin’s work. She’s a painter.’ She gave me her website, and I looked it up. I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is really good stuff.’ Mostly it was abstractions. There was something about it that was very fascinating.
As someone who was involved in arts ministry, something that was constantly on my mind was how to communicate the values of the Christian faith aesthetically without being too over the top. Erin was one of the first artists I’d seen communicate her Christian faith through abstractions. I knew nothing about her. I had never even talked to her.
Erin: He didn’t even really know if I was a Christian. He was assuming.
Harrison: If this person is a Christian, as I am, if that’s true, then that’s kind of a hard task to accomplish — to communicate that through an abstraction. I thought, ‘That’s worth an email.’ I emailed her out of the blue. I cold emailed her. I said, ‘Hey. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you. Becky Murphy works with me and put me onto your work. I think I see that you’re a Christian. Is that true? If that’s true, I really like what you do, either way. But if you are a Christian, way to go.’
Erin: He ended up emailing me on my birthday that year. I actually knew who he was because I had gone to see Becky several times and knew him as the cute designer who sat next to Becky. Or as I said, ‘that ridiculously attractive man.’ When he emailed me, I was like, ‘The most attractive man I’ve ever seen just emailed me. He encouraged me.’
We just kept it up. Just kept the conversation up. I ended up going to his arts ministry. And it was pretty much —
Harrison: We made friends and started dating.
WACOAN: What were you doing in that arts ministry?
Harrison: It was at Acts Christian Fellowship [now Acts Church], and what we were doing is painting on stage on a Sunday morning. There were one or two easels every Sunday, and a group of us, whether you were a commercially trained artist or you just liked painting, you could come out of the group and come up there and paint if you had the courage to do so in front of the congregation.
And what I invited her to was what we did once a month, [a create night], where everyone was invited. Outside in the courtyard at church, we have easels and canvases and paints that were all provided and paid for by the church. Anybody and everybody could come and hang out and socialize or play and paint. At the end of the event we would just talk about each other’s paintings.
Erin: It was really cool. At the time, I wasn’t going to a church. I was kind of going about life. It was really neat to see all these people making up songs in the corner. Then you had people sketching. People dancing. It felt very Bohemian. It was good. I liked it.
WACOAN: What brought you to Waco?
Harrison: Born and raised in China Spring.
WACOAN: Erin, where were you working when you met Harrison?
Erin: I moved to Waco to go to Baylor [University] in 2004 from San Antonio, but I only lived there for a little bit. I’m a military kid, so I moved all over my entire life. I’m not from Texas. I’m not really from anywhere. I left for a year after my freshman year and moved to Scotland just to take a year off. I worked with an arts society there and moved back to Waco. I graduated in ’09. I did a training school with Antioch [Community Church] in 2009-10. I moved to Dallas for a year then moved back to Waco. I was just doing art and I did that full time.
I was preparing for a show in May 2012 at the old Croft [Art Gallery], and I ended up selling almost that entire show, which is great, and that funded the rest of life. That’s where I met Harrison. That’s why he would have seen my work. I was posting the show, things in progress as I was painting for the show, which was predominantly abstraction, which is a huge divergence for me. I painted mostly figures prior to that.
WACOAN: When did you start doing art?
Erin: Oh, gosh. I’ve been doing art since I was 3. I started painting from eighth grade on. Then I enrolled at Baylor to do the fine arts program.
WACOAN: Harrison, what was your background in art?
Harrison: I always knew I wanted to be an artist. For me, it was a little more rough around the edges in training. I went to [McLennan Community College] for graphic design, but leading all the way up to senior year of high school, I only wanted to be a fine artist.
WACOAN: Doing what kind of art?
Harrison: I never felt the need to know. I was always interested in a couple of different [types].
I had seen and heard and studied artists who would, of course, paint, and then they would also be sculpting as well. From early on, I knew it was important to be able to create, to aesthetically problem-solve. Whether that resulted with painting or sculpting or something in the middle didn’t matter as much.
Especially being so young then and still young now, it’s more important to know how to be a good problem-solver than be a master painter. If you’re ever a master, it takes so long to get there.
Then I went and got a job at Hole in the Roof as a graphic designer. But in the meantime, [I was] working on arts, did music in a band for a time. We toured in summers and on weekends. If it wasn’t painting in my church or playing music with my band, if it wasn’t doing graphic arts during the weekdays for Hole in the Roof, it was something else. It was important to me, at the end of the day, doing a lot of creative problem-solving.
I really got interested in three-dimensional forms, really got interested in traditional woodcraft. That probably has to do with spending 40 hours a week for four or five years doing flat, two-dimensional computer designs. That really catapulted me into wanting to learn how to do woodworking, wood carving, things like that.
After leaving Hole in the Roof, I still did commercial freelance graphics, but also was doing woodworking. I have been a freelancer since then, but about this time last year, I got a part-time job at a makers’ space here in town.
WACOAN: And what do you do there?
Harrison: I manage the woodshop and manage the shop in general. I’m one of two employees to be there for their members. As a makers’ space, it’s run like a gym, but instead of our members paying a monthly membership fee to come in and use gym equipment, they come in and use woodworking equipment, metalworking equipment, 3-D printers, laser engravers and everything in between. It’s nice for them to have an in-house wood guy who can manage the woodshop and also take care of members. It’s Maker’s Edge, at the intersection of 18th [Street] and Austin Avenue, right next to the Wine Shoppe.
WACOAN: What kind of band were you in?
Erin: [Laughs loudly.]
Harrison: I am so glad you asked this question. This is not the conversation I would bring up to anybody —
WACOAN: But I asked.
Harrison: But I am more than happy to answer when people ask. I was in a straight-edge, hardcore Christian screamo band. Yes. As the bass player.
Erin: That alone is one thing, but if you saw images of him back then. I didn’t know him then. This was prior to me. But I’ve seen pictures of the Harrisons over the years, and I love to see how he’s gotten to this point. He straightened his hair, and he had the nose ring and the black-rimmed glasses. He was just so emo.
WACOAN: What was the name of your band?
WACOAN: What would be a more well-known, maybe secular band, whose music would be comparable to EverThorn?
Harrison: The hardcore screamo scene in music is already a pretty niche market anyways. The Christian version of that market is even more niche.
Erin: There’s not going to be a mainstream.
Harrison: All these are names that most people aren’t going to know. The more popular bands in that niche market are going to be bands like Underoath, Blindside, As Cities Burn.
WACOAN: Are these Christian or secular bands?
Harrison: These are Christian bands. Really, all of hardcore screamo music, Christian or non-Christian, is in the secular market because the Christian music industry treats screaming music the same way they would secular music, in some ways. There’s no separate market for this music.
WACOAN: I was trying to find a band I might know of whose music would be similar to EverThorn. I think the hardest Christian band I know about would be Stryper, from back in the day.
Harrison: OK, OK. I didn’t know I was talking to a Stryper fan.
WACOAN: It’s heavy metal, and I know that’s not screaming.
Harrison: It’s a distant cousin.
WACOAN: That’s as far out as I go in the Christian genre.
Harrison: You brought joy to my heart when I heard you say Stryper.
Erin: I didn’t know any of this until I met Harrison. This is not my genre of music.
Harrison: I got in the band my senior year of high school, and all my coaches couldn’t get a grasp of what type of music we played. They weren’t ever going to come to a concert, anyway. So they would [ask], ‘Is it like Creed?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s like Creed,’ and it was nothing like Creed. It’s not like Creed at all.
Erin: I was just never a part of that.
WACOAN: So Erin, you saw him working next to your friend at Hole in the Roof. Harrison, you saw her art, then sent her an email. Where did you go on your first date?
Erin: [Laughs loudly.]
Harrison: Let me explain this. For about four years, I considered myself celibate, questioning whether or not I wanted to date again. I was being young and passionate about my faith. Still am. I never dated. Never pursued dates. If asked to go on one, which never really happened, I would have said no. When I met Erin, I still wasn’t sure at first if she was going to be the girl that broke that in me, that made me decide, ‘I don’t want to be celibate.’ And that’s what happened.
At first, I thought we would be friends. I’m an artist; she’s an artist. The first official, ‘All right. This is more than friendship,’ was when we both were in an art show.
Erin: No, I’ll tell you this. It was a month after the first time we had met. We had not talked — barely at all. I had a big crush on him, but I just wasn’t going to push too hard and [would] wait for him to say something.
The next month they have one of those create nights [at Acts Church], and I went. We had talked since [the first create night], and we had gone to coffee as friends at Common Grounds, which was my home place. I knew everybody who worked there. He was entering my home territory. He was kinda quiet. He wasn’t making jokes or anything. I thought that was very weird. The first time we talked, I really liked him, but this time, I didn’t know. Come to find out, he was trying to downplay his personality because he didn’t want to draw out my heart.
I thought, ‘What is his issue? Why is he being so weird?’ He had told me there was this create night, so I had gone. The next day, he had cleanup, so this was like me making the first move: ‘Hey do you need any help cleaning up the next day?’ Just slid it in there.
Harrison: I was starved for helping hands to help me load and unload things. I asked everybody who came the night before, ‘Hey. I can use some help, anybody who is interested.’ Erin was the only person who [said], ‘Sure, I’ll come over and help you move furniture.’ At that point, after the move was over, after everything was organized and put back in place, I asked her if she wanted to go grab a bite to eat. I felt responsible to pay her back in some way for her assistance. We went to lunch.
Harrison: At [Terry & Jo’s] Food For Thought.
Erin: We got it to go.
Harrison: We got it to go, and she suggested that we take it to —
Erin: Oakwood Cemetery.
Harrison: Oakwood Cemetery on LaSalle [Avenue]. All this is one big blur to me. All of a sudden, we’re sitting on a blanket in Oakwood Cemetery, and it’s very romantic. It’s very pretty. Beautiful trees.
Erin: It’s old and beautiful and all the trees and the sunlight. And we’re sitting on this blanket having a picnic.
Harrison: This was about a month after we initially met. We both kind of came out with the same thing: ‘There’s more than just a friendship.’ That was fascinating.
Being there in Oakwood Cemetery, no one else was around. We’re just having our lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Perfect weather. And we realized, ‘OK, there’s something here.’ We both verbalized it and communicated it to one another. That was the first official date. It was an accidental date.
WACOAN: When was this?
Erin: It was May 2012.
WACOAN: Where did y’all get married?
Harrison: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Erin: I had been attending there before we got married, and I love St. Paul’s. Currently, we’re at Dayspring Baptist [Church], and we love the contemplative liturgical tradition.
Harrison: But we also come from very charismatic backgrounds. And being someone who was attending a very charismatic church like Acts and then having had conversations with my Catholic deacon grandfather, we both appreciate both.
Erin: With Antioch, it was so wonderful. I loved the zealousness. It was so beautiful to see people so on fire for God’s love and for truth and beauty.
WACOAN: Y’all are both freelance artists now, right?
WACOAN: And what type of painting do you do?
Erin: There are two. For the monetary resources, I am doing portraiture, and I am doing high-end portraiture for [clients] primarily in the South. I’m working for a business I started called Mary Alexander, which takes my grandmother on one side of my family, her first name, and on the other side, my grandfather was a widower and remarried, and their last name is Alexander. They’re both from Georgia. My whole family is from Georgia. It’s hailing from my Southern roots. I really respected both my grandmothers. I didn’t get to meet my first grandmother They’re just very strong women and amazing.
WACOAN: Do you have people sit for portraits, or do you paint from photographs?
Erin: Both. I prefer to have them sit and to sketch and have conversations and be able to get to know the person. Obviously, that can’t happen if it’s postmortem. I’m currently doing this portrait of one of the Alexander women. She’s deceased; she was my grandmother. I’m doing it for one of my aunts in Georgia. I’ve got four commissions I’m doing for her, then I’m going to be working on several others in the South [for] friends of theirs.
Then for myself, the area I’m really fascinated by, and Harrison is as well, is thin places. Over the summer, I lived in France and worked there. I was there from May 31 to September 1. I was working at Camac Art Centre in Marnay-sur-Siene, which is about an hour outside of Paris. Tiny, tiny little town, about 190 people. Everybody knows everybody. It’s beautiful. I made so many good friends. I was actually working there as the cook for dinner, five days a week, in exchange for an artist’s residency. A different group of artists would come every month, and I would get all these different artists with their different food preferences, but I would be the unofficial hospitality coordinator. I would be there and spend all this time living there, getting to know these artists and creating community. It was so much fun. I loved it.
Harrison didn’t get to go because he had to work here. That was the difficult part of it.
The amazing part of it was getting to create art in this beautiful place with this amazing community as well as getting to cook and learn this whole other trade. It was really wonderful.
I got to spend all this time learning what I wanted to really do with art. I felt fascinated that heaven is all around us, all the time. It’s not this place we go to. It’s this place that is right beyond us. When we pass away or when we have these spiritual experiences, we go into that place that is right near us. But there are those times in our life when we can be closer, just that little bit closer. In 1 Corinthians, it says that we see through a mirror dimly, but then we’ll see face-to-face. It’s almost like it’s a little bit thinner. It’s a little bit less dim at these times. Some of those places are actually physical places. I think that place can be accessed through the Holy Spirit, that we have an interaction and an ability to be able to come in contact with it a closer way so that we can see the story in a way that you wouldn’t naturally.
I just started looking through the reference library in my mind, the visual library, of seeing different movies or going to different places where I’ve had this experience, where I felt closer to God or closer to something magical or something mystical. Oftentimes, this is [through] games and a lot of books I’ve read. Just so many experiences I’ve had touching those places have been when the rules are off and you could just walk into the woods and all of a sudden be in a fairyland.
I just started thinking, ‘How can I be an ambassador of these places?’ Because I feel much more at home in these places than I do in places where we drive cars and have taxes and have to pay rent. Even though those are things I’m absolutely going to do as an adult, I know that our home is more than that. It’s so much more. It’s so much more beautiful. So how can I show that to other people? Part of that is through abstraction, because there’s the part that’s concrete that I want to show, but then there’s the part that is the feeling.
What I did this summer was I worked on both. I worked on pieces that were on a very thin Chinese paper, a very thin film. I would take pieces of nature, whether it was flowers that I thought were representative of that week, and I would take them back to my studio. I would draw their forms bunches and bunches of times until I would get to the point where I just had the lines of the form. I would use different colors that were from the pieces of nature, but I would just ‘gesturally’ draw them so they wouldn’t be limited to only a few lines. I would do that very quickly.
I would take those on these very thin sheets of paper, and I would layer them, three at a time, and put them between two panes of glass, and I created this light box that would illuminate from behind so you would have this completely different composition and color composition that was so different from the original drawing that was just flat and sitting there. With this illumination and composition you’re entering this whole new world that you didn’t even know existed that could exist with just this little bit of illumination.
So I created hundreds of these, and people would pick the three they wanted, and we would put them between these panes of glass. Eventually, I would like to create a whole series based off of those, but do them as individual slides and have them be framed and have people be able to put them into light boxes that are all around the room.
That is one part, and that’s more poetic, but the other part is just creating visual storytelling. In Marnay, I would draw various places that I felt captured Marnay and this place I was starting to interact with and notice and understand more.
I’m doing it here too. I did several visual development [pieces] for the property that we live on, that Harrison and I interact with. That is the art that I’m doing, and that’s just the beginning. Really, the biggest part is learning how to capture and share those places with other people.
WACOAN: Where all do you do your painting? Here in your studio?
Erin: Here and on site a lot of times. I’ll take sketches and draw quick black-and-white sketches so I can take them back to the studio and do them here, paint watercolors.
Harrison: She used to have to paint in our house, which was fascinating. We live in what’s called a yurt, so it’s one circular room. That’s our house. Before having this [studio] space about a month ago, we were having to work out of what’s like a little cabin in the middle of the woods.
WACOAN: Tell me more about the yurt.
Harrison: A yurt is a nomadic structure that can be lived in year-round [and] that can be assembled and disassembled. It’s not a quick process to dissemble it, so you’re not going to want to take it on a weekend trip, but if we moved ever, we could take our home with us.
It’s pretty much lattice boards that make up the wall. You expand it out and meet at the door frames. Then you put several layers of fabric on the exterior of those walls and the roof beams, and that’s your yurt. No corners. It’s our living room, our bedroom, our kitchen.
Erin: Our whole house is in there. We have our bed. We have a wood-burning stove for heat.
Harrison: As alternative as it may be to live in this sort of home, it was a very practical decision we made.
Erin: It’s not like we’re super hippies. We did it mostly for cost.
Harrison: We ended up being able to purchase this yurt for $6,000. We own it, and they last 10 to 15 years. Now will we live in this for 10 or 15 years? No way. But after we decide we want to be more on-grid, that will then become either her or my studio space or a guest house, or we can rent it out.
The irony is that you can own a yurt for one one-hundredth of what you can own a house for, but when you rent, like with Airbnb, you pay more to say, ‘I stayed the night in a yurt,’ than you would in most of the other options.
Erin: It sounds ridiculously romantic, but it’s so not. But there actually are wonderful aspects about it. When we wake up, Harrison goes outside to shoot the bow and arrow, and I’ll make breakfast and coffee. Then we’ll sit outside in this beautiful wilderness.
Harrison: You don’t hear any cars driving by.
Erin: Then there’s, ‘Oh, by the way. We have to go get our water.’
WACOAN: You need water. You need bathroom facilities. How does that all work?
Harrison: We do not own the property we live on. We live on about 14 acres. This property is owned by my grandparents. When my grandfather passed away, I moved in to assist my grandmother. But you don’t want to be newlyweds and living with Grandma. So we had this wonderful opportunity to, if we did the yurt option, have our own place on a significant amount of land and be close enough to assist her still.
When we get our water, we take a 5-gallon bucket and go over to her house and fill it up with the garden hose. As far as a bathroom goes, we have a compostable toilet. We have compostable trash bags, so we will do our business and put a couple of scoops of sawdust in afterward.
WACOAN: That’s how the toilet works at the World Hunger Relief Farm.
Erin: Where we both used to live.
Harrison: Then when it gets full enough, you tie up the bag, since it’s compostable, and you can put it somewhere on the 14 acres where nobody ever goes, and it’ll be good for the environment. Saves a lot of water. We don’t want to spend $6,000 on our house and double, triple, quadruple that getting plumbing done.
WACOAN: Where does a bath come into play here?
Harrison: We’ll go over to my grandmother’s house and take a bath or shower there and check in on her at the same time.
Erin: We have a [propane] hot water heater we bought recently, but haven’t had time to set it up.
We’re actually about to buy a bathtub. We have been in the process of building as we’ve lived in [the yurt] for two years. Parts of it are really cool, but parts of it you have to slowly add to get it to be functional.
WACOAN: Is the bathtub going to be inside the yurt or outside?
Harrison and Erin [simultaneously]: Outside.
Harrison: The toilet and bathtub are outside. I built a separate structure, the little outhouse, the back door opens into.
Erin: I’m excited about decorating the whole outhouse.
WACOAN: I’ve never heard anybody say that before.
Harrison: You know you’ve found the right girl when —
WACOAN: How long do you see yourselves living in the yurt?
Harrison: You know, it really depends. Erin is very passionate about helping artists’ residencies. As it stands right now, we’re just in Waco. With my job at Maker’s Edge and helping my grandmother, we’re here. But that could change in an instant. It could mean maybe [Erin] gets an opportunity at some residency across the country or across the world, which is why we got the yurt, so that we could just pack it all up.
Erin: Within a month we would be able to have it all together and have our entire home moved.
Harrison: I could see us moving within the next five years, but who’s to say?
Erin: And we wouldn’t be opposed to being here long term as some point. I love Waco.
WACOAN: What do you love about Waco?
Erin: Mostly, the history that I have with Waco. I have lived so many different seasons here now. I’ve been here over 10 years. I’ve seen it through different phases, and I’ve been in all sorts of different communities here, and I think seeing where it’s at now is really exciting.
But also just the community. I have so many sweet friends that I love.
Harrison: What I love about Waco is that it is just that size where there is a vast amount of resources available, but yet it’s at a small-town price. To be able to go to a local makers’ space in town, and if you don’t have all the equipment in your own garage, you can just pay a monthly membership fee. We’re not talking about a franchise. We’re talking about a mom-and-pop shop. It’s Waco-sized prices for Dallas-sized resources. That’s what I love about Waco.
Erin: And I love that half my friends own businesses. And everywhere I go, I see at least one person I know, if not 10. And most of those places are owned by a friend.
WACOAN: It sounds like you have the best of both worlds. You live in the country, in your yurt, then from your studio in The Center you have a view of three big, gorgeous churches and the Hole in the Roof building.
Harrison: What’s fascinating is to think about how we got the place out in the country and the view. Maybe that’s a reflection on Waco. Maybe that’s a reflection on us as artists and the artist’s mindset, but I think it’s interesting that you can not make a whole lot of money but yet, if you know how to, have access to the country on your own property in some way, shape or form. Or if you’re willing to partner with a wonderful organization like The Center, you can rent out a closet that wasn’t used for anything and get [this view].
Erin: It was so funny when they showed us this space. We were just wanting any random space downtown. We thought, ‘We’re Christians. We love churches. We’ll see if there are any churches that have extra space.’ Columbus Avenue [Baptist Church] was so sweet. They had The Center and said we could check it out. I was already a member of The Center. I’ve been here for years. I knew they had these huge rooms [in The Center], but we didn’t need that much space for two people. They said they really didn’t have any space they could rent, but they did have this one closet.
We took a look. It’s got white walls and concrete floors, so we’re not going to ruin it if we spill oil paints or anything, and I can put up a huge painting here. And it has two windows. What closet has windows? And they’re the sweetest people downstairs. If I want to work out, I can go during lunch and work out. It’s wonderful. And when the door is closed, it just looks like a closet. It’s our little room. It’s actually quite big. We just made it our own.
WACOAN: How long have you been here?
Erin: Three weeks. Before that, just the yurt, our house.
I had been working for a little while at a wonderful law firm, Rainey & Rainey, because Harrison had been working all summer full time doing a lot of things he didn’t want to do, so it was his turn to do art more. I had taken a full-time job doing something else just to make sure we could make ends meet and he could do [art].
I definitely realized that I needed to do art, and I needed to make sure I had a way to do art that was financially helpful. When I was randomly asked to do these portraits, I thought, ‘You know, I actually do love portraiture. I love getting to capture people’s thoughts and vision in this particular point in time.’
WACOAN: Harrison, let’s talk about your art. You do woodworking —
Harrison: I’ve done woodworking. I don’t do commercial woodworking now.
WACOAN: You did the tables at Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, right?
Harrison: Yes. Some of the tables. Not all of them. I did a lot of work for Dichotomy. I did a handful of things for Common Grounds. I’ve done stuff for Heritage Creamery. And I’ve done a lot of little things here and there.
WACOAN: Did I read somewhere that your woodworking was inspired by your grandfather?
Harrison: My grandfather, yes. The grandfather who passed away [prior] to me moving out here, that was the same grandfather, Joseph Weynand. He was a Catholic deacon at St. Philip [Catholic Church] in China Spring.
I think even before then, in some way, shape or form, he was assisting with a Catholic church or the Catholic organization at Baylor. He inspired me because he challenged me. He asked a lot of questions and never imposed his answers to those questions. He would challenge me: Why do I believe what I believe? If I gave him an answer that was not a very credible one, he would challenge me to come up with a better answer. He wouldn’t accept it.
In the midst of all that theological conversation, we would always just merge into talking about building stuff or woodworking. He had his own woodshop. Before I was working for Maker’s Edge and had access to their facilities, I had been using his shop on the property, which is its own separate structure. He really inspired me as far as woodworking goes, when I had left Hole in the Roof, because I was spending a lot of time with him before he passed away. If we were talking about woodworking, of course, we were going to talk about theology. If we were talking about theology, of course, we were going to merge into woodworking. That’s how our relationship was.
And, of course, when he passed away, he made it so that I would inherit his entire woodshop and all of his tools. That helped in a big way to allow me to have the equipment to do commercial woodworking without having to spend the amount of money one needs to own that equipment.
WACOAN: So you’ve done woodworking, and now you’re doing —
Harrison: Whether it’s music, whether it’s graphics, whether it’s painting, for me, it’s about aesthetic problem-solving, creative problem-solving.[Along] with Erin, thin places are very important to me. The idea that you find yourself caught up in a place where the barriers between us and heaven are very dim. It’s maybe sacred. You have sacred, maybe magical — whether it is or whether it isn’t, that’s not as important to me as that feeling that it is. We all have that in some way, shape or form at different areas of our lives. For me, being on this property is, in many ways, a thin place.
What I’m experimenting with now is gathering different organic material found only on this property and grinding it to a powder form. And then taking that powder and mixing it with various different things. I could collaborate with my beautiful wife and combine my powders with oils and create our own oil paints and then paint paintings of the property with powder and oil from the property.
Another option would be combining these powders with resins that would harden, so structurally, it’ll be acrylic or epoxy, but on the on the outside, aesthetically, it would be crushed organic matter. I could do a wood sculpting — make a mold and pull out the wood component and pour in my organic material with a resin.
And then, kind of conceptual design, experimenting with my own materials, only limited to the 14-acre property that we live on. The colors you can get just in winter are a whole different set of colors than you get in spring and summer and fall. It’s partly just experimenting with how many different colors you can get on one plot of land.
WACOAN: What kind of material do you gather?
Harrison: I’ll gather leaves, rocks. I’ll gather weeds in the garden. Here we’ve got a blue [one], we’ve got an orangish-red, we’ve got a white. This is just some sort of floral organic material that got dried up. This is dried orange leaves, and this is limestone, crushed up. The end goal could be a lot of different things.
I’m still so early on in this stage of just collecting resources, collecting material. This color is only accessible to me for a short period of time until spring comes. I need to collect as much as I want to prepare for the rest of the year — a year’s worth of sculpting or a year’s worth of materializing or mixing with paints or with resins.
WACOAN: How do you grind the materials?
Harrison: Mortar and pestle.
WACOAN: Including the limestone?
Harrison: Limestone I will crush with a hammer into smaller rocks, and then I’ll crush that with my mortar and pestle, especially since limestone is so soft anyway.
WACOAN: Does anyone else do the powders like you’re doing?
Harrison: I’m aware that the master painters didn’t have readily available, prepackaged mixed paints, so every one of them was responsible for mixing their own colors. So this is very similar to that process.
I’m dyslexic, so I feel that has a lot to do with me learning to communicate with aesthetics and with visual ways more than with words. I feel confident. I’m not a shy individual, but my ability to communicate things aesthetically is my strongest way of communicating.
One of the things I love the most is trying to explain something that hasn’t been developed to someone and seeing how they don’t quite get it because that is exactly what an artist wants. That means that I may be on to something. Maybe I can bring fresh eyes to an old conversation when it comes to faith or it comes to art as a whole or when it comes to nature or natural materials that we have put aside because you couldn’t mass-produce these items.
WACOAN: How much time do y’all spend together in your studio here?
Erin: I spend at least six to eight hours here. He will be here on and off. The [building] closes at 9 [p.m.]. Harrison has to go to work part time. I’m working on portraiture stuff, and I’m currently taking a class on environmental design. That’s what I’m learning to do, storytelling for the thin places [pieces].
WACOAN: This is a small space, and you’re here six to eight hours a day together, then you go home to your yurt, which is one room. Does it ever get —
Erin and Harrison [simultaneously]: Not really.
Erin: We’re in our own worlds when we’re doing things here. We both have our headphones on, and he’s doing his thing. And I’m over here researching and drawing on the Wacom tablet, or I’m painting and listening to ‘Harry Potter.’ We’re just kind of in our own realms.
Harrison: Even though our home is one room, we still have the resources to [have] the equivalent of going into the next room to get away from each other. But instead of going into the next room, I will or she will just go outside. In a lot of ways, we’ve found that’s way more healthy for our relationship, to go from the bedroom where the fight is occurring … instead of going to the living room, we go outside.
Erin: I can go talk a walk. We have a pond on the property, so I can go sit by the pond and yell at the fish. Or I can get in the car and drive far away and yell in the car. [Laughs.]
WACOAN: You said you’ve got income coming in from several streams. And living what you called the artist’s lifestyle, is money a worry for y’all?
Erin: Not really. It’s happened before, but not currently.
Harrison: What’s been really helpful for us financially is two things.
One, in every opportunity, get better at your craft, at your skill, at your ability to draft, at your ability to paint, your ability to design.
And, two, know the value of your work. I feel like there are a lot of very talented freelancers out there that put a personal value on their work that is not in line with what it could be. Or people who are coming right out of Baylor, they’re new grads, and they charge next to nothing, and they are amazing.
Erin: That ticks me off so bad.
Harrison: As people who didn’t just graduate yesterday and have worked other jobs in other industries, we learned to get better.
Erin: If I’m saying this is how much this costs, I want to be able to back up why. It frustrates me, people undervaluing themselves.
Harrison: I think it’s so crucial that we are aware of our target market, but there’s nothing more frustrating to me on a personal level than so-and-so is charging that much for that, and I know exactly what it took for them to do that. It’s so frustrating because it’s either overpriced or underperformed.
There’s a lot of people, and we have made this mistake, where we maybe know the value of our work, but are trying to position it in the market where people our age can afford it. We’ve learned our lesson. We don’t market the same way to friends.
We will do Christmas cards. So you can spend $4 on a Christmas card by Erin, but they’re prints.
Erin: If I’m doing a portrait, it’s a whole different market. But if I’m doing painting on a small scale, it’s still not cheap. I start watercolor illustrations at $250 for an 8 1/2-by-11-inch [painting]. They’re not cheap, but they’re affordable for someone who is buying a piece of art for the first time and wants something they can put in their house. We want to make sure we’re not an unviable option for people who want something.
And we’ve gotten to this place slowly. This isn’t overnight. We’re at a point now, even though we have several streams, we know what they are, and we’re operating them well. That was not easy to get to.
I’ve done everything. I’ve been a bartender at Dichotomy when they first opened, for a year, and I did art on the side. We lived on the [World Hunger Farm], and I did farm work, and that’s how we afforded life. Now, this is the most steady we’ve been.
Part of that was me being in France and knowing what I wanted to do, and Harrison realizing he could actually do art and not work his tail off the rest of his life. He’s been working since he was 16 and basically funding his life since then. I found more discipline there [in France] and have been able to translate it into life more since being back. We’ve just been more disciplined and able to do our art.
WACOAN: Is it viable to spend weeks on one logo when you’re doing graphic design?
Erin: But only because we also have so many streams of money coming in. If we were solely basing life on a logo —
Harrison: Being able to spend weeks on a logo and doing it to the best of my abilities does more for me in giving me more clients than putting out an ad.
If I got busier, my work might suffer, so the best way for me to have enough business for us to meet our financial needs is to just make sure that everything is as good as I can possibly make it.
But how I set up my graphic design business is, I guess, there’s different ways of how you price out your services.
One way is by quality. If you only have this budget, we’ll still give you three options, but we’re not going to spend as much time on them as if you had a bigger budget. For me, as a freelance designer and not just a business owner alone, I would rather give you fewer options that are held to a higher standard of quality than give you five just OK options. If you don’t have a big budget, you might just want one option with revisions, and I can spend weeks on that one option because it’s not priced in a way where I’m losing money by spending all my time on one option. Working for someone else, what I would have made [in salary] in making those 10 options I can put in that same amount of time on the one option, as perfect as I can get it, for the same amount of money.
Erin: We both just really value and try to put a lot of work into the quality. One, people want something of quality. But, two, it’s our name. When you are selling based off of your name, your name has to be good.
Harrison: When you live in a yurt, you can also afford to offer only one option. Our bills are minimal.
Erin: We just live that way. We don’t value a lot of expensive things. When we do, they’re high-quality things that we get excited about.
WACOAN: Do you have art hanging in your yurt? Can you even hang art in a yurt?
Harrison: We do. I wish we had more.
Erin: Oh, my gosh.
Harrison: We have the yurt, then we have a garden shed on the property that’s halfway between us and Grandma’s house. The majority of the art that we own of [Erin’s], most of that is in that shed. If it was up to me and [Erin] too, we would hang every one of those pieces up.
Erin: I don’t want to see those pieces up all the time.
WACOAN: Why not?
Erin: Because I’m done with them. There are certain pieces that I love and will never stop loving. One of my mentors had a show that was of pieces that he had saved, that he had loved. These are parts of my major growth. I have those, and I love those, but I would not say that’s the majority. There are pieces that I can say I’m proud of. They’re great, but I don’t love them. They’re not like my children. They didn’t hurt to sell. It was a good experience, but now I’m giving it to another person to enjoy forever.
WACOAN: Do you only own your art, or do you have any art by friends or other artists?
Erin: We do, but we don’t feel like we can do it justice by hanging it in there. Friends have given us work, and we’ve traded. I just don’t want anything to happen to it. I want to wait until we have a home where the temperature isn’t the outside temperature, so I don’t mess it up. And we are in want for space on the walls right now because a yurt is made up of a grid. If we had some sort of canvas, sort of a curtain [on the inside], I feel like we would be more comfortable hanging stuff. Right now, if we hang stuff, it just feels so busy because the walls are already a grid.
WACOAN: What is summer like in the yurt?
Harrison: It used to be really hot. Last summer when she was in France, at that point we had only been married a year and a half.
Erin: We had only been married a year.
Harrison: We didn’t have air conditioning, so I spent all summer moping around the house shirtless because it was hot. Yurts are quite hot in the summer. They do really well in cold weather, but not so well in hot weather.
Erin: Harrison bought us an AC unit.
Harrison: We do have electricity in the yurt. We run it from the shop that has its own meter attached to it, so it’s great with bills, to see the difference between Grandma’s house and the shop.
WACOAN: When you’re here in the studio working and you’re on your headphones, what are you listening to? Erin, you said, ‘Harry Potter’?
Erin: Right now, I’m listening to ‘Harry Potter’ book five [‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’]. And if I’m not listening to that, I’m listening to Spotify and currently, predominately, classical and contemporary Japanese piano.
WACOAN: Harrison, what are you listening to, besides EverThorn?
Erin: [Laughs loudly.]
Harrison: I can’t listen to my own stuff — 99.99 percent of the time, I’ll be listening to one band: Wovenhand. They’re not a very good band.
Erin: What? Yes they are!
Harrison: I love them.
WACOAN: Why is Wovenhand not a very good band?
Erin: He’s just saying that because they’re not very well known.
Harrison: I’ve had other friends listen to it and say, ‘I really don’t like this at all.’ And I think to myself, ‘That’s fair.’ For whatever reason, it’s an acquired taste, maybe, or I just have really bad taste in music.
Erin: No, it’s really cool. I like it.
WACOAN: What genre is Wovenhand?
Harrison: A mixture of melodic folk, Eastern meets Appalachian music. The main guy, David Eugene Edwards, comes from the folk music world, but his record label is a European label. So the tours he’s gone on have been, some in the states, but mostly in Europe. He’s developed influences from Eastern countries a little bit, so it’s this weird mix, depending on the album. Some albums are harder rock music with still some folk music influence to them. He’s not a particularly good singer, and he’s not a particularly amazing guitar or banjo player, but just the way he writes his music, I love it a lot. It’s weird, and if people like weird stuff, they might really like Wovenhand.
WACOAN: That other 0.01 percent?
Harrison: What is it? Instrumental music. It’ll almost be ethereal instrumental music, not so much classical.
Erin: Like Balmorhea. It’s almost minimalistic.
Harrison: Melodic instrumental music.
WACOAN: What else do I need to know?
Erin: Since we’re better friends now, I can tell you the real time I first met Harrison.
Harrison: That time doesn’t count.
Erin: But that’s when I first saw him. The first time I saw him was when he came into the Croft Art Building [at Croft Art Gallery], and he came upstairs where I was in a studio. He came upstairs with my friend Emily Martinka and she said, ‘Erin, this is Harrison.’ I turned around, and I hadn’t told any of my friends except Emily, because she was working at the gallery, that I was painting this horrendous commission, that I hadn’t told anybody about because I was so embarrassed about it. I was painting poodles. I was painting somebody’s poodles. I only took it because I needed the money. Up comes Emily with this guy Harrison, and I turn around, and I’m like, ‘That is the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’ I was blown away. And all I said to him was, ‘I don’t usually paint puppies.’ That’s all. Then he walked out, and I thought, ‘The most attractive man I’ve ever seen, and I’m painting puppies. I blew it. I blew it.’ A month later when he emailed me, he had no idea who I was, but I knew who he was.
WACOAN: Did he remember meeting you at Croft?
Erin: No. I reminded him of that when we started dating.
WACOAN: Harrison, what else do I need to know?
Harrison: One of the things about my art that I really, really, really love is when it’s not all done. When I try to explain what I’m trying to do, it’s really hard for me. I really quite love that.
Part of what I get to do is see how much is in the things that we just ignore or pass by every single day. We’re not just talking about leaves here. Limestone — the most annoying, frustrating rock in Texas when you have to build something — if you can work the material, what its potential can be, especially when you take a 1-inch-by-1-inch piece of bark and look closely at it, and you see just how much is there in the smallest sample of something that gets ignored in everyone’s day-to-day. When it’s left alone and the human element is taken out of it, when it’s left to do what it does best, the beauty found in that. What that looks like with whatever comes from these things, it’s so hard to put into words.
Erin: This is what’s so wonderful. Whenever I first met Harrison, he would tell me about whatever project he was working on, and as an artist, I would [think], ‘That sounds stupid.’ I wouldn’t tell him that. But eventually, he would do it, and my mind would be blown. It would be gorgeous. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I’m glad he’s a good artist because if he wasn’t a good artist, I couldn’t be with him.’ But he’s a very, very good artist.
WACOAN: That would be tough.
Erin: Oh, absolutely. I could not have married him if he was a bad artist. I couldn’t fake it. But he’s very good, and the things that he comes up with, they just haven’t been done [before], so when they’re done, you’re so surprised.