” Art is a means of communication – it’s about expressing emotion, empathy, and experience. It can show our inner selves or our outer world through our brain. Much like words, art can convey a message, ranging from an enjoyable afternoon at a gallery to a lifeline.”



Name: Emer
Art materials: Oil paint, acrylic paint, gouache, ink, canvas, old bedding, baby wipes, cotton buds, toothbrushes, cocktail sticks, kitchen paper, washcloths, sugar, tea, coffee, and nail varnish.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Emer Ahern, an Irish painter and doctor working in the mental health service. I’m originally from Cork and living in the lovely west county of Galway with my very supportive and tolerant partner, Mark. I trained as a doctor in Cork and I worked in emergency medicine and surgery (among others) before branching into mental health. I love my job – the most enjoyable part for me has been doing cognitive behavioural therapy with teenagers. I have a long-standing love of science and creative pursuits. I also write poetry and short stories. Other hobbies include reading, word puzzles, drinking tea and wandering aimlessly in good company.

Artistically, abstract works would be my strong suit. Some of my pieces tend toward surrealism. I’m now trading as Emer’s Happy Paintings and I donate 20% of profits to my favourite cause – Jigsaw Galway. It is a mental health charity for 15-25 year-olds.

What made you want to transition from emergency medicine to mental health?
I originally went into medicine to work in mental health. I had been a psychology student beforehand. I love people, I love talking (and more importantly, listening) and I genuinely enjoy supporting people through a difficult time. I ended up in emergency medicine after a great rotation as a student but quickly found that my original plan was a better one. It allowed me to take my time and get to know the human being in front of me. I actually made the leap after a bad injury that kept me off work for a few months. As ciché as it sounds, I’m glad that injury gave me time to think.

Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from everything – positive or negative – my thoughts and feelings, interactions, people, the world, society. Sometimes, a colour alone can inspire me. Other times, simply having a blank canvas is inspiration enough. Stress can be a great motivator – there’s nothing more soothing than lashing a bit of paint at a page, and nothing nicer than seeing my internal storm becoming something aesthetically pleasing.

Tell us about your creative process.
My creative process is quite simple. I sometimes have ideas and I put them on paper. I sometimes have no ideas and I paint anyway – much like I would breathe. I try to incorporate my personal ‘tried and tested’ with constant experimentation. I am always trying to find a balance between stopping too soon and overdoing the finishing touches.

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How do you know when you’ve hit that balance between stopping too soon and overdoing it?
I’m still trying to find the balance between stopping too soon and overdoing it. I do quite a bit of leaving the canvas for a few hours and seeing what I think later.  Sometimes I might just go for it and add my finishing touches. I think I’m getting better at this because I’m having fewer regrets over time. (To quote “Rent” again, “Forget regret or life is yours to miss”.)

What is the story behind your artwork, if any?
I have always painted (and scribbled/doodled). But a few years ago, Mark and I went back to the village where we went walking on our first date – Bandon in County Cork. We were both newly qualified doctors at the time. He bought me a few acrylic paints and brushes. After tough days at the hospital, I would just start painting. At first, I used to only paint the negative, but more and more light is shining through. I feel I’m a more contented person for it and hope to spread a little of that through my art and my donations.

What do you think influenced you to begin painting the positive along with the negative?
I think the positivity came through naturally as I became a more contented human. Part of this has been my work, some of it is the mere fact that painting makes me happy, some of it is probably growing as a person. One day, the art just… smiled!

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