Harriet Lee-Merrion spent her childhood surrounded by a mess of colorful pens, paint, and paper. Her parents were both Bristol-based artists, and they often drew with their kids and read them lots of fairy tales. It seemed natural that Lee-Merrion went on to study illustration at the prestigious Falmouth University, and in her second year fell in love with cream-colored paper whilst working at a print-making and etching workshop in Finland. She liked how the paper looked crisply organic and soft—qualities well-suited to the delicate thin lines of her drawings.
“Lots of people actually get tattoos of my work,” Lee-Merrion tells me over the phone, wondering whether it might have something to do with the fact that she uses paper that’s the color of skin. “I think it means they can easily imagine it on their body.” Looking at her strikingly emotive and raw work, it’s easy to see why people want to keep the images close to them. With just a few lines, Lee-Merrion conveys great depths of feeling and a sense of narrative that speaks to you in intimate ways. “I’ll get lots of responses to a drawing when I post it on Facebook or Tumblr. People write all sorts of interpretations, ones that I didn’t even intend.”
Her enigmatic work resonates like a folk tale, which is where Lee-Merrion gets many of her ideas. When reading Plato’s Symposium, she became enchanted by the myth of how man and woman were once connected, but Zeus severed them in two with a lightening bolt (this is where the term “my other half” comes from, she informs me). As a response, she drew a picture of two separated lovers and a flower cut in half. Now, after reading an Inuit tale in Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, Lee-Merrion is penning an illustration that depicts a world where mothers find babies hidden under the ice. She’s always on the look out for stories that capture great mysteries and inscrutable feelings.
Dream-like and distinctive, Lee-Merrion’s poetic illustration have also caught the eye of clients like Wired, Oh Comely and, most recently, Therapy Today, which selects one illustrator to draw each issue and which Lee-Merrion is currently working on. “The challenge is wonderful,” she says. “I have all these ideas floating around in my mind, waiting to be found.”