Creativity to make you happy

Spread the Girl Power interview: Harri Golightly

If you're not familiar with it yet, #SPREADTHEGIRLPOWER is an interview series where I chat to creative girls from around the world who I've discovered through instagram, with a focus on those who have recently set up small businesses. Instagram has given me so many amazing opportunities and introduced me lots of talented women who I may never have discovered otherwise, so I hope through this series I can introduce you to someone new too.

This month I chatted to Harri Golighty, an illustrator and textile designer. Harri's digital "paint by numbers" style always stands out on my insta feed and her subjects are always immediately identifiable! I was honoured to find my own portrait on Harri's instagram earlier this year, which you can find below. Harri describes herself as a digital nomad - she's always on the move and always working on something new - whether it's a swimwear collection or a house renovation I always enjoy seeing what she's up to. A true embodiment of Girl Power, Harri's not afraid to give anything a go and it was such a pleasure to chat to her.

Harri Golightly fabric and Kenickie

Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from, what do you love to do most and when did you start illustrating in your current style?

I grew up just outside Cambridge but I have lived all over, until recently I have been based in beautiful Brighton. I am basically that awful cliché of a digital nomad so I can generally be found wherever my laptop and my dog are, ideally that place has some sunshine and a beach!

I am and always have been a prolific doodler I am also an avid people watcher. Portraits are my thing, although it's taken me an awfully long time to get to a point where I'm happy to share them. My current style is the result of several years as a graphic designer combined with about a million hours of life drawing in every medium available; pencil, pastel, ink and oils as well as a stint teaching watercolours to pensioners. I think my illustrative style is somewhere between pop art and paint by numbers.

Harri Golightly Tropical Pattern

Where did you do your degree in textile design?

I studied at what was formerly the Scottish Borders college of textiles, now Heriot-Watt University. I applied in haste, I was living in Sydney at the time, about to set off on a trip around South East Asia. Having already been away for over a year I was warned that deferring my place at drama school again meant I would lose it. Increasingly unsure about acting and with no plan in place for when I got home I decided to follow my heart and my heart said fashion. I figured textile design was the first step into that industry and Heriot-Watt was the only university that would take me without an interview. Since I didn't want to cut my trip short, Heriot-Watt was where I went!

Can you tell us a bit about your uni experience and how what you learnt has translated into the work you create now?

University was not what I expected. I went from this crazy backpacker life in vibrant, buzzy Beijing to a very small, very cold town in the Scottish Borders with a cohort comprised almost entirely of 17 and 18 year old girls, the majority of whom were living away from home for the first time. To say I felt isolated was a bit of an understatement, The degree itself was also somewhat of a fiasco, mostly because in my haste to fill out the form I had applied for the wrong course. The university were adamant I couldn't change so I spent my first year drafting patterns and making toilés. For a girl with dyscalculia so bad that addition and subtraction using numbers higher than my fingers is impossible. Suffice to say, I learnt very quickly that design knowledge could in fact be traded for practical skill, much to the chagrin of my lecturers. Those same lecturers proved surprisingly helpful when it came to convincing the university to let me switch to textile design in second year. It was around this time I fell in love with Edinburgh and decided the move was worth the 2 hour daily commute. Living in the capital, I was quick to expose myself to everything "Scotland", a country so rich in tradition and heritage in design and manufacturing. Scottish cities hold a special place in my heart, as do the breathtaking lochs, mountains and landscapes I feel so privileged to have explored in the 6 years I spent there.

Scotland is the place I grew up, and it permeates my work to this day. The people, the culture, the style and the music help inform my creative decisions. University on the other hand felt perfunctory. A series of boxes that needed to be checked before moving on to the next stage. My expectation of a creative education was very different to the reality. I missed out on the first year of my course, so I never learnt to knit or weave. I was also never afforded the basics of print despite being pushed in that direction. The university had the equipment if not the expertise to teach digital design. After 6 weeks tutelage in photoshop by a flustered woman with a PowerPoint presentation and a dog eared textbook I set about teaching myself to draw on a computer, and I discovered a love for the process that surprised nobody more than myself. University left me with a fear of exploring new techniques. I felt discouraged from stepping outside the parameters of the curriculum, digital print was viewed very differently to traditional methods, I was told repeatedly I needed to spend more time screen printing, but with no one willing to teach me this was both futile and frustrating.

University taught me a little about the importance of deadlines. It also determined conclusively that I am not a garment technologist, but in terms of creative education I learnt very little. Incidentally I learnt to screen print years after graduation in a lovely open access studio in Brighton and now I have no clue why I was so terrified of the print room.

Harri Golightly Iris Apfel

You often create portraits of your fave people to follow on instagram - how do you decide who to draw, and do you have a favourite so far?

As a freelance designer I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and was starting to feel like my whole life was corporate branding and brochure layouts. The portraits began as a creative outlet, a bridge between my commercial skill set and my personal work. The first portrait I did in this style was the glorious Iris Apfel. I had a folder of Iris pictures from the internet saved on my desktop. Her personal style is a daily inspiration and I had a very clear idea of the strong graphic image I wanted to create. This was a wholly different image from the water colour pin up girls I was painting at the time and I loved it.

Sheri of "Forever Yours Betty" was my first Instagram portrait. She has such a graphic look and is a joy to draw. I find it hard to pick a favourite portrait, I draw people I admire, and I only publish the ones I love. Daisy Keens, the girl behind "pie and fash" stands out because she is probably the coolest girl on the internet. She has a style which is all her own, unless Paris Hilton has had a love child with Barbara Cartland and Kanye West I don't know about? If you don't read her blog you should, because the girl can also write. She's hilarious and quite brilliant.

Harri Golightly Zabby Allen

You only set up your professional instagram account a year ago, what are your thoughts on the platform so far? Do you use it for feedback or is it just a bit of fun for you?

I love Instagram! I have always used it as a sort of photo journal to post travel pictures and document nail art (I was a nail tech for a few years). I started my professional account as a way to showcase my drawings, and document my process. I never expected the overwhelmingly lovely response to my work! I am old enough to remember life before social media and young enough to know that Facebook is boring.

Instagram is an amazing, inspiring interactive community, and that's often what pushes me to keep posting. Shadow bans, blocks on direct messaging and the changes to the algorithm have all had a negative effect on my following. It also means I see only a fraction of the people I follow which is annoying. However I definitely don't want to live without it. I talk to massively talented people I wouldn't necessarily come across in my daily life, I shop through Instagram, make travel and dinner plans, I also get approached regularly by awesome new clients on the platform. Instagram has had a lot of negative press recently with statistics about it being the worst social network for bullying. Maybe I use it in a different way, or I simply don't fit the demographic, but for me it's the social network with the most positive and supportive community.

Harri Golightly Nikki McWilliams

How do you create your illustrations? Do you work purely digitally using Adobe illustrator or do you sketch designs out on paper first?

I usually start with a line drawing. I like to lay things out with pen and paper before moving onto my laptop, I build up my illustrations using layers of vectors over the initial framework. Basically digital paint by numbers!

You love to travel! What has been your favourite holiday destination so far and where is on your travel wish list?

Lisbon is like a second home. Its a quick flight from London and has so many perfect surf beaches. I also love Southern India, the colour, the people, the food! I have been to India a few times, and the weeks I spent exploring the beaches and tea plantations on a decrepit old motorbike were by far my favourite. Japan is the dream but I always get distracted by waves and sunshine!

Harri Golightly Frenchie

I love your pet portraits! Do you take commissions, and have you had any weird requests so far?

I love commissions! Pets and personal portraits can be awkward, because when you are working from a photo it can be hard to capture the essence of a beloved person or animal. Thankfully up to this point nobody has been too horrified! I had a client request I put her head on the body of a barbie doll once, I actually quite enjoyed that one, although she never paid me so maybe she was horrified!

Harri Golightly Charlotte Jacklin Betty Magazine

What does Girl Power mean to you?

I grew up with girl power. At 10 the spice girls exploded into my life and I suddenly had a mantra to live by. Buffalo trainers and excessive sequins have sadly been consigned to my past, but girl power is still alive and totally relevant.

To me girl power is the thing that compels me to defy social conventions. I was once told women aren't capable of running their own business, I have been freelance for the past 6 years. Recently I was informed a woman's place is not on a building site, so obviously I learnt to plaster and started renovating houses.

Women supporting women has become something of a hashtag cliché, but it's so important. Mean girl culture serves no purpose aside from diminishing and demeaning women. The female experience is something only another woman can truly understand, strong female friendships and female role models are key. Girl power to me is about collective female empowerment, building up rather than tearing down and celebrating their achievements.


Thanks to Harri for taking the time to chat to me. Check out her instagram to keep up with what she's up to and visit her website for more of her beautiful work. I'm kind of obsessed with her patterns.

If you want to spread the Girl Power yourself you can still buy one of my Girl Power pins, prints or t-shirts in my shop and read past #SPREADTHEGIRLPOWER interviews too if you like!

Who have you recently discovered on instagram? Let me know on instagram or twitter so I can check them out too!

Tagged: Spread the Girl Power