Milford nurse uses art to help others: 'Painting helped me through those really hard times'

MILFORD — Art has been an outlet for Payal Emery to help her cope with many different moments in life, and because of her experience, she now wants to use art to help others.

"Painting helped me through those really hard times," said Emery. "But it's always something I've been drawn to. I need to do it. It has helped me through so many things."

Emery went to New York University to study pre-med and decided to become a nurse practitioner after graduating with her degree.

But her love of art started when she was in elementary school in Orange.

"My art teacher was so eccentric and fun and made us feel we could do anything. So that is where my love of art was born," she said. "I mostly did it through school. I always loved art class, but my parents said I couldn't just be an artist. I had to be a businesswoman or doctor."

While at NYU, Emery didn't create much art, but she recalled her roommate bringing a couple of canvases to their dorm room.

"We started to express ourselves, and I had forgotten what this was like, which helped me rekindle it," she said.

While working as a nurse practitioner, she didn't have much time for art.

"Then, when I got pregnant with my son and a little while after I got pregnant with my other son, I started doing art more because I couldn't move around or do much," she said. 

In between her pregnancies, Emery tore her ACL and couldn't pick up her son. She didn't think she would be able to paint and told her husband she couldn't go to her art room or put up her easel, she said.

"But he told me, 'You can paint while you're sitting,'" she said. "That helped me need less pain medication and feel less anxious."

Emery started to paint more during the pandemic.

"During the pandemic, my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. It was tough. I couldn't work, and my husband was working all day, and I didn't know what to do because everything was virtual," she said. "For the first three months, I was in denial because, as a nurse practitioner, I know what it means to have a kid with autism and the challenges it brings. So I painted a lot during those months."

Emery noted art didn't just help her. It has helped her son express himself as well.

"My son, he couldn't talk," she said. "His way of painting was tiny little circles for the longest time, so art helped him be more expressive and loose. I always tried to be perfect and tight with my paintings, but I got looser and freer. I learned from my son."

After noticing how much art had helped her and her son — and knowing stories of how art has helped others — Emery decided to create the Artistic Nurse.

"As a nurse practitioner, I know art can help someone physically and mentally," she said. I'm trying to figure out how to help others as a nurse with my art experience. That's my next step."

To better her skill, Emery took art classes, which also helped her market her talents better.

"Some people who go through these online programs never painted before, and they were able to paint. I think they have to have the desire," she said. "But for me, it's a need. I have to paint. It helps me feel better."

Besides art, Emery is passionate about different causes and has done several paintings illustrating those causes.

"I've always been drawn to using art to bring awareness," she said. "Like if I want to paint sea turtles, I'll start researching about them and ways we could help them or educate people as best as I can."

Emery has three paintings on display at the Milford Arts Council Firehouse Gallery of people who have been advocates for different causes. One is Jane Goodall, the other is Greta Thunberg and the third is Malala Yousafzai.

"I read Malala Yousafzai's novel, I read her children's book and got inspired by art in there, and her story is just very moving," she said. "That's why I painted her along with a roaring lion. She spoke up and gave a voice to the voiceless."

If anyone wants to be an artist, they can, Emery said.

"There are no mistakes in art," she said. "Art and creativity can free your voice, and I encourage people to do it even if it's just for fun."