Motherhood and a soul for poetry infuse Eleanor-Scott Davis’ colorful abstract art


by Addie Ladner | photography by S.P. Murray

At the base of her easel is a toddler-sized wooden rocking chair, a row of her abstract paintings and a child’s art cart; to the side a bed for afternoon naps and cartoons. For nearly three years, Eleanor-Scott Davis has been painting out of her home studio, something she’s turned into a thriving business. Since the beginning, Davis created her work with her three daughters, first Avery, now 5, then Julia, 4, and Derby, 1, at her feet and by her side. “Painting became a way to put beauty out in the world and to let my kids be who they are,” she says.
Motherhood doesn’t just inspire her paintings, it’s integrated into every stroke. “When I look at my work, I can see when there was peace and I was alone, when someone needed a snack or when I had to separate the kids,” says Davis. While many parents keep their work and family life separate, these two spheres in Davis’ life are unable to exist without the other, and her paintings have become her sort of chronicle of motherhood.

“My children have become a huge part of my artistic process. I’m such an impulsive person and don’t think about my next move. But because they’re with me to break up my work, it makes me step away and come back with fresh eyes,” she says. Though her days may be driven by the little women in her home, Davis doesn’t have a necessarily feminine style—even when she uses pink, she eschews delicacy or daintiness. Her acrylic-on-canvas pieces are filled with saturated pops of ochre, blue and green; she finds she’s drawn to colors that mimic her upbringing among the lush landscapes of Eastern North Carolina. Abstract or not, “I see landscapes in all my paintings,” she says. “There’s something I feel when I enter my home county, that straight horizon, and the smell of the turkey houses… There’s nothing like it.”

If you’re at Davis’ house during bath time, she’ll likely be reciting Shel Silverstein’s famous poem, Crowded Tub: There are too many kids in the tub / There are too many elbows to scrub. That hints at another talent: Davis has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and originally wanted to be a poet, but found it was not an easy job to write with young children—nor was it particularly easy to sell a poem. “Looking back, I couldn’t make it as a poet,” she says, laughing. But she finds parallels between these two forms of self-expression: her art is abstract and open to one’s imagination, just like a poem. “It’s vague enough for people to interpret it in their own way,” she says. These days, she taps her creative writing talents to articulate the stories behind her bodies of work. One collection was inspired by the “fleeting and tedious” concept of time; another by the concept of balance, both in her use of color and shape and in the many facets of her life. “I’m always attracted to symmetry; it’s not pleasing but interesting,” she says. The works in the collection are poetically and poignantly titled, including: Hanging By
a Thread
, The Only Way Out is Through and All Things Considered. While balance may be challenging and time fleeting, Davis’ painting brings her joy—and that, alongside her family, is enough. “I think it’s OK for art just to make people happy, and that’s what art is for me.” 

Davis’ work can be found on her website,