American illustrator and model Langley Fox Hemingway spent her childhood in the idyllic town of Ketchum, Idaho. Although now based in Los Angeles, she returns to visit often, and just as frequently recalls fond memories there amidst the rich history of her family.
We spoke to Langley about nature’s profound impact on her art, her grief and her perspective on life.
What does nature mean to you?
Nature’s therapy for me. It’s majestic and beautiful, it holds so much love, and so many secrets. When I’m down or happy, it heightens that feeling of safety. There’s something so pure about it; it’s feeling. When you go in and look at the trees and turn off your phone, it’s some sort of therapy that you can do for yourself that’s so easy and forgotten about these days. I read this book called The Hidden Life Of Trees which explains how trees all help each other and feed each other to make a forest become better together. Even if they don’t like a certain tree, they’ll still feed it because they’re stronger in numbers—it’s very cool.
It’s so important to let go, and nature’s the only thing that takes me out of my mind when I get stuck in what I call ‘the black hole’. Growing up in Idaho, nature was always something that was very important to me.
My dad passed away right before Christmas last year and going into nature and healing and talking to trees, that helped me. There’s something so beautiful about it. You need it; it’s the only way to remedy [grief]. It’s hard because your friends are there but sometimes you feel like they don’t understand or you don’t want to talk, but it’s kind of like nature is a friend without words. It fills you with love and seeing something that’s beautiful and natural is so magical that it’s truly very healing. You have to be removed from yourself to realise it’s an issue but not the end of the world. Of course, you’re compassionate towards what you’ve been through and your trauma but it’s important to look at everything in a perspective that’s less overwhelming.
How does nature inspire your work as an illustrator?
What I’m drawn towards in drawing is creating realistic but eerie imagery. Within a forest, there’s an atmosphere that some people can perceive as scary like being alone there at night, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is—it’s just the way you look at it. So I think there’s an underlying tone in a lot of my work; the unknown, the dark themes, the dark colours.
I started painting during quarantine and my first big painting was actually of me walking in the forest. Doing it, I had the intention of mourning my father and helping to heal myself. It’s a portrayal of myself walking on a log with my heart bleeding which I guess is an aggressive concept but it’s very honest for the fact of why I was doing it. It was the biggest thing I’ve done and the most detailed. During the process, I didn’t drink for the six weeks that it took me, I worked every day on it, and it really did help me heal. From earlier on in the year when I was crying a lot and having trouble coping, it really did help me through along with spending time among trees and that’s when I got into the tree book.
What do you enjoy doing most outdoors?
I try to walk ten miles a day. I get outside to motivate myself, so I explore parks or trails near me. I grew up hiking the trails in Idaho, and once you appreciate nature you don’t have to be dropped in the middle of the mountains, you can just look at a tree on the side of the road and appreciate that or the gardens around you. Walking for me is therapy because I can see outside and be next to the things that I love and move my emotions through walking and its truly the only time that I feel completely relaxed. With music and fresh air, it helps me to not feel stuck. It moves you from getting stuck in the cycle of your cruel, cruel brain!
How does the outdoor space in Idaho compare to L.A.?
My family’s is a good area because there’s so many places I can drive to easily: you can go to the desert; you can go to Angeles National Forest which is 20 minutes away; you can go to the beach; you can go to Ojai which is a nice little town with mountains and hikes. Idaho is where I grew up, it’s a small town - it is nature, you’re just in it, you don’t have to go anywhere, you’re not in a city whatsoever. They have really long winters so it’s a little harder for me to stay there throughout the year because it gets cold.
Where’s your favourite place to clear your mind?
Definitely Idaho. Any time when I’m having a hard time and especially before my dad passed, he would just buy me a ticket and I’d come home. Being there is so harmonious and I have a lot of problems sleeping but there I’ve never slept so well. A lot of cities hold so much anxiety that you take it in yourself even when you’re not doing so bad. I think people who live surrounded by nature are more relaxed in general. I think that you definitely feel a need when you live in a city to overachieve on a daily basis, even in regards to socialising. You’re more okay with doing nothing or relaxing when you’re out of it; I don’t think anyone is asking you to be more than you already are whereas when you’re surrounded by your work and so many other people, you’re always trying to be better which I think is very stressful.
Do you have any favourite outdoor scents?
In Idaho, it’s the scent of pine trees and when it starts becoming winter, I love the smell of campfire—that crisp, coldness. And in California, it’s the smell of jasmine, it smells incredible.
If you had to describe nature in one word, what would it be?