Badass Women in Bed : Artist Emily White
Emily White is not your typical Etsy art-vendor. A sculptor and illustrator by trade, Emily uses her admiration for nature and wildlife as inspiration for her larger than life art installations. From large scale murals, to life-sized animal sculptures, to biologically accurate watercolors, Emily’s unique point of view is certainly making a splash.
We absolutely love Emily’s aesthetic and were inspired by this glorious buffalo, recently homed in the Philadelphia International Airport, to reach out and collaborate with Emily on a unique art installation for our Lunya workspace. Now that we've seen her work up close and in person, we are even more curious to see what makes this badass woman tick!
What art movement do you identify with the most and why?
Nineteenth century American Art including Naturalist painting such as John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” and paintings of the Great West. I love Frederick Remington’s sculptures, paintings, and illustrations. I’m also a fan of the American Craft Movement.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?
I’m really inspired by humans’ relationship with wildlife and nature, and more specifically, human-induced extinction. America in the early 1900’s, the West, and American crafts also play a big part in my work.
What is your favorite medium to work in and why?
My current favorite is wood. It has a lot of nuances because it was once alive. I like that it demands to be worked with in a specific way. For example, you have to be conscious of grain when you make a cut because it could split if you go at it at the wrong angle. If you don’t follow its rules, it fights back. I also like the history that’s associated with it. For 2D work, I love the detail I can get using watercolor and ink.
How do you begin the creative process when working on commissioned pieces?
I listen to the client. I jot down specific words he or she uses when describing the piece. The list of descriptive words helps me get my head in the right place. Then I don’t do anything directly for a couple of days. Ideas usually just come to me.
Can you describe your inspiration and thought process behind the Lunya birds?
Ashley [Lunya's founder] was looking for a softer, ethereal version of my Passenger pigeon sculptures. I knew right away that painting them white would immediately soften them, make them seem more feminine, and give them more of a design feel. I also knew that I wanted to incorporate fabric into the birds to reference clothing construction. I struggled for a couple of days with how exactly I would cover the birds. I tried completely covering them in sheer fabric, layering sheer fabric with scalloped edges to resemble feathers, and using lace. I couldn’t get the effect I was after. In frustration, I browsed images of Lunya sleepwear one more time. I stopped at the “Between the Sheets Nightie” and realized the solution. I was drawn to the combination of sheer and solid fabric with geometric cut-outs so that’s what I tried to mimic with the birds.
How long does it typically take between inception of an idea and a finished piece?
All of my pieces definitely fall into the “labor of love” category! “Fleet,” my installation of 100 Passenger pigeons made to look like WW1 wooden aircraft, took about two straight months. My life-sized bison sculpture took me three months. That’s three months with no days off and my shortest day being 10 hours, plus it doesn’t include the planning and problem solving that went into the bison model (another two months, but at a more leisurely pace). A painting will usually take from 20-40 hours.
Do you have a favorite completed piece or piece currently in progress?
I’d have to say it’s my life-sized bison sculpture, “American Bison/Prairie House.” I like it enough to still be lugging that big guy around!
Do you have a process to get you through when you are creatively blocked?
I find it’s best to just step away. I will usually work on a different piece. That’s the nice thing about working in 2D and 3D; they feel like two totally different things. Typically, a few days later a solution to the previous problem will just come to me randomly.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I’m a contracted artist for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which is amazing, but inconsistent work. I’m either working over time painting murals, or I’m working on my own art. There are times, like with the Lunya birds, where I put in a full day of painting and come home and work on sculpture. My work tends to progress slowly due to the nature of the processes I use. I will spend a whole day painting a watercolor piece, or carving a larger sculpture, or sewing a particular element. I work most productively when I get in the zone, so I tend to not jump from piece to piece throughout the day.
How would you describe your workspace?
A floor of my house is used as my studio. It has a couple of tables, a couple of sewing machines, and my “indoor” tools. I also use my garage as a woodshop and metal shop.
How do you stay inspired?
I just pay attention to what’s around me, and I pay extra attention to things that involve animals. I’ve been inspired by things like seeing a liger perform at a Renaissance fair and thinking about what had to go into that bizarre creature even existing, by radio stories about potentially cloning Wooly Mammoths, by wildlife documentaries about endangered species, and even by taking an upholstery class.
If you had the chance to go back, what would you tell yourself at 18?
Stop straightening your hair! I wouldn’t want to say much more than that because of, you know, the ripple effect. Time travel is tricky stuff.
What are your secrets for balancing life, love, and work?
A favorite professor of mine has what he calls “secrets of the universe.” The one that resonates most with me is “Learn to love to work, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
What do you say to yourself to get through tough times?
You’ve gotten through situations that are just as difficult before. There’s always a frustrating period you have to work through. Keep envisioning the end result and it will be worth it.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by friends accomplishing their goals, professors with big dreams, and by successful artists that I admire.
Any advice to any budding badass ladies ready to take a leap?
Create deadlines for yourself by applying to exhibitions, competitions, residencies, or art fairs. I think it’s way easier to give it your all when you have a specific “due date.” Also, always remember how hard you worked for your previous bosses - you should be working harder than that because you are your own boss now!
What do you like to do in your downtime?
I love gardening. I live in the city so I have a little roof vegetable garden going. A few years ago I built a greenhouse, a hydroponics system, and some planter boxes on the roof of my garage. I’m always amazed at how being outside and in the sun can lift my mood almost instantly. Its a great contrast to being cooped up in the studio. I also enjoy camping and bicycle touring.
Coffee or tea?
Tea, with maple syrup.
What is your “must have” for a good night’s sleep?
Working a 12-16 hour day! But honestly, a hair clip or elastic to keep my hair out of my face and my mouth guard – I grind my teeth. Really cute, I know.
Funniest bedroom story?
I can’t think of a particular funny story, but I have a constant dilemma: when I’m exhausted my sense of balance suffers (not that it has ever been great). There have been a few times when I’ve stayed up late and tried to sneak into bed around my sleeping boyfriend, lost my balance, and just stomped right on him. Poor guy.
Thanks to Emily for sharing some insight into her creative world and a little behind-the-scenes action! If you'd like to see more of Emily's artwork and process, please check her out on Instagram and Facebook.
Photos courtesy of Emily White.