Many artists get their start in the traditional way -- straight out of college. Others burst onto the scene in a manner that cannot be ignored, and there there are some who bubble to the surface from out of nowhere and make their impact one person at a time. --- Those who bubble are often labeled as "underground," more for the fact that their talent wasn't immediately noticed than that they simply didn't care to become recognized. For some, however, the quiet mystique of drifting in and earning your reputation can pay off in the long run.
Emily Hart Wood bubbled into the Utah art scene during her time at Weber State University, earning high praise and having some of her works become permanent additions to the campus. Her illustrations and paintings flooded the social networks and garnered her spots in group exhibitions and solo showcases in both SLC and Los Angeles -- her most recent at Blonde Grizzly in April one of the few local artists to take over the entire gallery. I got a chance to chat with Emily about her artwork and coming up in the art scene, plus her thoughts on local artists and a few other topics.
Emily Hart Wood
Gavin: Hey, Emily! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Emily: Well, I was born and raised in the great state of Utah. You can find me hanging out in the 'burbs with my husband, Nick, little boy Jack Jack and my dog, Trouble. I paint and design out of a home studio where my little boy paints beside me. We travel as much as we can and spend as much time as possible at Bear Lake. Our family likes running around outside, riding bikes, longboarding, and hand-standing. We are also big fans of cooking, music, reading and collecting found objects and books.
Gavin: What first got you interested in painting and drawing, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Emily: Like many kids, I loved to draw. I remember my mom telling me how good she (of course) thought I was at art. I must have really taken her seriously because I just had this idea in my head that I was an artist. I guess it was combination of nature and nurture. I was especially proud of my depictions of '80s cartoon characters like Rainbow Bright, and the Ninja Turtles. I would also draw characters from books I loved, like Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit. In junior high, I got really into drawing illustrative images of snowboarders and design work from skate magazines. I just started filling up sketchbooks like a crazy person. I was always drawing things for my friends. I really was just fascinated by experimenting with different ideas. I managed to get by as a B-student in high school even though I was leaving school to go snowboarding and drawing all over my notebooks (and myself) during classes. I was always in the all the art classes and never doubted that I would be perusing some form of the art in college. It has always been a priority for me to get my degree.
Gavin: For college you went to Weber State and got your BFA with an emphasis in 2-D works. What made you choose WSU, and what was their program like for you?
Emily: My experiences at Weber were great. I started taking classes at WSU out of high school, not knowing if I would spend my complete college education there or not. I started the foundation art courses at about the same time the new art building opened. The facilities and program quickly won me over. The art program has high standards, great professors, and beautiful facilities and gallery. I have noticed many of the seriously talented local artists come out of the BFA program at Weber State. WSU was also recently awarded accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). So yeah, they are pretty legit! I think in an educational setting there is a very intellectual view of what contemporary or gallery painting should be. So it can be hard to figure out what the personal vision is for your work in the midst of several other perspectives. I found my brain a little less muddled after graduating without the pressure of grades and school. Since graduating, my work has come more easily and more naturally. I started combining an illustrative quality into my painting that wasn't there before. Conceptualizing and creating the paintings in my own private environment has made them more personal to me, as well. I feel like I put a bit more of myself into the pieces.
Gavin: During this time, you studied abroad in Venice in 2007. How did that opportunity come about, and what was it like studying in Italy?
Emily: There is a study-abroad program offered through the art program at WSU. I think I may have been in the first group that has traveled to Venice. The experience really taught me a lot. I am fascinated by many styles and forms of art and got to see an amazing array of work from the Renaissance Italian masters to modern and contemporary work. The Biennale was being hosted in Venice that summer, and so we got to spend a lot of time studying that very contemporary work. More than anything, it taught me what it means to stand in front of work and really experience art.
Gavin: Considering some of the opportunities you had during your education, what made you decide to stay in Utah?
Emily: Well, I love to travel, explore and work with people outside of the state. I just have some serious roots here in Utah. I am completely in love with snowboarding and being in the mountains. There is a great community and I am surrounded with lots of family. I am very happy here, minus about two months of winter. So Utah won't be getting rid of me anytime soon!
Gavin: How did you develop the style of illustration you have in your work, and why focus on the individuals within?
Emily: I have been developing my illustrations since I first started drawing in sketchbooks. They have changed a lot over the years, but have just started finding their way into my paintings. There had been a separation of sorts between my painting and my illustrative drawing until the last couple of years. The focus on characters came about when I started doing the themed shows in galleries. I made a piece for a "Bill Murray Show," and once I painted my representation of that person I realized how much I enjoyed it. So much can be felt and expressed through the embodiment of a figure. Anytime there is a more human quality to a work I find it a bit more relatable and endearing.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from initial concept to final product?
Emily: Images and colors just kind of float into my head. I really see them in my mind before I even start sketching. I will be running, or lying in bed and have to scramble to find my sketch book and draw out an idea before I forget it. The ideas start out as scribbles, and thumbnails. I will think about them a lot and try to explore ways to make the images and composition visually interesting. Then after sketching and developing it further, the idea is ready to be painted. I like to use layers and various mediums. If I'm not sure about a certain idea, I will even take a piece halfway through and work on digital photos of the painting to quickly test out different colors and ideas. I never feel limited on what kind of media I should use; whatever lends itself best to the piece is what I go with. I draw over paint a lot with pencils, or use collage elements to bring in a texture or pattern. I build the surfaces myself and am proud to say that I have and use my own power tools. The painting as an object has started to become more important to me. I paint the sides and imagery on the back of the piece, as well. Drawings on the back of a painting are a little part of the piece that I keep away from the viewers and only for myself.
Gavin: Do you usually have an idea of what you're aiming for when you're making it, or do you tend to play around with it or even scrap the idea mid-process?
Emily: I am usually pretty clear on what I am going to do with the piece before I even break out the paint, but if it is not working out the way it is in my head or if I get a better idea, I will definitely switch it up. I tend to find myself editing things out or painting over imagery more than adding it in. There are several secret things that exist for just a moment in the paintings before they are painted over.
Gavin: After college, what was it like for you first starting out and doing group shows and exhibitions around the state?
Emily: I think being able to network online has been pretty huge for me. Very soon after graduation, I was a new mom who is home a lot, but was still able to make work connections via Facebook and others. Artists really don't need to be in New York or LA to get their work seen anymore. Getting my work online was key and I have just made connections from there. I kind of fell into some great projects. It was just exciting to have a reason to create paintings, and still is. Keeping the ball rolling can be tough but so important. I did my first solo show at the Union Gallery at WSU in Ogden. Then I started doing group shows at the R&R gallery in LA, and next was the Blonde Grizzly. I had my latest solo show at Blonde Grizzly last April. I really try to just always be producing work and looking forward to new projects. The idea of the "themed group show" was new and very exciting to me. Getting an "assignment" of sorts is fun because it challenges the artist to think outside of the box and paint something different. Themes like "Classic Monsters," "Cowboys and Indians" and "Willie and Snoop" really make the artist stop and think just how to approach the subject in their own style. It is so exciting to see the different artist interpretation on the same subject. I have really enjoyed being a part of these group shows and others.
Gavin: When listening in, what's the general reaction been from people when they check out your work?
Emily: I wish I could just hide most of the time and just listen to the viewers. Many people seem very curious where my ideas come from. I hear "where did you come up with that" a lot. The reaction I enjoy seeing the most in a viewer is wonderment, a giggle or smiling to themselves. I also love when people reach out to touch the painting and then have to stop themselves.
Gavin: Recently, you've become a featured artist at Blonde Grizzly, both in group showings and your own solo show earlier in the year. How has it been working with them?
Emily: Fantastic. I could not be happier to be showing work there and feel so lucky to know Caleb and Hillary. It was really exciting and a bit intimidating having my own show at the Blonde Grizzly, especially after seeing the other insanely talented artists who have done solo shows there. I was really happy with the show and how everything went. I love the gallery's fresh take on the scene with talented local artists and innovative show ideas. They need to just keep doing what they're doing.
Gavin: You've also started contributing and selling your work via Brightside Prints. What made you decide to work with them, and how has that been for you?
Emily: I am just starting to get my feet wet in the design world. I'm interested in being able to have a line of work that will allow me continuously create. Brightside is a very new print company based out of California with designers that span across the country. I feel pretty awesome to be able to call myself part of this amazingly talented design team. I am basically focusing on hand-drawn and hand-painted designs to add to the high-quality collections of work. It is just getting started, so keep an eye out for Brightside as it will continue to grow and get bigger and better all the time.
Gavin: Do you have any more group shows or solo exhibitions coming up over the next few months?
Emily: I plan to be showing more work in the group shows at the Blonde Grizzly in Salt Lake and the R&R Gallery in LA.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Emily: I think the overall scene is tight-knit and has a lot to offer. It's nice when new places open, giving a fresh take on the scene. There are also so many new and unknown artist in Utah that should be given the chance to show work along with the more "well-known" ones.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Emily: Residents should be proud to be a part of the local art scene. I love to see people buying original art from local artists and supporting small businesses. It is fine to go strolling and just look, but keep in mind that these places do need to make money to keep the doors open.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you believe people should be checking out?
Emily: I really love all the regulars that have been showing at the Blonde Grizzly. Andy Chase (who I went to school with at WSU) is a favorite. Mark Yamamoto and CW Mihlberger are SLC natives and show work there, as well. They also run the R&R Gallery in LA, and those boys are always coming up with new, crazy ideas.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the galleries in the city and the work they do to promote art?
Emily: I find most artists and people already involved in artist community seem to hear about the events going on, but not many others. It would be great if the galleries could get a broader audience. Writers and bloggers giving these events more attention has a major impact, especially now that so many people are online. So the more the word gets out there the better! Gavin's Underground is pretty fantastic, if I do say so. Also, artists giving exposure to more people does a lot. Bring your friends and family to events. Art is a lot more universal than some may think.
Gavin: Sweet! What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Emily: I am planning on doing a bunch of design work and will continue to do gallery paintings. I expect to be in my studio, getting to work and covered in paint. I have a handful of paintings that are just sitting in my head, waiting to be created.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Emily: Yes! I have been doing some artwork and design for Losee Longboards and have a new line of longboards coming out shortly. I am excited to be working with the company, which is based out of Little Cottonwood Canyon and makes amazing, hand-crafted boards. Thank you, Gavin, for the interest and the support that you give the artist community!
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