Notes by Bill Calhoun

An Emily Painting Comes to Life

Click for Larger ViewThis animated image starts with a tiny woodcut illustration that Emily had for years on a bulletin board.  One day she decided to sketch a drawing inspired by the woodcut, and not long after decided to try a sketch on canvas.  That was about a year and a half ago, and since then Emily has worked, off and on and in stages, until completion.

The individual images that make up the animation are below.

I don't want to give the impression that Emily starts one painting, then works steadily and continuously until it is finished.  Emily's process is steady enough, but does not move in a straight line.  She often starts several paintings at once, and then moves from painting to painting.  A canvas sketch may be rejected and painted over, or faced against the wall and left to "season," perhaps permanently.

Emily paints in phases, roughly three months on and three months off.  After an "off" phase she may decide to move in a completely different direction, starting another painting rather than finishing one, or completely changing an unfinished painting.  By the time she does finish a painting, she is usually close to finishing several.

In the painting studio Emily says:
"I never know what I am doing."
"It's like a giant painful game of chess."
"I make my color decisions from my abdomen."
"I'm not a real painter."
"I have no idea how I have ever finished a painting."

It's in response to this last statement that I have assembled this documentary.

Emily's paintings move through definite stages, whether she's aware of it or not.  Day of the Dead shows these stages quite nicely, and I have detailed them below.  These are the individual images that make up the animation.

Click for Larger ViewThis is the original Day of the Dead woodcut illustration that started it all.  Emily found this in a magazine, cut it out, and pinned it to the wall, where it has hung for many years.  It is about 1½ inches square, but I've distorted and enlarged it to fit the painting's dimensions.
Click for Larger ViewIn early 2012, Emily drew this image in her sketchbook, based on the woodcut.  She drew a banner underneath with the phrase Chicken One Day, Feathers The Next, a reference to the life of an artist.  At this point she was not thinking of a painting yet.  It is pen on paper, 7" x 8", but I've cropped and distorted it.
Click for Larger ViewNot long after she made the drawing, Emily took a canvas that already had a sketch on it, turned it sideways, and made this sketch.  You can still see the older underlying sketch.  Emily calls this stage the "sienna sketch," and paintings typically rest at this stage for a while.  The canvas is 18" x 24".  Emily really likes this stage - so much energy, and anything is possible.
Click for Larger ViewI call this the "color field" stage.  Emily begins to decide on the underlying colors for the large areas in the painting.  The painting rested at this stage for a while, too.

Notice that the two chickens have become a dog and a cat.  The cactus and wall-hanging have been replaced by elaborate curtains, and the chairs have disappeared, though the couple are still seated.
Click for Larger ViewNow the characters begin to get their color.  It's not clear yet whether the squiggle on the floor is a snake, a ribbon, or train tracks.  The man gets a bowtie, the woman gets her ring.  There are still a lot of "ghosts" on the canvas.
Click for Larger ViewNow hands, arms, and faces really start to come into focus.  The painting has shifted from "everything is possible" to "need to clarify what's definite."  There's no resting now for the painting, or for Emily, who picks up the pace.
Click for Larger ViewEmily thinks there's too much yellow in the dress - some elements are not yet definite.  It is time to start the "cleaning up" stage, not Emily's favorite part of the process.
Click for Larger ViewWondering what to do with the dress, Emily consults the original woodcut and decides to suggest the lace of the woman's frock.  The animals get faces, the man gets his choppers, the woman gets her thumb, and the railroad tracks disappear.  Emily applies the final touches to the curtain and background.
Click for Larger ViewThe changes here are subtle.  Towards the end of the process, Emily carefully shapes and carves her lines, like the lines in the woman's draped hand.  The big changes are at the bottom - the squiggle (you decide what it is), and the orange pansie-like flowers at the hem of the dress.  The final touch is Emily's signature.