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EST. 2018

In Conversation with Emma Willis

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"Formidable" by Emma Willis. Watercolor. Interior art for the Canvas Spring 2019 issue.

Below is discussion between Canvas Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Herko and Spring 2019 contributing artist Emma Willis.

LINDSAY

 

Can you tell us (anything) about the creation of “Formidable?" I am curious about how you generate your ideas—are you working off of images in your mind or based on humans you observe out in the world? Are there parts of the piece that taught you things about yourself as an artist? Points of pride? How do you go about titling your work?

 

 

EMMA

 

“Formidable,” as well as most of my paintings, is based off of photos that resonate with me. “Formidable” was my first watercolor portrait and I painted it when I was still relatively new to watercolor. When using a new medium, it’s almost like a mystery. One doesn’t know how the paint and canvas will react to different things, like painting over wet canvas or letting the different layers dry etc. So I learned a lot painting this piece! Some of my favorite parts of the piece are the expression of her face, and her long neck. I honestly have a difficult time titling my work, how does one put a name on all the emotion they put into a piece? My friend suggested the name, “Formidable” and I liked it because I imagined her as a strong, confident, women.

 

LINDSAY

 

As you create your portraits, do you feel you know things about the subjects? Does a story start forming? If so, are things you know about “Formidable” that the audience does not?

 

 

EMMA

 

I get very emotionally attached to the subjects I paint. I think the reason for that is because I use painting as a form of meditation, a way to calm my anxiety. It’s almost like I’m confiding with the painting. A story definitely starts forming, I even sometimes think about what type of jobs they might have. For example, with “Formidable," I imagine her as person that knows her worth and is an engineer of sorts. I hope I don’t sound too crazy, haha.

 

 

LINDSAY

 

What I’ve also come to love about your art is that you are curating a space for it on Instagram. I feel I can go to a location and become steeped in a flow of depicted lives.  Do you feel your work is building on itself to show a larger narrative there?  What led you to deciding to share it there?

 

 

EMMA

First of all, thank you. I’m glad you think of my art in that light. I’d like to think that the larger narrative my art is building to is self-acceptance. Showing people that there are an infinite amount of ways to exist as a person. And in whatever way you choose to—is perfect. I chose to start sharing my art because I realized I had the power to inspire. And my art actually had the power to make people feel things. I chose Instagram as a platform because an amazing art community had been established there.

 

LINDSAY

 

On your Instagram page you mention feeling you are an aspiring artist, body positive enthusiast, and intersectional feminist. Can you speak on how that influences your work or is present in your life in other ways?

 

EMMA

 

Feminism and body positivity have influenced my art and me as person in so many ways. It’s definitely inspired me to create an inclusive space with my art. And to seek to understand and empathize with every type of person.

 

 

LINDSAY

 

What does "aspiring" mean to you in your art journey?

 

EMMA

 

I’ve always been a little afraid of the word “artist." So I put “aspiring” before, because I’ve always felt like I’m not there yet, like I need to evolve more as a painter to identify as an artist. Or maybe I have it backwards, and being an artist is evolving.

 

LINDSAY

 

Are there any rituals, habits, spaces you like to sync up with to make your art? Are there any other artists of any type who you feel close to, as if they would be in a lineage of inspiration?

 

EMMA

 

When I sit down to paint, it’s usually with a cup of tea in hand and music blaring. If I’m painting a musician, I love to listen to their work as inspiration. Any person that opens themselves up to create inspires me. But in particular I love the musicians Sam Smith, and Tash Sultana. My art is also influenced by poet Sierra Nell, and artist Wolfmumma.

LINDSAY

 

Alongside “Formidable,” I was also recently moved by “Let Boys Be Feminine." Can you tell us about that piece? I notice a lot of your work is in a grayscale-black-white palette but pops of color come into works highlighting body-based details or things that are signals in discussion of gender expectation: In “Let Boys” we have what appears to be pink flowers melting into the subject, which shows nature’s naturalness uniting with all humans. In other works, color appears in details like arm pit hair.  Can you speak on any concept behind that?

EMMA

 

“Let Boys Be Feminine” was inspired by how society treats people differently based on their gender identity. I have a twin brother, and as we’ve grown up, I’ve noticed how as I’ve been shamed for my masculine qualities, he’s been shamed for his feminine ones. The pink roses were symbolic of femininity and how it’s perfectly fine for boys to like things of that nature. I love doing pieces in black and white with pops of color because it makes it easier to draw the audience’s attention to where I want it. It metaphorically says nothing is black and white, let people do what they want. I enjoy the simplicity of painting black and white.

Showing people that there are an infinite amount of ways to exist as a person. And in whatever way you choose to—is perfect.

Emma Willis is a recently graduated homeschool student. She has grown up traveling the world and loves to paint, sail, and write about her experiences.