An interview with Emily Louise Howard
Studio view, Emily Louise Howard
1. Describe your typical week-in the studio, at home, other activities?
More often than not, I travel on the weekends to arts & crafts fairs all around the midwest & south so my typical week usually involves traveling Friday-Sunday and Monday-Thursday I’m grinding it out in the studio. I can easily (and often do) spend 10-16 hour stretches in the studio doing a variety of activities: carving blocks, printing blocks, packaging prints, packing online orders, answering emails, sending invoices, framing prints, drafting new blocks, designing for commissions, building new displays, applying to shows, booking travel plans, updating my website, laying out social media posts, ordering supplies, scanning receipts and balancing expenses... it goes on and on! I like to listen to podcasts or shows on Netflix while I do these activities. I generally try to make Mondays my “admin day” where I do all of the un-fun, un-messy stuff like applications, bookkeeping and paying bills & taxes. Mondays are often “craft show hangover” days too, when I’m a little useless after a long weekend of set-ups, tear-downs, talking & smiling and hours of driving. On Fridays I’m usually packing my car and traveling to shows or frantically trying to finish a project. Saturdays and Sundays I’m most likely standing behind my table at a show, trying not to be too awkward and hoping that people will be receptive to my work! If I can, I’ll try to stretch my travels to include hikes in national parks & forests. I don’t really have a lot of time for other activities to be honest, but I try to see my friends and family as often as possible - otherwise I worry that the lack of human interaction will turn me into some artistic version of Gollum... haggard, obsessive and prone to talking to myself.
2. Describe your influences, what sources or artists do you look to for inspiration?
I am deeply influenced by the natural world, especially the flora & fauna of the Appalachian region of the US. Whether it’s a sprig of sage to balance negative space or a central animal figure twisting in space, nature always finds away into my compositions. I feel most at peace when I’m outside, preferably deep in the woods.
I’m a voracious reader, so I’m very much inspired by stories of all kinds - especially fables, folktales, myths and legends. I was raised on Rudyard Kipling’s J ust So Stories. I have a collection of Cherokee legends that I treasure, as well as a collection of Sicilian folktales that has the most vivid, striking imagery. The work of Joseph Campbell (particularly T he Hero with a Thousand Faces) and Carl Jung (particularly The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious) were both particularly influential in developing my narrative aesthetic.
Historically, I am very inspired by Frida Kahlo - not only by her masterful approach to painting or her very interesting personal story, but by her ability to harness her pain and turn it into something magical. Each canvas tells a complex story. I learned a lot about composition and mood from studying her. I try to take the time to pay attention to what is happening in the wider art world, so I get a lot of art periodicals like New American Painting, UPPERCASE, Maker Magazine, Art in America, etc. Some artists I’m obsessing over now include Kiki Smith (I’m forever obsessing over Kiki Smith), Betye & Alison Saar, Martha Rich, Tugboat Printshop, Kay Walkingstick, Rebecca Green, William Kentridge...
Self Love by Emily Louise Howard
3. Where is your studio and what does it look like? How do you find materials and resources to make your work?
My studio is in the basement of my home in Erlanger, KY. This was a conscious choice as it’s the most economical option, and the commute is pretty easy... just down the stairs! The L-shaped room was a bit difficult to lay out, but there is plenty of room for tabletops and storage shelving. The walls are white in an effort to help the little available light bounce around the room, and are also adorned by the framed work of friends and other artists I admire. I have three major worktables (one for printing, one for drafting blocks and packaging online orders, and one for sewing), a huge paper cutter that I converted into an additional tabletop by adding legs, shelving for books & supplies, and a chill-zone with a couch, TV and musical instruments. Good intentions led me to buy a secondhand treadmill but right now it serves as my drying rack. The linchpin in the whole machine is my Richeson Medium Etching Press, which I acquired brand-new through crowdfunding.
Luckily the materials I need for my work are super simple and easy to find - inks, blocks, papers and carving tools are *really* everything I need and you can find them at most major art supply chains. Online shops like Blick and Utrecht are good resources when you’re looking for specific brands. I prefer to shop at local small businesses and art supply stores when possible (I like Plaza and Indigo Hippo in Cincinnati and Preston Arts Center in Louisville) and I make an effort to buy only American-made bags, cello sleeves and other supplies. I always advise everyone to look for second-hand tools and materials when possible. Indigo Hippo is a creative re-use store here in Cincinnati where you can get paper, pencils, brushes and all manner of strange stuff with which to make art. Craigslist and Everything But the House are great places to look for used presses and other used specialty items - that’s how I got my paper cutter! I’ve gotten a few of my display elements at antique malls, flea markets, and yard sales as well.
4. How do you balance your art practice with other jobs, art- or non art related?
This is THE QUESTION that I asked of everyone and of myself while I was a student and when I was first starting to exhibit professionally. It was hard. Really hard. And there’s no catch-all answer. Throughout college & grad school I had two jobs and struggled with managing my time and energy. The work I made then was kinda shitty but really joyful, and I think it accurately described my life at the time. After grad school I became a teacher and that quite literally took up my whole life. In order to be the best teacher I could be, I stopped making art for myself and gave my students all of me. I would arrive at school before the sun came up and I’d stay til 6 or 7 at night grading projects and preparing materials for the next day’s classes. It was great for my students but put me in a dangerous place creatively - I had nothing left for my own practice. I tried with occasional success to do art shows on the weekends while I was still teaching, but I was frazzled and exhausted both physically and emotionally. I guess if I would’ve stuck to just three or four big shows it would have been fine, but I wanted to do EVERY SHOW and I wanted to travel as widely as possible. I wanted m ore. I’ve just celebrated my one-year anniversary of being a full-time professional artist with no supplemental income. And it’s going ok so far I think. I mean, I’m not destitute yet! It took a lot of courage to jump in without the relative “safety” of a waitressing job to fall back on. I finally feel “balanced” now because I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my time on this planet. So I guess it’s subjective. If you’re highly organized, you could probably survive if not thrive for a long time holding down multiple jobs. I just couldn’t do it myself.
Carving a block, Emily Louise Howard
5. What opportunities for professional development have have been most helpful to you? What were more helpful earlier on in your career? (print exchanges, workshops, conferences)
Having a “mentor” was really helpful to me early on. It certainly wasn’t a formal mentorship - I just sort of latched myself onto my first printmaking professor, Derrick Riley of DRock Press, and didn’t let go. We are still great friends and over 11 years later, he’s still giving me advice, tips and perspective. He gives me a high bar to strive for, as his carving is so technically advanced and his printing is top-notch. Additionally, I feel like my formal university education prepared me for a life as a gallery artist rather than the print-peddler life I’m living now - I needed more guidance from a business perspective. So I signed up for a course called CO.STARTERS through a local nonprofit, ArtWorks Cincinnati. This course focused on growing/developing/launching a small creative business and gave me the tools I needed to let my art work for me. Being in the class introduced me to a lot of other local creatives with a wide range of skills. Having a creative network is really important - you never know who might have something really valuable to teach you or who might want to collaborate!
6. What does your research process look like before doing a project?
Research is honestly my favorite part of the process! My work is inspired by storytelling, and I try to bring elements of narrative into every image, so generally it involves a lot of reading especially if I’m trying to tell a specific story. I fill several sketchbook pages with very bad drawings until my ideas start to form. Sometimes it involves several figure studies, and I’ll use both photographic source material as well as live models when it suits the project. I’ll work and re-work the drawings until I get a *passable* design. Sometimes I’ll jump right in after that and transfer and carve the block immediately, but other times I let the idea marinate for a while. For example, right now I’m working on some designs for a (hopeful) series of printed pyramid sculptures and they are requiring a lot of research: scaling down the exact dimensions of the pyramids at Giza, reading up on medicine wheels, gathering symbolic references for the cardinal directions and then sketching those symbolic references, etc.
7. Can you share your process of getting your work out in the world? (types of venues, exhibition planning, process)
I mostly share a lot of process photos and documentation of my finished prints on my Instagram, and I’m comfortable sharing my original content for free because it means that more people can potentially see it and hopefully respond to it. I do my best to keep up with a minimal website as well and I’ve made several great professional relationships from people getting in touch with me through the site’s contact page. Additionally, I do almost exclusively arts & crafts fairs in cities all over the south and midwest including Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Atlanta & many others. They’re usually held in parks, historic neighborhoods, or plunked down in the middle of a city street. I like these kinds of events because I feel like a wider range of people come out to fairs than to gallery shows, and I don’t have any involvement in the planning - I get to just show up. I haven’t done a gallery exhibition in a few years. When I do, it’s usually as part of a group show. Joining collectives are a good idea, too, as everyone in the collective promotes shows together which helps drive crowds. Some studios and small businesses take part in Gallery Hops or Final Fridays, which is a good way to get seen, as well. It’s all about self-promotion and the stronger your hustle is, the better chances you have of being a part of the conversation.