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IAP Grantee Highlight: Emily Williams-Wheeler

The Arts Partnership awards grants to artists working in any artistic genre and at any career stage, and last week, we announced our 2017-2018 Individual Arts Partnership (IAP) grantees. Over the next year, TAP will highlight the artists in a series of blogs so that our readers can learn more about their artistic process, and first up is painter Emily Williams-Wheeler!

Emily Williams-Wheeler received a grant that will allow her to study one-on-one with an artist based in Montana, to learn the technique of using cold wax medium with oil paint. Williams-Wheeler has exhibited widely in the region, including solo exhibits at the Northwest Art Center, Gordon B. Olson Gallery, Minot State University (ND); the Rourke Art Museum, Moorhead, MN; and the Kaddatz Gallery, Fergus Falls, MN. Her work can be found in corporate, institutional and private collections throughout the Midwest. She received an artist residency and West Acres Mall in Fargo, ND, among other honors and awards.

Q:             Who inspires you?

A:              Beyond other painters, I am inspired by sculptors. I think I am actually a sculptor in a painter’s apron. I love how shadows play on 3-D objects. My other inspiration comes from songs. Paul Simon is definitely one of my favorite lyricists. He has a delightful ability to play with the words and makes such colorful visual images.

Q:             What is your daily creative work schedule?

A:              My daily creative schedule starts with a swim. I do not feel like my day starts until after exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind. After that, I spend time answering emails, ordering supplies, and researching. Finally, I paint.

“Coalescence” by Emily Williams-Wheeler.

Q:             What is your greatest fear/challenge when facing a new project?

A:              It’s funny, but I do not have any fears about my work. I guess that’s due to the stage in my life. I love challenges and am at peace knowing that while a painting may not be where I want it now, the best part will come in the honing process. I love the tweaking and editing of my paintings. The emergence of the piece I am looking for is such great satisfaction!

Q:             What do you do when you get stuck?

A:              When I get stuck on a painting, I walk away. I turn to the other paintings I have in progress and work on those. Hiding the work so that I can see it with fresh eyes in a day or week or even a month makes all the difference.

Q:             What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field?

A:              Diversification and diligence. That means work your ass off. I have so many different sources of income coming from my paintings that I know I can pay my bills. I don’t always like all the avenues I am taking, but I am 100% employed as an artist. That’s diversification. Working hard means 7 days a week I ply my trade. I am in constant contact with the artist community. I post on social media and shoot out emails and newsletters. I apply for grants, attend workshops, enter competitions, and make, make, make art. Just dabbling at painting would never have gotten me to where I am today. Be committed.

“Connections” by Emily Williams-Wheeler.

Q:             If you had a chance to do it all over again, how would you do things differently?

A:              If I could do it all over again, the one thing I would do is start earlier. I had a different career before becoming a full-time artist. I imagine I would be much more advanced in my field if I had 8-10 years more experience at this point in my life.

Q:             What was the most discouraging feedback you ever got?

A:              I’m not sure if it was the most discouraging feedback I have received or just kind of funny, but a man came into my studio when I was the artist-in-residence at West Acres Mall. At the time I had mostly abstract expression paintings, but I did have two very large paintings of flowers. As the man walked around looking at the abstracts, he seemed to almost be growling in distaste. When he turned and saw the flowers, he said, “Oh! You actually can paint!” (Eye roll.)

“Equitably Convening” by Emily Williams-Wheeler.

Q:             What was the most encouraging feedback you ever got?

A:              Maybe the most encouraging feedback I have received is when I got an email from the editor of the international magazine, 1340 Art. I didn’t react to the first email he sent. The second one I responded by asking if it was a hoax! He had discovered my work on Instagram and wanted to feature me in their magazine. I hadn’t even heard of it. I discovered it originates in Amsterdam, NL. I was blown away. That was the highest compliment I have received. My art was on the cover and featured inside for more than 250,000 subscribers to see. I’m still smiling.

Thank you for your input, Emily! Be on the lookout for other grantee highlights each month throughout the year!



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