Emily Grady Dodge, Artist
The paintings of artist Emily Grady Dodge have something dreamy around them. Her choice of calm, soft colors and her warm compositions with a mix of organic shapes will certainly make any abstract lover's heart go aflutter. Of course we were curious about Emily's story...
Oh, what a style! Next to her paintings that clearly reflect a very own visual aesthetic, Emily has also expanded into interior illustrations, always pushing herself to be better. So who is the woman and what are the stories behind these paintings? We talked with the talented Brooklyn-based artist about how she gets discovered via Pinterest, her collaboration with Anthropology, and books she recommends for creative inspiration.
Dear Emily, can you tell us about your story of becoming an artist?
Yes! I’ve always loved making art, but I’ve also gone through long periods of time where I didn’t even own a paintbrush. As a child, I was always painting and drawing, and usually there was some sort of narrative involved. I would draw people and come up with storylines for them, or I would draw rooms and imagine who lived in them. That was how I had fun! Through the years, I took as many art classes as I could at school. Although I loved being in the art room hanging out with the art kids, I didn’t feel that I could make a living as an artist, so I didn’t pursue it in college. Instead, I studied art history, not really sure what I wanted to do when I graduated. Actually, while I didn’t know what kind of job I wanted, I knew that I wanted to live in New York, so I moved from Florida to Manhattan after graduation.
For several years I was caught up in establishing myself in a new city and painting felt like a distant memory. Then one day, about four years ago, I decided on whim to do sit down and paint something. I had recently purchased a watercolor palette for an interior design class I was taking, and I wanted to put it to good use, as it was quite expensive. Something clicked, and it was like being reunited with an old friend. I looked in the mirror and said, “Hello! I’m an artist!” I’ve been painting ever since, and now I can’t imagine my life without it.
You live in Brooklyn, which is known as "a place to be" for any creative. How long have you lived there?
As I mentioned above, I moved to New York after I graduated college, which was in 2009. I apartment hopped for the first few years - I would take a sublet on the Upper West Side, then one in the East Village, then one in Spanish Harlem, etc. I have so many stories, I could write a book! But to keep things semi-short and sweet, I moved to Brooklyn in 2011 because the rent in Manhattan was getting crazy for me. It took awhile, but I fell in love with Brooklyn one day after a particularly great walk through Prospect Park (it’s like Central Park’s little sister). I’ll never forget that moment! It was similar to my moment where everything clicked and I realized that I’m an artist. I could have yelled from the rooftops, “I love Brooklyn!” It sort of felt like falling in love with a person, ha!
How does this environment affect your work?
I’m lucky that I live in a place where people value the arts. I work full time in sales for a company that makes custom furniture, so I have to be disciplined with my time in order to paint as often as I do. Sometimes this means saying no to social outings, so it’s great that the people in my life are so understanding. My fiancé, family, and friends are really encouraging and supportive - they are the best cheerleaders I could ever ask for. Luckily, my situation is not unique. So many people here are writers, actors, photographers, artists, etc., all while maintaining an unrelated full time job. I feel a silent sense of support from every stranger I see lugging home art supplies on the train at 7:00 pm. I know that feeling! I feel justified in my choice to live a creative life, which I believe results in more confident work.
Do you think it is enriching to have a big community of creative people around you, or does it also intimidate sometimes?
It’s enriching! Although honestly, Instagram has given me more of a sense of a creative community than my own local community. There are people who I’ve never met who have influenced the way I approach my work. I think, if that person can do X, Y, and Z, then so can I! Of course, nothing happens overnight, so I can’t let myself get caught up in the comparison game. It’s an ongoing lesson, but I’m happy to go through those growing pains to learn it.
You have recently started with interior illustrations. Does that imply a special technique you had to learn?
Just practice and patience! The illustrations that Mita Corsini Bland did for the book, Sister Parish Design: On Decorating are what initially inspired me to begin painting interiors. In addition to being an interesting part of my portfolio, I think they make great gifts for interior designers - who wouldn’t want an illustration of a room they designed? A few months ago I painted a room that was in Architectural Digest, and then the owner of that room found my painting on instagram and he contacted me to see if he could purchase it. It was such a cool feeling to ship it off to it’s rightful home!
Could you imagine expanding into interior design?
Interesting that you ask… Yes, I think so! I would need to approach it in a different way though, as I love homes that are well-collected, where you can see that there has been a natural evolution. If I were to branch out into interiors, I would call myself a consultant rather than a designer. I could see myself suggesting paint colors, or helping people to rearrange or reupholster pieces they already own.
What is your favorite motive to paint?
I paint whether or not I have a great idea first. Sometimes inspiration does strike me, and it’s like an out of body experience. It’s amazing when that happens. But most of time, that’s not the case. In those times, I (try to) paint without putting pressure on myself to love the result. I’m simply exploring techniques and refining my approach, so that when I do have a great composition appear in my head, I’m prepared to execute my vision the way I want to. So I guess my motive is that I always want to push myself to be better.
We love to talk about a piece of your work that you have a particular connection to. Do you have one with a special story or meaning behind it?
The painting I did on a whim a few years ago has brought me so much luck, it’s crazy! It was of a fiddle leaf fig tree, as they were becoming really popular at that time. I posted a picture of it on Pinterest, and it sold pretty quickly after I posted it on Etsy. To this day, people often contact me after seeing it on Pinterest, and it’s led to some amazing opportunities. I wish I had a high resolution scan of it, but alas, all I have is a fuzzy iPhone photo. Maybe someday I’ll buy it back from the person I sold it to, ha!
Somehow, many people who love visual work also like to read a lot. Do you have five favorite books that have been more than “just a book” for you?
Oh yeah, I love to read! I could talk about books all day, but to name five:
1) Take the Leap: Do What You Love 15 Minutes a Day and Create the Life of Your Dreams, by Heather Mccluskey Beck: I loved this book because it asks great questions that really get you thinking in new ways. It focuses on tapping into what you loved doing as a child and how to implement those things into your adult life. It helped me in many ways!
2) The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion, by Elle Luna: Elle is such an inspiration, it blows my mind. I can honestly say this book changed my life. If you haven’t looked into her 100 day projects, you need to!
3) Bossypants by Tina Fey: I’ve read it a hundred times. Somehow, it makes me laugh harder every time. If I ever need to get out of my head, this is my go-to book!
4) The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown: When I open this book, it’s basically all highlighted! Haha! I probably went through a pack of highlighters the first time I read it. I am a very type-A person, and I’m naturally really hard on myself about almost everything. This book really helped me to loosen up and realize that vulnerability is not a bad thing.
5) A Girl and Five Brave Horses by Sonora Carver: I grew up loving the movie Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. It’s rare that I meet someone who’s seen it, but I recommend it to everyone. I recently read the autobiography that the movie was based on, and it was really inspiring. If you’re not familiar, Sonora Carver was a circus performer in the 1920’s, and she was blinded after an accident during her act. After she lost her sight, she continued to perform for another 11 years. I think of her story often when I need a boost of courage!
Is there some creative task that you always wanted to try out?
I recently bought a camera and I’m teaching myself to use it so I can photograph my work in situ. Interior photography is so challenging, but I’m having fun with it!
What are some of your upcoming projects?
I’m finishing up my first 100 day project soon, and after that I am going to focus on developing a pattern portfolio. I’d love to expand into textile design for home accessories. I have a crazy obsession with cool throw pillows, so I’d love to see my designs sitting pretty on sofas all over the world! I’m also about to launch my new website, so I’ve been devoting a lot of time and energy to that recently. I’m excited for it to finally be done!
Can you tell us a bit about your past collaborations? How can we image this process?
My most recent collaboration was with Anthropologie for their Artist Atelier beauty collection. In a roundabout way, they found me through that aforementioned fiddle leaf fig painting on Pinterest! I did several paintings for them, and they used those on the packaging for a collection of perfume, lipstick, makeup bags, soap, etc. (Editor's note: See image above.) The best part was that my name was on the products! I was pinching myself throughout the whole process. I’m so grateful for that opportunity, and they were absolutely lovely to work with.
Who would you love to work with in the future?
I have a small list of local shops where I would love to have framed artwork available for sale. I’m working on a plan to make this happen! My dream store would be Consort Design. I’m putting that out there into the universe!
You have a beautiful Instagram account! Do you have others that you would recommend to follow?
Wow, thank you! I love @virginiakrafttextiles (textiles), @winkwinkstudio (art), @francesloom (vintage rugs), @lysajordan_ (art), @venamour (stationary), @and.delight.reigned (styling), @corsignaturesart (art), @ceceliaclaire (pattern design), @carveouttimeforart (artist collective), and of COURSE @timeforcreativesouls!