Teach, Paint, Parent
Emily Wood had to find the perfect balance between working on her own art and teaching to get into a creative groove that works for this soon-to-be mother of two.
By Amy Gordy, Photography by Katie Childs
Emily Wood has always had a creative mind. She put her focus on graphic design in college until she realized she wasn’t made to sit in front of a computer all day. She felt a connection to her painting and drawing classes, and after graduation, got a non-traditional teaching license to teach in the Little Rock School District for a couple of years.
Her husband’s job moved the couple to New York for a year where Emily decided to take advantage of her time away and take classes at Art Students League of New York. When she returned to Arkansas, she found herself at a crossroads with some big decisions to make.
“When we moved back to Little Rock I was tempted to go back and teach and get a steady paycheck and benefits, but I decided to take a year and see how much I can make doing my own art. My goal was to make as much as I did on my teacher’s salary. It took about two years to get there,” she said.
Emily has established herself as a visual artist, her paintings can be found at Gallery 26 in Little Rock, Justus Fine Art in Hot Springs and Frame of Mind in Camden, her hometown. She mostly paints people whether it’s formal portraiture or casual people in their day-to-day lives. She’s known for her acrylic paintings on wood panel, and has recently moved into watercolor, as its proven to be more time efficient since having her son, Hugo, three years ago.
“Becoming a mom not only changed the medium I worked in, but it changed the subject matter of my work as well. Before I had Hugo I practically swore I wouldn’t paint a bunch of babies and kids, but pretty much the opposite of that happened. For the past eight years or so, I have painted people I see, whether I know them well or just see them from a distance. When Hugo was born he and my husband, J.D., became the main people I saw and thought about the majority of the time—they consumed my thoughts, so I should have known that’s what would come out on the canvas. But it’s been good because it’s led to getting quite of few commissions of other people’s kids and families!”
In addition to child raising and painting, Emily also teaches art classes at the Arkansas Arts Center, where she’s worked for 10 years and served as the former Painting and Drawing Department Chair. “I still really like teaching. I need to be out and around people—I can’t be huddled up in my studio all the time. Teaching helps me stay on top of things and encourages me to try new things,” she said.
She still strives to find that balance between family time, teaching and her own work (which will become harder when she welcomes her second child, due in July)— something she feels is especially hard for moms in the arts.
“I’m sure all moms struggle with the balance thing, but one thing I found particularly frustrating was how to make it work with a creative profession that doesn’t look like a ‘normal,' 9-5 job. People ask me all the time if I’m still painting, and I want to say, ‘Of course I’m still painting—it’s my job! It’s not just a passing hobby; it’s what I do!’ Some people assumed I would just quit, I guess. I can’t imagine not painting and making art, even if it isn’t for as many hours of the day as it once was.”
The Inside Scoop with Emily
What helps keep you centered/ grounded? My husband, J.D., and yoga.
Name three things that are essential to your day-to-day life. A decent night’s sleep, breakfast and, unfortunately, my phone.
What’s a creative medium you’ve always wanted to explore? I have explored a lot of creative media I thought I might like—I think painting just suits me best. I love music, but I’m best at just listening to it. It would be fun to be able to dance.
What time of the day do you thrive creatively? Not too early and not too late, so the middle-ish part of the day.
What/who/where inspires you? People in general—lots of different and interesting ones.
What are you focusing creative energy on now? Mastering watercolor, painting more simplified portraits, and finding new and interesting ways to combine the two.
How have your children shifted your creative career path? Hugo has consumed the subject matter of my work. Funny, I just can’t stop thinking about him and my husband, so that’s what comes out. People don’t want to buy a bunch of portraits of my kid though, so that has lent itself to more commission work.
Which local resources/galleries/classes/organizations have helped you on your creative path? The Arkansas Arts Center, The Arkansas Arts Council, The Argenta Arts Foundation, Artist Inc., Thea Foundation, Gallery 26, Justus Fine Art, UALR, and probably several others I’m not thinking of.