Interview with Emily Davis
Emily Davis is an artist and designer, specializing in acrylic landscapes. She has sold her paintings and prints to collectors all over the world; you can see some of her previous projects at Emily Davis Collection or on Instagram. She also happens to be my sister! We chatted over Discord earlier this month.
William Collen: You’ve been drawing and painting nearly your whole life, but how did you get started working as an artist professionally?
Emily Davis: I started two years ago. I started with creating a separate Instagram account for my art. I would post whenever I painted something. Eventually family and friends started asking to either purchase the art I had already created, or commission a piece from me.
WC: When you work on commission, how closely do you work with the collector who is purchasing the work?
ED: When I do custom work I try to work as closely as possible with the collector. We usually communicate through email or over the phone for a consultation. I do a few mockups and give color samples. Then I create the piece. I usually give the collector a photo of the sketch pre paint, and then the final piece. Once the customer is happy with the final product I take payment and ship it.
WC: Tell me more about your series of “House Portraits”—where did you get the original idea? Are there any differences between painting the outside of a house, and painting something for the inside of a house?
ED: The original idea came from a friend of mine who is a realtor. She was looking for a closing gift for one of her clients. It went over so well that she started to request more, so I started advertising it. The house portraits that I paint are different from my landscapes in that they hold so much sentiment for the receiver. They’re typically requested by young adults and gifted to their parents or grandparents after a loss or a hard move, or for an anniversary. I do still paint them as closing gifts for my friend and other realtors. But I think the main difference between them and the landscapes that I paint is that they are a depiction of a place that holds a lot of precious memories, and my landscapes are more of an appreciation for nature, or an expression of a feeling or state of being. People typically say my landscapes evoke a sense of calm and peace for them, whereas my house portraits bring to mind moments shared.
WC: That's interesting—how the artwork can hold a personal significance for the recipient which is, in a sense, non-transferable to anyone else who sees it. That reminds me of how the fashionable people in late-18th-century England would have portraits made of their favorite horses (such as George Stubbs’ Whistlejacket). Although some of your landscapes also hold meanings of personal significance—I’m thinking in particular of your Memphis Lake painting, which is a picture of a real place that has a personal meaning which would not be understood for most viewers.
ED: Yes! Some of my paintings hold personal significance, but to the viewer they see the impression of somewhere peaceful that they’d want to be. Which is why I think ultimately the house portraits feel most important and special for me to create, but the landscapes are more personal to me.
WC: In your opinion, how important is it for a painting to have that sense of personal significance? Or in other words: can a painting be purely “beautiful”, existing solely as decoration—or does it have to have some sort of meaning, whether explicit or personal?
ED: I’m of the opinion that a painting is like music. That it can both be viewed solely for enjoyment and aesthetic and that it can also be created and viewed with the intent to stir emotion and contemplation. I think it’s important that art be enjoyable for the creator to create and the viewer to view. But I don’t think each piece has to hold melancholy reflection or have personal significance.
WC: In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says that “All art is quite useless.” What are your thoughts on that? If a piece of art is meant solely for decorative purposes, is it “useless”?
ED: I don’t believe in essence that it is useless. I believe to the wrong viewer it could be perceived as useless. But if a piece of art brings joy to the viewer then I believe it is serving a purpose. Just the same as anything else non-essential, that brings someone joy.
WC: What do you think of the AI art generators? Have you tried using any of them?
ED: I have not. And though I much prefer art created by hand, I do think the art that can be made using this method is a unique style all in itself. I think you can capture the essence of a traditional art medium and create something that would otherwise be very hard to accomplish. On the flip side, though, I appreciate the muscle memory that comes with creating by hand. I can’t speak to the process of creating art in this way though as I’ve never actually done it.
WC: There are a lot of people who are worried that AI will replace human artists. Do you fear than someday, someone could get on their computer and type in “landscape in the style of Emily Davis”?
ED: I try not to worry about that. I know that art styles come and go just as any trend. And there are seasons where a form of art is more popular than the other. I know that what I create is art in a raw and organic form, and that there will always be a market for that. There will always be people who want art that was painted by hand, where they can see the brushstrokes and texture of the paint and paper. And yes, there can be art that is generated to look like a real painting but was in fact printed to have texture. But I try to remind myself of how big the world is, and how many people still want the kind of art that I create.
Next week, I’ll post the first part of a two-part series called “A Defect in the Shepherding,” about two artworks—one graphic novel, and one film—which contain stories of people who lost their Christian faith. After those two essays are posted, I’ll be taking an extended break. I have a lot of reading piling up, and there are some other projects that need attention as well. I don’t know how long my break will be, but I’ll be back at the end of it! Thanks for reading!