Today, I’m honored to introduce you to Emily Page, a very talented woman whom I met online a few months ago.
This professional artist and part-time writer works out of Raleigh, North Carolina, and has a new book out, titled Fractured Memories: Because Demented People Need Love.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Emily, thank you for answering my questions. What triggered your desire to become an artist? Any particular story?
Emily Page: My parents were dirty, dirty hippies, so I spent a good amount of my childhood riding around the U.S. in a VW camper. That meant there was no TV, and this was before the era of portable video games. So, I entertained myself with art supplies.
My mom was great about trying new crafts with me. She would never call herself an artist, but she’s always been good with her hands: quilting, carpentry, construction, calligraphy, macramé, knitting, sewing, metal smith jewelry making (she even made wedding rings for herself and my dad). She showed me that experimenting with different media was normal and fun, and power tools weren’t a scary thing.
I suspect I would have been drawn to art anyway, but it kind of sealed the deal for me because I had so much early experience with it.
In first grade, one of my paintings was featured in our city’s yearly creative arts newsletter (it featured paintings and drawings and writing from students in our community’s schools). That was absolutely thrilling.
It kind of snowballed from there. In high school, I did an independent study with a fantastic artist, Tim O’Kane, in Charlottesville, Virginia, who introduced me to oil paint. I was fairly impatient (still am, really), so I didn’t devote a lot of time and effort to creating art, but I loved just playing with paint or doodling in the margins of my text books.
When I went to college, I swore that I was going to be “practical” and not choose any kind of major like art or theatre, but, the night before we had to declare a major, I literally played “eenie-meenie- miny-mo” and landed on art.
I feel like so much of my “decision” to become an artist was really just dumb luck choosing for me.
CM: How has the transition from amateur to professional artistry been? What do you enjoy the most about it?
EP: Sometimes I still don’t feel like I’m a professional artist. I guess that’s because I haven’t been able to make a living at art alone yet. Yet. I do sell my work, and sales have definitely picked up since I started working in a realist/photorealist style. But, as an artist, I’m a restless spirit.
I tend to do a bunch of work in one style, then a bunch of work in another style, which isn’t what makes galleries happy. Luckily, we’re in the age of the internet, and all the rules about how to sell your art are being rewritten.
Unfortunately, that means that there’s not a set path for me to follow. I have to make it all up as I go along, which means I spend way more time working on marketing than I’d like. It means there’s less time for making the art itself.
That being said, the older I get, the surer I am that art is the thing I’m supposed to be doing, so putting the time in to learn how to market it is worth it.
The thing that I really enjoy about having chosen to “be an artist,” is that I don’t have to justify making more art. When you’re an amateur artist and you’ve built up a collection in storage, it can make you feel guilty when you take time away from “more important things” to create. But when creating is your job, you don’t need to make excuses. And the adage that “practice makes perfect” is definitely true. Because I’ve committed to honing my craft, I’ve become a significantly more skilled artist over the last five to ten years.
I think that’s partly because my brain just hadn’t fully “grown up” yet and I hadn’t developed the patience and discipline required to make great art, but it’s also that the more I’ve experimented, the more confident I’ve gotten and I’ve been able to discover new and interesting ways to make the art I envision in my head.
CM: As a photographer, I find that technique doesn’t always make for a good image. The stories I try to tell are much more important. Do you think that the same goes for painting?
EP: Technique is important, for sure. I mean, without it, you can’t hope to tell the story you really wish to tell. I can imagine a painting in my mind’s eye, but if I haven’t trained my hand and my brain to work together properly, then the final product won’t be anything like I had hoped.
It’s also important because there are certain rules you have to follow with different media if you want your work to last for the next 100 years or longer. You don’t put acrylic on top of oil. You have to leave parts of the paper unpainted where you want white space when working with watercolors. If you’re sculpting a piece for the great outdoors, you must use weatherproof materials.
That being said, I’m a big proponent of learning the “right” way of doing things, so that you have a solid foundation under you, and then once it’s ingrained in you, forgetting about technique and just creating. This holds true for just about all of my artwork. If you think about an amazing singer, you don’t think, “Wow, she’s got great technique.” No, you think “Wow, she really made me feel something.”
I can paint a technically perfect elephant, but if I don’t put it into a particular context, I’m not going to convey the meaning I’m intending, and you aren’t going to be moved by it.
I’ve also learned, which I think is the point you were getting at, that sometimes the mistakes make for the best images. Particularly with mixed media work, I often start a painting with a certain idea in mind, but that changes and morphs as the things I try work or don’t work. And that’s part of the fun of creating: learning to embrace the unexpected.
CM: Let’s talk about your book. Fractured Memories: Because Demented People Need Love, Too is based on your experience with your dad’s frontotemporal dementia. Would you tell us more about that?
EP: My dad was diagnosed in 2009 with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 65. Frontotemporal dementia tends to hit fairly young and progresses more quickly than more well-known forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s.
My grandparents had all lived to at least 90 years old and none had developed more than mild senility during their very last few years, so my dad getting dementia – and at such a young age – hadn’t been an even vague possibility in my mind.
As an artist, it’s a common thing for me to work out trauma on canvas, so it wasn’t long before I started creating paintings about what my family was going through. I’d post the images on Facebook with a short description, and people started telling me that I should start a blog. I don’t generally consider myself a writer, so it took some convincing. But as I started to blog, it brought me so much support from my readers. They got me through one of the most trying times of my life.
So, when they started telling me I needed to turn the blog into a book, that’s what I did. It was partly so that I could frame and process the complete experience for myself, and heal, but it was also with the knowledge that other people were going through, and will go through, similar things, and they could use some support, too.
My dad was a real goofball, and he loved and laughed fiercely. He was also very open about his diagnosis. I wanted to honor that legacy by sharing what we went through in hopes that, as in a support group, people could read it and say, “Me, too!” And I talk about everything in the book, no matter how embarrassing.
There’s such a stigma with dementia, and I want people to really talk about it in a deeper way. Honesty is so important. But not only that, I really wanted to help people look for the humor and love that comes with dementia. If you’re going to survive as a caretaker, you need to be able to laugh along the way. It’s the only thing that’ll keep you from maiming your loved one or tearing your hair out!
And then, purely for selfish reasons, I wanted to honor my dad in some way. Making people feel the range of emotions that life throws at us seemed an appropriate way to do that. He suffered from depression but could always be counted on to make the people around him laugh. And everyone he loved knew he loved them.
He was never stingy with his love, even after the dementia really took hold of him. Life is hard, and sloppy, and ridiculous, and funny, and full of so much darkness and light that it’s hard to wrap our brains and hearts around it. Hopefully, this book captures that.
CM: I find the title of your book very interesting. Would you share why you chose it?
EP: This will be a kind of convoluted explanation.
My dad had a friend who was a “tough cookie.” She could be abrasive sometimes and had had a hard time finding love. She and my dad were talking and she admitted that she was lonely. She laughed, “you know, bitches need love, too.”
That thought stuck with my dad – clearly, since I know the story and never even met the woman – and I think affected him profoundly. He looked for the good in people, knowing that everyone needs love.
The title of the book is a little tongue-in-cheek, and stems from that joke between my dad and his friend. When my dad was diagnosed and people would ask how he was doing, he’d answer, “Not bad for a demented guy.” He was always a punster.
The title acknowledges that I’m a little “demented” myself, but aren’t we all? And we all need love and support. But it also is a reminder that when your loved one gets dementia, it will test your patience. It can be hard to remember why you had loved them so much before. But if you repeat the mantra, “demented people need love, too,” hopefully it’ll help you continue to be kind to them and go on loving them the way they deserve.
CM: You mention on your blog that the elephant on the cover is a symbol for dementia. Why is that? Can animals teach us the importance of caring?
EP: When I started painting about what we were going through, I was stuck with the question, how does one represent dementia visually? There’s a saying that “an elephant never forgets,” so for me, the elephant became both a talisman and symbol for dementia.
I tattooed an elephant on my foot both to ward off getting dementia myself, and to acknowledge that the disease would forever alter my life.
As I worked with the image, other phrases popped into my head, that solidified the link between elephants and dementia for me. Dr. Seuss had an elephant character that said, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” The elephant became a reminder for me about loyalty and sticking it out no matter how hard it got.
There were times I wanted to run, to avoid seeing my dad, because it was just so damn painful. But I had promised him and myself early on that I would be there to help care for him and shower him with love no matter what.
I think utilizing the elephant is a way to make the subject matter more accessible for the people viewing the paintings. I could have done paintings of my dad, but they would have been too personal and would have only benefitted me and the people who actually knew him. I wanted to have a more universal conversation than that. It would have been too easy to view my story as “someone else’s story” and dismiss it or not confront the possibility that dementia will likely affect the viewer’s life at some point, too (if it hasn’t already), and examine their perceptions of what life with dementia is like and recognize that it matters how we respond to it.
I’m not sure that animals teach us the importance of caring so much as they allow us to view difficult subject matter first from a distance, then identify with it and look to understand it.
CM: So, the book features 40 paintings. Which one is your favorite and why?
EP: Oh, wow. That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child!
I have two that are hanging in my home and that I’m contemplating keeping for myself. The first is Happy Elephant Singing Emily. I love this one because it reminds me that I was the apple of my father’s eye. Even when he didn’t know my name anymore, he’d light up whenever I entered the room.
He had been my best friend, and this painting helps me remember that he loved me as unconditionally as I loved him. It also reminds me of his laugh. It’s the very first painting I did in the Fractured Memories series.
The second is called Floating and depicts an elephant floating through the sky, tethered to a balloon. I liked to imagine that, when my dad wasn’t really “present” during any given visit, it was because his soul was off wandering somewhere and checking in on all the people he loved. It was a happier way of accepting his absence. Looking at it now makes me hopeful that maybe his soul is out there still, watching over me from afar. I’m not a religious person, but it brings me a little comfort to imagine that as a possibility.
CM: What role do you think artists play in raising awareness of important issues?
EP: I think artists of all kinds can play a role in raising awareness of just about any issue. Sometimes it’s just reminding people to look at the world around them more closely (this is what I hope my realist paintings do). Other times it’s more targeted than that. People learn empathy through art, music, dance, and books.
Expressive arts allow people to get and give support. Viewers and readers are part of a support group, and everyone benefits. We all need help looking at the world from different perspectives, and I think the arts foster that.
CM: What’s next for Emily?
EP: Bourbon. Just kidding. Sort of. Art, art and more art, I suppose. What kind of art? I honestly don’t know. Whatever worms its way into my brain and insists that I create it. My husband and I are opening a haunted attraction (corn maze, trail, village, etc.) in North Carolina, so I’m learning how to sculpt in foam with hotwires. It requires a totally different way of planning, so that’s been challenging.
I definitely plan on doing more photorealist paintings. I have an idea for a line of more whimsical animal paintings just for a bit of fun. I like the thought of making people smile right now. In other words, everything is next for Emily!
CM: Anything you would like to add?
EP: I’ve opted to self-publish, which means I have my hands full figuring out how to market the art. So if any of your readers would be willing to pass on the link to my book or my art, it’d be much appreciated!
Do you have a positive message to share with the world? Feel free to contact me for a potential interview.