I’ve been following along with Birmingham, Alabama based artist Emily Morgan Brown’s work for years via Instagram. Her floral tapestries are so detailed that you can almost smell the flowers just by looking at them. Emily who was recently featured in the June/July edition of Garden & Gun, is also mom to three adorable little girls (identical twins and their little sister).
In this interview, she shares about when she first became interested in art, how she makes her own paint, and why she fell in love with the Grisaille technique.
When did you first become interest in art?
I remember art first being special to me in first grade. My teacher handed out paper divided into two sections where students were asked to write a story in the bottom section and illustrate it in the top. I repeatedly spent all of my time in the top section so I didn’t get to draw in the top section at all for a few days and it was torture!
You create your work using the ‘grisaille’ technique. Tell me a little bit about this technique and what drew you to it?
Grisaille means ‘grayscale’ and it was used in Medieval and Renaissance Art to fake expensive wall sculptures. Artists would paint panels to look like architectural details and scenes and then hang them up high so viewers didn’t know the difference. The technique, the scale, the material — it is all fascinating to me! I’ve always really loved realism and this idea of trompe l’oeil (“deceive the eye”) in art really speaks to me.
You create your own egg tempura before you paint each new piece. What ingredients do you use, and how long did it take you to perfect your mixing process?
Every paint is a pigment (color) + a binder (glue) + a solvent (to make it fluid). With this equation in mind, you can make paint! In an effort to simplify my practice, I decided to make my own paint. I use charcoal and ground botanicals as the pigment, egg yolk as the binder, and distilled water as the solvent. I have a strong connection to the flowers I photograph for my linen pieces. Being able to grind them into paint and then paint them back into their portrait pulls it all together and makes my work make sense.
The mixing process is not even close to perfect. There are flaws, and I love them. My work takes on a life of its own. There are pieces of the ground botanical that doesn’t grind as fine as the rest, there are places where the paint sticks a little better and where I thought it would stick more. You can see my brush strokes, as you look closer. As much as art is about creation and control, I have learned it is equally about letting the materials and subject matter speak.
How does painting on linen differ from the process of painting on canvas (or) paper?
For my botanical work, I just can’t get enough of the linen. I buy it raw on a huge roll, staple it to my studio wall, and then work directly on the surface. The color of the raw linen is the perfect mid-tone for me to add the darks and the highlights and gives me the ability to leave the raw linen as negative space.
I hang my work loose like a tapestry, so the work can move with the air as a nod to the life of the flower in nature.
What is the largest piece that you’ve ever created?
I am currently planning the logistics of a piece that is 10 feet tall, so that one will set a record! I dream of doing a mural – someone commission one!
Out of all of the flowers you’ve ‘depicted’ in your artwork. What flower has been the most difficult to paint?
I would say the thing that gives me the most trouble are magnolia leaves. They are so dark and waxy, which is hard to show with such textural materials.
Tell me about the project you worked on with Blackberry Farm last year.
I worked with Blackberry Farm on the illustration of their 2019 Blackberry Year publication. I harvested botanicals from the Farm and used them to make the paint for the illustrations throughout the book. Blackberry Farm is one of the most beautiful and inspiring places in the world! Their cuisine is heavily rooted in what comes from the farm, and my work resonated as another version of “farm to table” except in my case it is “farm to easel.”
What is the most exciting/rewarding part of preparing for an upcoming exhibition?
I love thinking of a body of work as a whole. Often pieces are seen alone, but the one made before it can also be seen in it. I think of them as a timeline, each influencing the next, and it is powerful for me to see them hanging together.
What do you enjoy the most about attending an art opening and talking with collectors of your work?
Meeting and talking with collectors of my work will always be one of the most rewarding parts of my job as an artist. Hearing stories of family connections and memories to certain trees and flowers that I have drawn will always be special to me. Knowing my work resonates with someone else is truly priceless!
You were recently featured in the June/July edition of Garden & Gun. How did you feel when you read the final article?
I have always loved Garden & Gun and seeing my work published in print for the first time and it being in G&G was totally surreal! I held it and read it for the first time through tears. I am so grateful to Elizabeth Hutchison Hicklin for the beautiful article. I’m not very good with words, so reading how Elizabeth retold everything helped me see my own work in a different light. It will forever be a highlight of my career! (Read article here.)
As a mother to three young daughters, how do you plan share your love of art with them?
My girls are so much fun – six year old twins and an almost five year old. We color and paint and play with sidewalk chalk like most families do. I love teaching them to not be afraid of materials; I want them to mix colors and have the chance to make a mess, and to mess up. We don’t do much coloring inside the lines at my house. I hope they grow up with an appreciation for art, but more than that I hope that they learn to see beauty in regular, everyday things, and learn the beauty in seeing regular, everyday things differently than everyone else.
Keep up with Emily Morgan Brown through the following links…
All photos in the post were taken by photographer Joanna Ballentine