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Emmy Thelander

What are you making right now?
This week I finished making molds for an edition of hair barrettes and accessories to put on a painting. I’m also prepping surfaces—making my own gesso and sanding down panels—for paintings in an ongoing series—the working title of which is either Activities or In a Good Year. They are diagrams of my priorities. I write a quality or activity I aspire to achieve along each side of the painting, and the center is a map of how my feelings toward each aspiration conflate.

Where do you make work?
I have a studio in Brooklyn. It’s near Greenwood Cemetery. I have the basement of a small building on a residential block that used to be used as a denture factory. I’m lucky to have a good deal so I can afford a private space.

What’s your favorite and least favorite material/tool/process that you use?
My least favorite tool is the computer, but I need it. I enjoy processes that are physical—making gesso with volcanic ash and paper pulp, or making egg tempera like I did for a recent painting. I love colored pencils and markers. I frequently teach myself new processes to make my work.

What do you listen to while you work?
I’ve been listening to podcasts and audiobooks much more than music in recent years. I listen to Brian Lehrer on WNYC or sometimes Gardeners’ Question Time from the BBC.

Do you have a ritual? A studio uniform?
I always wish I had a ritual, but I’ve failed to find one. Turning on my music or podcast is a start. But then I usually procrastinate for an hour before I do anything. I have an apron I bought at a dollar store shortly after I graduated from WashU, and when I put it on, I feel like it’s serious work time.

Must-have studio snack?
Leftovers. Yogurt-covered almonds.

What do you do when you’re not in the studio?
I teach part-time at the City University of New York (CUNY)—at Hunter College and at Hostos Community College. I also live in a communal house, so there are responsibilities related to that. I garden, see friends, see art, talk to my family.

What influences your work the most?
My personal sensations and experiences. Occasionally something I read or listen to. The artists who came before me and who taught me.

Favorite WashU memory that you can share with the general public?
Our last week of classes before graduation, my friend and I stayed up all night to paint a portrait of Gene Malson (the shop manager at the time) on the wall of the wood shop to thank him for his guidance.

What’s the best thing you learned as an art student at WashU?
My peers are my best asset. I learned to try new things and to trust myself.

What advice would you give to our students?
Do things in the city outside of school and learn about the place you live. Keep perspective: WashU students receive an incredible education and are extremely well-poised to build a career when they graduate. School can seem stressful, but when you are freaking out about your grades, please remember the world at large and the issues that matter.

What is your favorite thing about St. Louis?
I love driving on the highway in St. Louis and walking through the downtown when no one is around. The city has a strong aura. Its architecture bears its history. There are a lot of talented artists who live there and many artist-run initiatives because rents are relatively affordable.

Tell us something we should know about you that we forgot to ask.
If I had money and time, I’d like to learn to fly a plane.

Alumni work

A square artwork made from marker, crayon, colored pencil, and acrylic, with shades of muted orange with bolder red, blue, and yellow shapes over it. A thin black border surrounds all edges of the work, with white script text on each side.

Oil and water artwork featuring interlocking swirls of navy blue, bright yellow, deep blue, and grayish white. Around the edges, handwriting features the words "socializing," "exchanging ideas," "healthy eating," and "resolving conflicts.

Photo showing an individual wearing black goggles standing on the left side of a sidewalk, one leg raised in the air with the knee bent. Grass and a residential street with a car parked are to the right of the sidewalk, along with a pink flowering tree.