You’ll Wish You Were There: A Chat with Emily May Rose


Last Saturday, I joined Toronto-based artist Emily May Rose at the opening night of her first ever solo show “Wish U Weren’t Here”. We smoked cigarettes and talked about shitty humans and cute critters, while discussing the young artist’s creative process. For those of you who are unfamiliar: Emily is a recent OCAD graduate, and though she refers to herself as an illustrator, a quick look around her gallery will reveal zines, pins, paintings, t-shirts and art installations she’s created. Refreshing to speak to such a humble and grounded individual— get to know the girl.

I heard you graduated from OCAD recently, tell us a bit about your final thesis project and how, if at all, it lead to conceptualizing your first solo exhibit?

E.M.R. – My thesis project was called “Living Derangements” and it was about issues in rental homes [in Toronto]. By then I was already kinda doing the animal thing but my teacher was very adamant that I don’t do animals… like he gave me limits on them. He was making me draw people and do more human-type concepts. Which was good! I mean, I managed to sneak animals into at least half of them anyway, but it kind of forced me to expand my drawing repertoire and it really lent itself to how I do the work with animals now. Things like their settings, and just the surroundings and objects and stuff, those kinda came from me doing my thesis because I was drawing a bunch of apartments and neighbourhoods and buildings and cities back then.

All creatives hit a wall sometimes. When that happens, do you fight or flight? Do you sit at the drawing board until you are able to output something you are happy with, or do you walk away in order to re-approach the project later? Explain your process.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone that relies on inspiration or for it to “come to me”. Basically, how I approach illustration, is like, I don’t need to be inspired, I just have to keep working at it and I’ll figure it out, kind-of-thing. I think of them more as puzzles than realizations…

In this puzzle, do you think that there’s one solution every time?

I think there’s multiple answers every time, so what I wanna do is find the best one. If I have to do an illustration for whatever subject I’m working on and I’m at a complete loss and there’s nothing that comes to mind, I’ll just sit there and mind map it and sketch for hours until I figure out what the best idea is. Even if I have an idea and it seems really cool and I wanna paint it right away…I know that if it comes out of nowhere, it definitely needs work. So, I’ll still go through that same process then.

When you envision your “success” as an artist, what’s the first picture that your mind paints?

I think my goal, to be a successful artist in my own eyes, will just be that I’m at a point where I can just kinda do stuff like this all the time. Just paint what I want to paint, draw what I want to draw, just put it out there in the world and have people enjoy it as they will and not have to rely on taking corporate clients or have to deal with companies… That’s the dream.


My personal belief is that collaboration is the Holy Grail of creativity. Have you collaborated much as an illustrator, and do you agree that its important to work with others?

 I definitely agree because the way that I work, I try to make it really relatable to people. And even if I’m doing something that’s a real personal theme to me it might not be the same meaning that someone else gets out of it or the same backstory they think of when they see a scene like that. All my pieces come from conversations and relationships with friends. I never really get the chance to work on my personal work with other people but there are other artists I’ve worked with where our styles work so well together that we draw in tandem with each other: my mural with Heidi Burton, for example. We both figured out new things about our styles by working together and trying to meld our styles. Collaborative large scale projects like that are always fun because even if you aren’t completely compatible as artists there are ways that you can make it work.

If reincarnated into one of Toronto’s notorious pests, what would you pick?

I wanna say racoon but they’ve got such a bad rep. Everyone hates racoons. Like I’ll be working on pieces in public of them and people will come up to me and just tell me all the reasons they hate raccoons. People just hate them. Yeah, they fuck around but the way I look at racoons, I have them doing human things. So, they’re like playing dice and drinking beers and smoking pot and making noise and stealing stuff, right? They’re doing human shitty things, so really the raccoon shitty things aren’t that bad; humans are way worse.


Catch Emily’s exhibit at Northern Contemporary Gallery (1266 Queen St W), on display until September 20th, 2016.

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