>> A couple of days ago I talked to quilter and textile artist Emily Bellinger. Emily is a Rochester native who grew up in Spencerport and learned to sew from her mom at the age of seven, making outfits and what not for her Barbies and American Girl Dolls. “Then in high school, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer so I got really into trying to make clothes then I realized I really hate measuring, quickly learned I hated it a lot. So I’ve pretty much been sewing for 20 years now.” Over these years Emily has managed to complete two degrees, she received her BFA from Alfred University in 2007 and just recently completed her MFA at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2016.
Emily currently teaches a couple of classes at RIT as an adjunct professor. “ [I’ve been] Teaching mostly drawing classes and in the fall I taught a Craft Business class, so all about business cards and logos and resumes and CVs and adult things, so that you can make money with your art.” Emily also owns a small handmade crafts business, Mmmily Handmade, where she makes all kinds of cute crafts from zipper pouches to pot holders. When I asked her if she had any business goals she gave me a list of what she wants to improve on. Adding more new products to her brand, get her online shop back up and running, and explore new ways other than Etsy to sell her products. “I’ve been mostly doing some smaller scale stuff but I want to get into bigger scale stuff. I’ve been making a couple of backpacks recently, mostly made to order, but I’m thinking I’ll maybe try to make a couple to bring to craft shows because they are pretty well received when I do promote it on Instagram.”
I asked Emily if she could tell her past self any advice what would it be and she gave me a wise response,
“I feel like I was a misguided youth. I think the thing I would do is to go back to freshman college Emily and be like,’ get out of your comfort zone you’re not the hot shit! ’ I feel like art was very underrated in my high school so I feel like I really excelled there but when I got to college I was like, ‘I’m the best thing that has ever happened!’ but then I wasn’t. I feel like I kind of stunted the growth I could have had and I think I’m playing catch up now and really pushing the boundaries. I feel like I always had trouble getting out of my comfort zone and I kind of just do what I knew I would do well at. I think if I just experimented more and pushed myself more I could have probably been a little farther along that I am now.”
Emily has definitely pushed the boundaries of contemporary quilting and is looking to further her exploration wanting to make her own fabric and experiment more with silk screening. She has experimented with silk screening in the past but wants to further this exploration, “Even trying it [silk screening] again but even more of a focus on creating a patterned textile that I then utilize within my quilted compositions so it becomes more and more uniquely individualized. I love contemporary designed fabric and the patterns that are available but I would love to make something entirely original.” She sees her quilts as fabric paintings and compositions, working with improvisational patchwork and giving herself a set of rules to abide by for each piece. This process allows her to have more creative freedom but the creative freedom isn’t overwhelming.
Emily has a couple of contemporary quilters that she looks up to, Ben Venom and Jessica Wohl.
“There is this guy named Ben Venom, first of all actually he’s a man in the quilting world which is more seldom than not. He’s got this really cool kind of tattoo flash aesthetic. He’s using recycled band t-shirts and denim and creating these designs that look like tattoo flash sheets but they’re actually very large scale quilts that he’s making and they’re actually super awesome! He’s probably one of my favorites right now. [Jessica Wohl] she’s kind of more on the underdog side of things but she is actually making a lot of new work recently bringing concept into fiber art and quilting which I think is kind of again bringing it out of that traditional what you think kind of on your grandma’s couch kind of thing. I really appreciate those two artists for sure!”
Emily is always looking to push herself in the contemporary quilting world. I asked her what her dream project would be and she responded with, “I would just love to quilt an entire room! Just the floor, the ceiling, the walls, create this crazy quilted environment!” Personally, I would love to see this become a reality, a very cozy reality indeed.
Curiousity struck me about what she loves and hates about quilting, so I asked her! She loves the fact that quilting isn’t a messy art and feels very relaxed when sitting at a sewing machine with all of the freedom to create a flexible piece of art that can be utilized both as two dimensional and three dimensional. Her least favorite is pinning the quilt, the pain from sitting on the ground for hours and constantly moving her two cats off of the quilt becomes bothersome after a while. Emily loves her cats, has around fourteen cat tattoos and is currently in the process of planning out another one. “I would say if I ranked things that were important to me it would be like: cats, quilting, food, sleeping, and maybe plants, I got really into plants recently.”
Touching back on her teaching career, even though it has just recently begun, I asked her if there was anything her students could do to benefit her more as a teacher, as learning is not just a one-way street. Emily had a lot to say about that, “I wished that some students showed a little more that they cared, more effort. I think that everyone has a better time when people are engaged with each other and they seem to care about what they’re doing. I think that in all of my classes there are at least some people that are like unhappy that they’re there and they’re not putting forth a lot of effort in what they’re working on. Then they have a bad attitude which is going to spill into other people. There is always going to be people with that attitude so I’m trying to take it in stride and not let it negatively affect me. I think I am getting better I used to take it personally and get really upset but I tell them, ‘hey suck it up do your work if you’re not having a great time that’s not my fault. It’s your own attitude, adjust it!’ I wished that everyone was a little more jazzed to be there and be doing what they are doing.”
The art scene in Rochester has changed a lot over the years, I believe for the better, and so does Emily, “I mean I definitely think that the Rochester art scene is more developed that other places and I really appreciate being apart of and I’m excited to have seen it grow since I was younger and the direction it’s going I think it’s definitely going in the right direction. I look forward to seeing it progress and hopefully being a part of it while it does.” She does wish that it was better promoted, as she has seen the same people come to her gallery openings.
If you are an artist looking to grow your business and make money from your art Emily has some advice for you, “I definitely, for me, think that social media and the internet was the biggest thing for me getting myself out there. It’s all self-promotion you can’t really rely on anybody else to do it for you, you just have to do it yourself. It’s more than likely that if you’re starting a business you don’t have any money to hire a promotional agent. It’s pretty easy to post a picture a day or like look what I’m working on, check out this! That’s what I do!”
If you want to see Emily’s work she has her closing reception at the Rochester Brainery tonight from 6 to 8 pm in the back gallery room. “There’s going to be free refreshments. I had a really fun time making again these really contemporary quilted fiber pieces and, not to toot my own horn, but I definitely don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before and it’s a direction I want to continue my work in but even though online promotion is helpful sometimes it’s like you can’t tell how detailed or intricate something is from a photo. You just gotta be there!” If you cannot make it to the closing reception tonight, no worries, Emily also has a pop-up at the Little Button Craft and Press on South Avenue next Saturday, April 8th, from 12 pm until 5 pm. “I’ll have the smaller zipper bags I also have a bunch of cacti and house plants that I re-potted in cute antique jars and stuff that I need to sell because my ever growing plant collection is out of control. I need to send some babies to new homes, it’s hard but I gotta do it!”
Emily Bellinger’s determination and skills as an artist are truly astounding and inspiring! I believe that she will one day become as well known as those she looks up to. I am eager to see more of what she produces and how she goes about push the boundaries of contemporary quilting, making it more than what you are used to seeing on your grandmother’s couch. <<