Hi, I'm Emily Traynor.
I'm a designer and illustrator based out of the vibrant city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and current President of Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators.
I design and illustrate for a variety of purposes, including magazines, greeting cards, books, logos, personal commissions, and others. I've led the creative direction and branding of multiple community programs in Pittsburgh, and some of my illustration clients include Pittsburgh City Paper, "Brain, Child" magazine, The Atlantic, and The Link Magazine (Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science).
I enjoy connecting with people, making music, and most things that are blue.
This week marks local artist Emily Traynor’s first time collaborating with Pittsburgh City Paper. I spotted her work on the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrator’s website a few weeks ago while searching for an artist to hire for this year’s Summer Guide. I was immediately drawn to her whimsical pieces, especially one of her colorful self-promotional paintings of a summer sky, the inspiration for this week’s City Paper illustrations.
You can see Emily’s completed artwork on both this week’s cover, and the cover of our Summer Guide pullout, inserted inside this week’s issue. You can also see pieces of her cover illustrations scattered throughout the entire Summer Guide section — they really liven up the entire piece and her upbeat color palette was so fun to work with. Can we hurry up already and get some of that great summer weather, so we can have as much fun as the girl flying the kite on the cover?
We caught up with Emily over email after she was finished with this week’s illustrations and got her thoughts on Pittsburgh’s art scene and what she’s most looking forward to this summer.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Greenfield, which is a hidden gem of a neighborhood. The location within the city is amazing — a mile or two from just about everything. My boyfriend and I just bought a house here in November; before that, we lived in Lawrenceville for a few years.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
After I grew out of my obligatory childhood phase of wanting to be a lion when I grew up, I distinctly remember being torn between being a veterinarian or an artist. I remember compromising that I would first become a veterinarian, and then go back to school for art because that seemed like the “stable” thing to do. And I did start on that route, attending the University of Pittsburgh, beginning as a biology major. But I eventually realized that my love of animals didn’t quite translate into a love of rigorous scientific studies, so I switched over to Pitt’s studio arts major which propelled me forward in my artistic exploration.
What’s your favorite thing about Pittsburgh’s art scene?
What I love most about Pittsburgh is what I think makes it such a dynamic art scene. Pittsburgh has a lot of personality and a ton of character. Each neighborhood has a completely different feel than the next, and you can get the best of both worlds when it comes to city living versus small town, depending on what part of the city you’re in. My favorite neighborhood has always been the Strip District — talk about personality and character! I could walk up and down Penn and Smallman all day long and always manage to find a cafe or shop I haven’t been in before, with so many cultures all around and live street music on every corner. That balance between big-city energy and small-town feel is a perfect incubator for creativity.
Your cover illustrations are a lovely mixture of ink and watercolors. Is that always your preferred medium?
I’ve always tended toward drawing over painting, and love how even just a simple black-and-white line drawing can come across. But, as you can see, I love color — and over the past few years, I’ve developed a certain watercolor palette that is a common thread between my work. I find watercolor charming, as it can be bright but soft, and less of it can be so much more striking as opposed to covering the entire page. White space and watercolor work well together, and I often like playing with negative space on the paper.
Has anyone ever gotten a tattoo of your artwork? I’ve noticed that watercolor tattoos are really trendy right now.
Actually, yes — I posted an illustration on social media and, a few months later, came across a friend’s picture of it tattooed on their body. It’s a wonky drawing of a cassette tape unraveling, and the tape is a line of continuous tangled rainbow. It was a bit of a surreal moment suddenly seeing your artwork permanently inked into someone’s skin — and incredible to think they loved it so much to literally make it a part of themselves.
Your art is so whimsical and happy. Do you listen to upbeat music while you work?
It depends on the part of the process on which I’m focusing at the time. During moments when I’m concentrating most, such as brainstorming, sketching and drawing, I find that I need to keep distractions to a minimum, and often times need silence — or at least music with no lyrics that I’ll be tempted to sing along with! In other phases, though, I’ll switch between music, podcasts and, lately, I’ll sometimes throw Buffy the Vampire Slayer on in the background.
What’s something that someone would be surprised to find out about you after looking at your artwork?
Some may find it surprising that as much as I love creating artwork, my biggest love is singing. My boyfriend is a wonderfully talented musician, and lately we’ve been working on writing our own music. We plan to eventually start performing out in venues — aiming for sooner rather than later!
What’s your dream assignment?
I don’t know that I have a dream assignment. I love being able to create art and be creative as my day job — so, in that way, all assignments are dream assignments. Though, of course, some are more enjoyable than others — like this one for the Summer Guide!
Speaking of which, our Summer Guide lists tons of concerts, art shows and festivals happening around town over the next few months. What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I always look forward to the summer here — Pittsburgh comes alive! I try to hit up as many outdoor events as I possibly can, though I think that Pittsburgh’s outdoor movie screenings are my favorite. Picnicking with friends on a hill at night while watching a movie on a giant outdoor screen is too cool. Also, Dave and Andy’s [ice cream].
Have any big projects coming up?
I’ve been working on developing a line of greeting cards, which I can happily report did quite well in a recent artist market. I still only have a few designs, so my goal is to expand upon my designs and success so far, and keep the ball rolling. It’s exciting to create my own product and nurture a new sort of process.
Where can our readers purchase some of your artwork?
I have my greeting cards and giclée art prints available on Etsy: www.emilytraynor.etsy.com. I also encourage people to contact me if they would like to commission my work — my contact information can be found on my website, www.emilytraynor.com.
© 2016 Pittsburgh City Paper
INTERVIEW : EMILY TRAYNOR
Interviewed by Ryan Stamerro for THE KIND ARTIST
MARCH 18, 2015
“I do love the sense that I get of art being much more accessible and more inclusive. I hope that accessibility continues to expand.”
Emily Traynor is an illustrator based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a focus on fantasy and Greek mythology, she creates vibrant, beautiful watercolor works full of depth and life. Shes lived in several places, honing her art skills and learning by being surrounded by a family of great artists. After spending time carving wood with chainsaws, she moved to the steel city and hasn't looked back. With the benefit of having a studio in her house, she spends hours creating whimsical pieces that anyone can enjoy. Here we discuss hiking, movies, and family.
Hello Emily Traynor!
Hey there Ryan! How’s it going?
It’s going well. I just threw on ‘The Most Beatiful Songs in The World’ playlist on Spotify as my interview music. Starts off with Bon Iver, can’t complain about that. How is your day going?
Oh yes, I never complain about Bon Iver either. My day is going well, though a bit insanely freezing outside. I definitely cranked up the heat today.
A cool 12 degrees out.
Sheesh. That’s alright. I’ve been keeping toasty by completely reorganizing my apartment. I recently got back from a Christmas/New Years vacation and found myself unable to focus so I’ve been spending a lot of energy there. Half way done!
Do you work from your apartment as well?
Yeah, I’ve set up my studio in a nice little room. There’s a tree outside the window and in the summer you can hear crickets, which I find comforting and rare in a city. That’ll be the last room I tackle for organization, and I believe I’ll be calling in a super-organized friend to help. I think she’ll agree as long as I compensate her with wine. I’m not a naturally organized person, but after a while the clutter really starts to pull my mind away from what I want to be focusing on. The way I’ve been envisioning it, my studio will be the climax of my organizational efforts I’ve been building up to all week, culminating in an explosion of inspiration! Or so I’ve been telling myself.
Sometimes, all it takes is a glass of wine to get some help! So, you work in Pittsburgh, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Chambersburg, PA, which is relatively close to Gettysburg. It’s a large town surrounded by lots of gorgeous farmland, with Caledonia State Park nearby. The Appalachian Trail runs through there. It’s pretty beautiful.
Have you ever hiked the trail?
Only a couple of very small portions, but my boyfriend and I plan to hike the entire trail at some unspecified time in the future. We lived in Vermont for a little while about two years ago, and while we were there my friend was hiking the trail and stayed with us for a couple of days. After that we ended up hosting another through-hiker and decided it was something we should really experience for ourselves. The idea of living and traveling on foot in the forest with just a few personal items sounds magical to me.
I’m sure very inspiring as well. Being surrounded by all this incredible land must have been an amazing thing. Did you discover art for yourself at a young age, growing up near Gettysburg?
I can’t say I ever discovered art, since I know I was surrounded by it my entire life. So many people in my family are incredible artists. My mom used to create these beautiful cards that she would emboss herself, and had an entire room filled with stamps she would use. I used to spend hours just going through and looking at each one, using up all of her ink to test them out. She was actually really supportive of that. I used to love to watch my dad draw, and a lot of his sisters are incredible artists as well. I always looked up to my sister’s creativity as well, and she’s the one that first got me into painting. So many people in my family are also musicians in one way or another so I’ve always been surrounded by inspiring people with so much talent.
You sort of fell into it, if you will.
Was it always ink & watercolor that attracted you?
No way, that’s been a relatively recent development that I’ve evolved into after exploring many different media in college. When I was really young I often carried a big drawing pad around with me to mess around with pencils and pastels. If I ever got bored at home I would either paint with acrylic or pull out a giant box full of craft supplies. I used to spend hours making miniatures. I’ve just always loved working with my hands in one way or another. Actually, when I was living in Vermont I apprenticed with a chainsaw carving artist for a while, Barre Pinske. We used hydraulic chainsaws and I carved big mushrooms while he carved giant bears and made other beautiful works of art out of wood and resin. I felt pretty badass about that.
Thats incredible. Wouldnt the mushroom fall apart as you were taking this aggressive machine to it?
Ha! Well, I guess I should have specified that I carved mushrooms out of wood, and not actual mushrooms themselves. But really, the sculptures were very sturdy. I’d burnish and paint colorful spots on their tops as well. They were quite whimsical. I kept a giant one for myself that I painted to look like the Super Mario mushroom.
(laughs) I just picture a girl holding a chainsaw carving some curious, colossal mushroom out in the middle of the forest. Now, you put it into perspective. So, from wood carvings to watercolor. Do you enjoy switching it up or do you think you’ve found your niche?
I definitely enjoy switching things up, but I’ve found something I want to focus on for the long haul. Drawing has always been my first love when it comes to art, and I’ve always wanted to make a career out of it as an artist and illustrator. I like creating illustrations that tell some sort of fantastical story, which is why my most recent project has been creating modernized versions of Greek gods. So far I’ve illustrated nine 6×6’ portraits, and plan to keep expanding to at least 16 to create this large, tiled ‘Brady Bunch’ sort of effect. I’m going to also make some enormous portraits, one of Gaia, and I’ll find inspiration along the way for the next one. After that, I want to take on the Zodiac signs.
You definitely use color to your advantage when making these whimsical portraits. Where do your ideas or inspirations come from?
That’s a tough one. I love and am interested in so many different styles of artwork, design, typography, and just color in general. I’m always taking pictures of things that I find out in the world, even if it’s just a flyer on a lamp post. Living in Pittsburgh is great for that. There are so many creative people and experiences around here, and even old colorful paint chipping off of old architecture is inspiring.
When an idea comes to you, what’s your process for starting and completing a piece?
It’s different for each one, but I often start by making a rough sketch to make sure my layout will work and take some reference photos if needed. The majority of my time is spent figuring out the color pallet. Sometimes this will take a couple of days to get just right but, to me, the color pallet is so important to get perfect. The drawing itself can either go extremely fast, or if I can’t quite find that ‘flow’, it can take quite a bit of time. That’s why inspiration is so important to me in order to create something that really has energy behind it.
And create something you’re proud of as well.
Yes, that is very true.
I was in a gallery today, and they had a TV setup where an artist had a visual piece being shown. It was some sort of wave of light moving in all different directions. Do you think art is headed into a different direction with the invention of new technologies? What do you hope the art scene looks like in ten or fifteen years?
Oh, wow. That’s a mega question. I’ve never really felt that art is an entity that moves in any certain direction, but instead is something that emerges from us as we take in and make sense of our surroundings and thoughts. I can’t say I hope for a specific art scene in one way or another in ten or fifteen years, but I do love the sense that I get of art being much more accessible and more inclusive. I hope that accessibility continues to expand.
Art is all around us. When we look left, look right, up, or down, art is everywhere. I think it’s the people who notice it and find the beauty in it that make a difference. Accessibility is a great word to bring into play.
That is a lovely way to put it! Thank you. I hope that’s not just my singular experience of it.
Certainly not. So, what’s on the horizon for you?
Moving forward through my Greek god works, and seeing where that takes me into new explorations of mythology. I like the idea of modernizing ancient fantasy. This year I’ve decided to enter many more gallery shows, and am working on revamping my website as well as branching out with greeting cards in addition to my limited edition prints. I have a lot to organize in my mind, but I’m feeling quite hopeful and inspired about it all.
Any shows coming up you’d like to let readers know about?
Nothing is official at the moment, but I hope to unveil a giant oeuvre of modern Greek gods in the near future. I’ll be sure to let you know when the big day is!
Sounds great! Can’t wait to see. Emily, let’s finish with a top 3.
A top 3, eh? What shall it be of?
I’m thinking, Top 3 favorite movies of the last decade. Can you handle that?
Absolutely, though you’ll have to give me a minute to recall. First is definitely Mary & Max. Incredible claymation and story.
Never saw it!
It’s tragic and whimsical all at once with a killer art style. I highly recommend it! After that I have to lump the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into one entity and put that as #2. And then I just can’t help but say the second-to-last Harry Potter film. It’s just so good. Anything close to your top 3?
Anything Harry Potter is pretty great. I’ll say thats a solid top 3. Its been great, Emily!
Thank you so much, Ryan! I really appreciate your interest in my work and having me for this interview. I’m honored.
All work Copyright (c) Emily Traynor. You can check out more from Emily on her website.
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