Emily Suñez is a nature and landscape oil painter who works out of her home studio in Pasadena, CA. She has used art as a tool for healing and coping with chronic illness. Her current Desert Moons series explores spiritual connections to the natural world and the interconnectedness of living things.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey?
I grew up in northern Virginia and moved to the Los Angeles area about ten years ago. My career began in education after I finished my master’s degree in teaching, and I taught English as a second language at an elementary school. My career took a major turn when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease not long into my teaching career. At the time, my illness really overwhelmed my body with fatigue and pain, so I was forced to give up teaching. This was a devastating loss for me, but I took some time to find effective medical treatments and eventually had to completely redesign my life in order to manage my symptoms. I went back to school online to study economics and transitioned to working from home in finance.
So where does painting come into the picture? Well, I was really missing the creative aspect of teaching and was looking for an outlet to help me better cope with my symptoms. So I enrolled in a painting class at a studio down the street from me. Signing up for that class turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made -- I totally fell in love with painting and haven’t stopped since! I had taken some painting classes in high school, but I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in 12 years. Making art has not only been incredibly therapeutic, but it’s brought me so much joy and fulfillment. I’m so thrilled to now be showing and selling my paintings. I work out of my home studio in Pasadena, CA.
What themes or ideas do you pursue in your work?
I paint mostly desert landscapes and plants. My series of blooming cacti explores themes of growth, resiliency, and survival. I see a lot of symbolism in these plants in terms of their ability to thrive and beautifully bloom in a harsh desert environment. These themes grew from my own personal struggle with chronic illness, but they felt even more relevant throughout the pandemic.
Through painting really intricate details and studying plants more closely, I found that my connection to nature was really strengthened. My more recent work explores connecting to nature as a form of spirituality and portrays the desert landscape as a sacred space, worthy of reverence and protection. I would hope the viewer of my work is able to feel a sense of peace and connection to the natural world.
Can you tell us about your process and materials? What part of your process do you enjoy the most?
My process usually begins with being out in some desert location or local botanical gardens, while I walk around and take tons of photos. I used to work very closely from photographs, but now I use the photos mostly as inspiration. In my latest work, I’m only using the photo to design my color palette, but am working largely from memory of these locations.
Lately I’ve been painting with oils on wood panel and have been experimenting with leaving the background untouched as natural wood. I really like the earthy, natural feel that this gives my pieces. (Though it can be tricky to avoid getting smudges of paint on the wood background!)
My favorite part of my process is in the teeny tiny details. I actually paint most of my paintings with a size 0 brush, which gives me great control, precision, and intentionality with each stroke. I find the repetition in painting the patterns found in nature to be incredibly meditative and relaxing. I love getting lost in painting hundreds of tiny cactus spines.
[Emily Suñez Springtime Renewal]
Do you actively search for inspiration or wait for inspiration to find you?
I actively search for it! Well, I’m lucky that I know exactly where to find it. Inspiration always strikes when I’m exploring around the desert. I try to get out to Joshua Tree several times a year for this reason. I think we all have that place in nature where we can go to just feel at peace and connected to something bigger than ourselves – the desert is that place for me. It fills me with creative energy, and I’m always anxious to get to work in the studio while all the colors, forms, and textures of the landscape are fresh in my mind.
I go to art galleries and museums for inspiration as well. I’m lucky to live in Los Angeles where there is such a vibrant and diverse art scene. There’s never a shortage of art to see and be immersed in in this city. I’m so happy that many art spaces are opening up again to viewers after being closed for such a long stretch of time.
[Emily Suñez - Hope Blooms During Quarantine]
Music or no music (while you paint)?
Podcasts and audiobooks all the way! I’m a bit of a news junkie, so you’ll often find me listening to NPR or NY Time’s The Daily while I paint. I’m also a big fan of audiobooks – especially biographies and memoirs or anything art related. I love being able to listen & learn while I paint. It’s funny, but some of my paintings make me think of certain people or authors because of the audiobook that I listened to while I was painting them.
What artists do you admire?
Some of my current favorites are Kallen Mikel and Andrea Durfee. Both of these artists, though different in style, explore the connection and interplay between human beings and the natural world. I really enjoy the dreamy, mystical quality of their work, as well as how clearly the beauty of nature shines through in their paintings. Studying their paintings is really inspiring me to try experimenting with incorporating the human figure into my future work.
How do you relax and recharge?
Of course, painting is one of the best forms for relaxation for me, but I guess that’s a given!
Taking long walks or hikes, journaling, sleeping in, playing my crystal singing bowls, meditating, or just enjoying the company of family and friends really recharges me.
[Emily Suñez - Bloom]
Tell us about the future: plans, dreams, anything you’d like to share with the world.
I’m super excited to share that I have a book coming out that I wrote and illustrated! It’s called The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts and Inspiration for Life with Illness , and it will be out on January 4th, 2022. It’s a guided journal to help people cope with both the physical symptoms and the emotional toll that comes with having a chronic illness. It’s filled with color and is illustrated with my botanical watercolor paintings. I’m really excited to get this journal out there and to use my art in a way that can help other people.
I’ll also be launching my Desert Moons collection this summer, so stay tuned for that! This is my series of mini (8x10” and smaller) oil paintings that pair vibrant desert landscapes with the phases of the moon.
Where you can find Emily:
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