Originally an East Coast Jew before making her way down to the Twin Cities, Emily Frank turned her passion for painting into her own self-made business. As a former English teacher and self-taught artist, she never imagined she would turn her hobby into a career. Learn about her journey as a mom and painter in this week’s Who The Folk?!
Are you originally from the Twin Cities area?
No, I’m not. I met my husband in college on the East Coast, which is where I grew up, and eventually, we made our way back here.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New York, but the suburbs, just north of New York City.
How did you get your start with painting?
Painting was mostly a therapeutic outlet for me, I would say. I just enjoyed the peace and quiet that came with the physical act of painting and I found that very soothing. And then about a year and a half or two years ago, a friend encouraged me to go public with my artwork and try to make some sales.
I started by showing my work at the Fulton Farmer’s Market a couple times during the summer last year. And then that just led to different opportunities; my work was up in a few Dunn Brothers in Minneapolis, and I returned to the farmer’s market a few times this summer. And since I also do commissions, the farmer’s market and word-of-mouth are basically just a really good way to get exposure. So since then, as my name has gotten passed around, I’ve gotten a lot more commissions and custom work. Now I’m doing a combination of custom work and then my own motivations and work that I’ll sell at the farmer’s markets or on social media.
So you didn’t always think you’d pursue art professionally?
No, absolutely not. I’m completely self-taught. I studied English as an undergrad, and went to grad school in education, and was a teacher for 10 years of English. But this is just a passion that I’ve been able to develop the past number of years. And I feel really grateful that there’s a market for this passion.
What do you think draws you specifically to painting?
I think in part, the aesthetic experience is meaningful to me. I like the movement of getting up and creating—especially when I work on bigger things, that really do require more movement. And abstract things in particular really have me all over the place, and using different props and hands to create the art. So that piece of it, that draws me to it, and then also just focusing on the creation of something I think is also very meaningful to me.
I’m a mother of three little kids, and I love being a mother. I think there are a lot of similarities between motherhood and painting, quite frankly, because it’s this idea that you’re creating something that you’re going to put out into the world to be independent and live somewhere else, and you’re preparing something to present to the world. I think that it’s very similar, so as my kids get a little bit older, I see painting as a way to continue that parenting and nurturing, which to me feels very natural.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I think in a lot of my painting and the act of painting itself, and the subject matter, I’m just seeking calm, so I’m inspired by simplistic concepts that help create calm. Not boring, and not plain, just simple. I don’t think simple has to be boring. So I paint a lot of boats on water, and I paint a lot of barns and very basic house structures. But then I work on the details and the color and the texture—a lot of my paintings have a lot of thick paint and layers, the idea being that you can take something simple and you can make it really rich with detail and personality and feeling. So it’s not boring, it’s sort of simple and peaceful. And I think that’s what inspires me, is to create that sense of peace and connection. So that the viewer, when looking at the painting, feels that same sense of peace.
What other sorts of things do you like to do when you’re not painting?
My kids are still pretty young. I have a 3-year-old who I’m with a lot of the time, doing typical mom things. So that very much kind of dominates my life. But on a purely recreational level, I love to read also. I think right now my life is pretty dominated by parenting and painting.
I didn’t realize your youngest was so young.
Yeah, so one of the biggest challenges of painting is finding time to do it!
Have you ever had any connection to your art to Judaism?
In a much more spiritual way, maybe, I think I probably seek the same thing from painting as I do from Judaism. To me, at the heart of work I’ve done in synagogue or Torah study, is understanding our connection to other people of the past and experiences of the past; I think when I’m creating art, I’m seeking to connect to my viewers and create something that really illuminates our humanity, that we’re not all so different. In that way, what I’m creating here is very much what I’m looking for in my Judaism, that sense of connection and just being human.
Which I think also leads me to something else, which is really important. When someone buys my artwork, I want it to mean something to them. I don’t want someone to just buy something for the sake of buying it, but they should see it and connect to it in some way. Because that’s the point, that’s the magic of art, whether it be literature or painting. So it should mean something to you, when you look at it, and make you feel something. That’s an important piece of the picture to me.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
The combination of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I think the idea in Judaism of being able to reflect on your year and decide how you’re going to approach the next year is a very meaningful value and way to see life. We’re always growing and we’re always changing and we’re always reflecting, and Judaism gives us a chance to keep trying, to fail sometimes, and try again. And to me that’s something that’s very special about Judaism.
Favorite Jewish food?
There are a few, but I was talking to someone about it this morning, so I’m going to go with gefilte fish. I love gefilte fish. With horseradish! Preferably the red horseradish too, because it’s such a pretty color.