Creator Q&A: Emma Percy
In a few words state who you are, your occupation and what it is that you create.
My name is Emma Percy and I’m an
eco-artist who makes zines, handmade paper, prints, drawings, collages, artist books, and sometimes sculptures. I also teach workshops now and again on a variety of nature-based art techniques, as well as workshops on unpacking our relationships to the ecologies we live within. I call myself an eco-artist because all of my work is about ecology and nature, usually in the sense that I’m making art to highlight an aspect of the natural world that I think people should be more attentive to, or making art about a personal relationship I have to plants, critters, or a place. I often use plant fibers and pigments and other bits of nature in my work too.
I’m originally from Buffalo, NY and now I live in Bristol, VT. I’ve had a variety of day jobs over the past few years, but starting on Monday I’ll be working as a farmhand on a small-ish fruit & vegetable farm here in Vermont!
Describe what you see when you look out your window. I live on a rural highway, and in between the house and the road there’s a big drainage area that I’m super curious about – it’s full of last year’s dead plants and I’m excited to see what pops up there this spring & summer. I can tell a lot of it was goldenrod but there are other plants I can’t identify. In the corner of the ditch there’s a drainpipe that runs under the road, funneling water from the stream (which starts in the woods behind the house) into the pond nearby. Across the street there’s the neighbor’s huge lawn speckled with apple trees, and beyond that I can see the ridge of the hillside covered in pines.
What is a podcast, book, or song that is keeping you sane?
How to Survive the End of the World Podcast is currently putting out an “Apocalypse Mini-Series” where they interview people about the hard skills needed for adapting to conditions of collapse, like seed-saving and growing food, knowledge of herbal medicine, creative strategies for housing, and so on. It’s been pretty amazing so far.
What is a word that makes you laugh? I came across the word “strobilus” earlier this week while reading about Equisetum, and that made me smile for some reason.
What is the color of your current mood?
Pale blue-green – not sad, not overly happy or excited, but nicely mellow. What is something that brings you joy? Making food with my partner & sharing a meal together is a simple everyday ritual that brings me a lot of joy. We’ve been making our own bread from scratch too and that always feels great.
COVID-19 aside, what frustrates you? It frustrates me that we Americans can’t seem to get our act together to make sure that A. everyone’s basic needs are taken care of and B. that we’re doing as much as possible to reverse our damage to the climate & environment, or at least mitigate the effects of the damage. I’m not saying it would be easy, but if we stop putting profit & corporate growth above all else, it would be easier than people think. Our politicians and upper-class elites are unwilling to even consider the possibilities because that would require them to release some of their power and privilege. And a lot of common people are duped into thinking the same way, even though they themselves are suffering from the system we currently have.
What do you feel most hopeful about? I’m hopeful about the way that consciousness of social & environmental justice issues seem to be spreading so quickly. People are able to share information and learn from each other faster than ever before, and we can put that power to good use to be in solidarity with one another and bring change to our own communities. Learning about local initiatives around the country and the world to improve conditions for people & the planet gives me hope that we can keep figuring out ways to live well together into the future.
How do you define your creative process - what makes you tick, what is your practice?
For me it’s all about using art as a way to connect to land and other living beings, and to help other people connect too.My creative process almost always starts with spending time in nature and finding out what I want to make work about. I spend a lot of time outside just looking, taking pictures, collecting little bits of experience here and there until a story starts to reveal itself. After that it’s a lot of playing around with materials and images and words – making sketches, testing things out, coming up with a plan for the project, and then making it – leaving plenty of room for improvisation. Sometimes making a piece of art happens quickly and sometimes it takes years. Recently I’ve been returning a lot to old notes and ideas that never went anywhere and seeing what can become of them.
What is something challenging you’ve accomplished as a creator?
Last year I published a zine/workbook called “Otherwise” about connecting to the land on a deeper level & emotionally processing the realities of the climate crisis. It was really difficult to write because I was writing about a process that I myself was actively going through, that I’m always going through. I had to face a lot of my own fear and anxiety that I’d been repressing to get to the heart of what I wanted to say & what I wanted to advise folks to try. After I wrote the draft it took me six months to work up the courage to look at it again and edit it, but I ended up being mostly happy with it and I’ve gotten great feedback on it from readers.
Name an artist or creator you draw influence from?
There are so many creators I admire and whose work inspires me, but one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the author Robert MacFarlane. I read his book Landmarks a few months ago and keep returning to it. It’s about the relationship between language and landscape, about how the closer people are to their land, the more rich language they have to describe it - specifically the rural people of the British Isles. He unpacks work by a number of other authors who’ve written about landscape and describes the resonance of their work so beautifully, as well as the journeys he undertook in doing his research. The book also includes glossaries of words from local dialects that describe such amazing particularities of landscape.
How has COVID-19 affected you? Have you changed your process during quarantine? I had a solo show planned for the end of April that has had to be postponed indefinitely, and my plans to teach art workshops locally have been put on hold as well. My creative production has definitely slowed down – I’ve been focused on taking care of myself, reading, and working on a couple small side projects. I had a different day job earlier in the year where I was in contact with the public all day, and I quit a couple weeks after COVID-19 really hit the US hard because it became too much to deal with. I was seriously afraid for my physical health and my mental health was suffering for it. But luckily I haven’t gotten sick, and no one close to me has, so I’m grateful for that.
In your opinion what do you think the “new normal” should look like for our global society?
The massive flaws in America’s social safety net are laid bare right now. Most Americans can’t afford to miss work for a few weeks, our healthcare system is a mess, business owners & landlords are willing to sacrifice people’s lives to make money, and our country’s leaders don’t prioritize science or public health. This all needs to change. I also think we need to realize that it’s okay to slow down sometimes to care for ourselves as a society and to care for the planet. Some people have pointed out that the shutdown provides a glimpse of what it could look like to change our ways of living to mitigate the effects of climate change. Of course, it isn’t all about individuals staying home, but our way of life doesn’t have to be go-go-go all the time.
What do you look forward to most once quarantine restrictions are lessened?
I’m definitely looking forward to being able to hang out with friends in person, and hopefully organizing a camping trip this summer or fall with some folks!
In closing, describe or reflect on an aspect of nature that inspires you.
It amazes me that seeds know when it’s time to start growing. They wait patiently until the conditions are just right to take off. After a long gray winter, watching plants pop up seemingly out of nowhere in the spring brings me so much joy every year, and reminds me that everything happens in cycles and waves.