Emily Balsley's Residency at the Madison Bubbler

last updated 17 January 2020

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Emily Balsley is an illustrator and maker driven by her passion to create. Whether drawing, painting, or crafting, Emily embraces experimentation and loves to explore new mediums and methods. While she can usually be found in her colorful studio in Madison, Wisconsin, Emily recently packed up her materials and brought her creative expertise to the community as Artist-in-Residence at the Madison Bubbler. We were delighted to catch up with Emily about the importance of art in community and the wide variety of projects she explored during her residency.


We’d love to hear more about the residency you recently completed at The Bubbler! Your residency at was titled, Joy in All the Things—can you tell us a bit more about that and the projects and themes you focused on during your time there?

When I was deciding on the focus of my residency, drawing and illustration was the obvious choice, as that is what I am primarily known for. But when I really started dissecting myself as an artist, I am so much more than an illustrator. I love learning new skills and exploring new mediums. I often take creative workshops that have little to do with drawing, such as whittling and punch-needle. So, when it came time to decide on my residency title, Joy in All the Things was all-encompassing…allowing me the freedom to explore whatever I wanted during my two-month stint! Also, Joy is my middle name, and it is something I try to infuse in all my art - so finding a way to incorporate it into the name of my residency just felt right!

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In addition to hosting a variety of workshops covering a range of topics, I created two community murals during my residency. The first was a moveable wall where I painted a whimsical scene depicting lots of creatures reading books and enjoying their time at the library. The mural was painted in thick black outline, with the intention of having The Bubbler visitors color it in with paint markers. It was truly wonderful to watch the mural evolve, becoming more and more colorful by the day. Even the themes that were drawn were beautiful - full of love, compassion and peace. Even though the original plan was to paint over the wall for the next Resident, my mural was very well-received, and now the library has decided to permanently install the piece in the children’s area of the library. My heart is full!

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The second community mural was inspired by my Artists’ Meet-Up workshop. I asked all participants to create a drawing of what they would see if looking into a window from the outside. It could be realistic or pulled from their imagination! All drawings were created on the same size black paper with paint markers. What these artists didn’t know was that I was planning on painting a city scape mural on the wall outside The Bubbler in which I was going to incorporate all of their window drawings into the scene. When all was said and done we had a cool, collaborative mural that incorporated forty artists’ work. The final reveal was during the Madison Fall Gallery Night, which made it even more exciting!

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Mentally and creatively speaking, how did expanding your artistic process into the community compare to working in your studio at home?

This was one aspect of the residency I was particularly excited about. Though I love having a home studio and am fortunate that I have a space to call my own, it can often be quite lonely and isolating. And, now that my residency is over, my biggest takeaway was definitely the fabulous connections I made with the community. All the wonderful conversations meant that I didn’t have quite as much time to create my art that I had originally anticipated, but it was worth it. We not only talked about my art, but what art and creativity means to the various Bubbler visitors. From a grandfather who was trying to connect to his 7-year old grandson through art, to a woman who was writing and illustrating a book of her own, blending her love of science and art, to kiddos visiting Madison for a few days and chose to hang out in The Bubbler in lieu of going to the local museums - I had so many meaningful conversations! My heart was full. It made me realize how much impact an artist can have on their community.

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You hosted many fun and interactive workshops during your residency! Can you tell us a bit more about your favorite ones? How did you decide on different activities to incorporate?

Since my residency was all-encompassing, I offered a wide-variety of workshops, both for young and young-at-heart. For the older crowd, I hosted an artist meet-up, connecting members of the Madison artist community. I offered a Basic Hand-lettering workshop, a panel discussion focusing on the Business of Illustration, and a Drop-In Draw session. For families, I had a Shape-ly Creatures workshop where we created different characters using basic cardboard shapes and paint. We also put a spin on the Exquisite Corpse game by creating our own 3D Mix-n-Match creatures utilizing boxes that could be stacked and spun. And, since the latter part of my residency landed on Halloween, I hosted two drop-in Halloween workshops which included block-printed treat bags, silly masks and colorful party pumpkins. We had a blast! In addition to the public workshops, I also taught a few youth outreach workshops which is something I’d love to continue. Though my workshops were quite varied, they all had a similar theme - to bring people together through art.

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What would your biggest piece of advice be to fellow artists who are considering a residency or other ways to get involved with the creative community in their area?

Apply! Don’t hesitate. Though I was familiar with The Bubbler residency program and had participated in workshops and events hosted by previous residents, I hadn’t actually considered it for myself because I didn’t think I did enough “fine art”. But when the folks at The Bubbler suggested I apply, I thought, “why not?”. As I filled out the application, I started questioning if I was qualified enough for it, since I didn’t have much teaching or community engagement experiences. But low-and-behold, I was accepted! And even though I was terrified of putting myself out there and trying something completely new, I was open to the experience - and I’m so glad I was, as it ended up being a truly special moment in my career thus far. So, my advice would be to just go for it!

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While you did not specifically focus on children’s illustration during your time at The Bubbler, what did you learn that you will take with you when working on future kidlit projects?

Silly is where it’s at! Kids have such wild imaginations and at The Bubbler, they totally inspired me! I’m definitely going to try to infuse more silliness into my art. :-)

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View Emily’s full portfolio here.


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