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What’s in my Sketchbook? with Emily Brooks

A Look Inside the Unpublished Works of an Artist

A look inside any artist’s sketchbook is a treat, but even more so with Brooks, as her creative process lends her to often discarding preliminary sketches after the project has come to completion. Nonetheless, we dug into some of her sketchbooks, ready for a glimpse inside her world.

Typically, Brooks spends some time researching and coming up with a few different concepts that she wants to incorporate together. In this piece, for example, she knew that she wanted to incorporate typography, while also including the quokka. From there, Brooks plans it out in her head and then starts the sketching process. “I don’t actually go through a whole bunch of sketches,” she said. “Usually, by the time I’m ready to put pencil to paper, it’s already kind of conceptualized.”

Additionally, in order for Brooks to ensure the piece involves all of the ideas and components she wants, she will write down a list of every item she wants to include, or if she is working with a client, she will keep a list of everything they want to be incorporated into the piece. Again, for Brooks, she prefers a game plan and a full concept in place before the pen touches the paper.

“This is one of the rare chalking sketches that I’ve actually held on to because they get so beat up by the time I’m done using them, as you can tell with all of the chalk that is all over this,” said artist Emily Brooks as she brushed some of the remnant chalk dust off the paper. The quokka, known as the happiest animal in the world, became the subject of this piece, inspired by Brook’s travels to Australia, the region where this extremely rare animal is native.

The sketch you see here is for a mural Brooks completed earlier in 2022 at Reese & Riley’s Bistro Bar in Moorhead for their new event space called Reed’s. You’ll notice that the sketch is conceptualized “backward,” because the mural has to be painted on the glass from the inside in order to be viewed through the glass on the outside. The sketches that Brooks gives to her clients are usually really rough outlines. “I tell them that ahead of time—I’m not going to pour all of my time into just the sketch; I want to do that for the final piece.”

Brooks loves challenging herself by learning new techniques and incorporating new mediums into her work. The Reed’s Events logo, for example, Brooks used both digital and handdrawn means to create the design. One of her end strategies, though, is to paint and hand-draw works that can be made into digital pieces as it offers more ways for the piece to be enjoyed in other printed mediums, like her colorful North Dakota drawing, which was later made into a sticker. The other side of that coin is to create works for the community to enjoy; her angel wings creation at Silver Lining Creamery is a great example.

“I love to see the way people interact with my work,” Brooks said. “It just makes me so excited when I see [my work] pop up in like someone’s profile picture or in a magazine because it’s giving me a visual of how people are interacting with it.”

For Brooks, just the thought of her work being in someone’s day-to-day life and giving them some joy and emotion is what it’s all about. “If it adds to their day in some way, that makes me so happy,” she said.

This ‘North Dakota’ creation is a real treat; not only did Brooks create this design in both hand-drawn and digital means, but she also collaborated with her husband Bill, who is a world-traveling geographer. The end goal for this design was to create a magnet. Brooks’ process began with sketching out the typography, then creating a digital version of that. Then she and Bill collaborated on the mapping portion of the design. Once the design was fully digital, recoloring it was an easy process (programs like Illustrator have a “recolor” option that allow the user to recolor an entire design with any given color palette). Brooks inevitably settled on green, as she felt it fit the best, plus it’s Bill’s favorite color. The final design is now available in a variety of mediums, from t-shirts and sweatshirts to stickers.

This rough sketch was for a large mural Brooks created for the Nines in Detroit Lakes, which was installed on the back of their store. Although not the final version, this was the final sketch Brooks made for the project, but right before the installation began, the owner decided on Monarch butterfly wings rather than angel wings, so the final mural design evolved from this final sketch. “Monarchs are such a [big] part of this area,” she said. “I love the way it ended up turning out.” To see the installation, you can visit the Nines in Detroit Lakes or see it on Brooks’ Instagram @taeamade.

New ideas and concepts are constantly floating into Brooks’ mind, yet her goal is to allow more space and time to develop those ideas. “It’s one reason why I kind of want to start sketching more,” she said. “I’m trying to carve out more time in my life to just play around with art a little bit, because usually, I’ve been so busy with community involvements and my family that when I work, it’s very focused. So when I work, I get in, I get the project done and then I have to get back to my life. I’m trying to carve out some time to just play and explore and learn the digital side of art as well.”

Flipping through a few of her other stacks of sketches, Brooks mentioned her love of drawing birds and having taken birdwatching classes, which I had no idea was even something that was offered. Essentially, the classes enable students to better observe birds and identify their species through characteristics like markings and size. Brooks simply draws what she loves, which is something I have no doubt every artist can relate to.

“We love maps,” Brooks said, as Bill introduced his field of work of geography. Maps heavily influence both Bill and Emily’s lives and make traveling across the world especially unique. This sketch is of a photo Brooks took of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and another of the Sainte Chapelle. She doesn’t necessarily have a set order for when or when not to sketch, or what or what not to sketch; her mind is open to anything, and if something catches her attention, she will sketch it. And in a place like France, inspiring views are around every corner.

The last sketch is one of my personal favorites, because it’s a peek into the yesteryears of Brooks’ life in art. This one was sketched while she was in high school, the signature showing her maiden name before Fargo-Moorhead knew her as Emily Brooks. This drawing is why I started this “What’s in My Sketchbook?” series, because it sheds a spotlight on drawings that too often are left forgotten in a stack of old notebooks. Then, when an artist begins to publish works within the community and becomes a local celebrity, the works of their early life become even more fascinating.

For Emily Brooks, she loves it all. She loves to get her hands dirty and go all out on industrial, gritty-urban-graffiti style work, and she also loves the delicate and simple—both are truly remarkable, and I think I speak for the whole Fargo-Moorhead community when I say we can’t wait to see what she will create next.

To learn more about Emily Brooks and her work, visit taeamade.com or find her on Instagram @taeamade

Written by Josiah Kopp

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