My #freelancelife True Story: Emma Balder


My #freelancelife True Story: Emma Balder

“I do this art because I feel like I have to. There’s always that dissatisfaction that lingers. Creating helps satisfy the itch.”

Nestled among rows of sinks and stacks of wood in the Globeville Riverfront Art Center (GRACe), a warehouse-turned-artist-community, is Emma Balder—the Denver, Colorado artist behind @balderthanyou.

Emma specializes in fiber art and 3D installations, and has a NO-WASTE policy. She uses donated or found materials and scraps to create her artwork, which is incredibly GORGEOUS! Enter our giveaway this week to win one for yourself!

Recently, while on business in Denver, I got the chance to meet Emma and see her work in person. Hearing her story was so inspiring! This girl makes her living with materials the rest of us throw out! Brilliant!

M: First things first, what is fiber art?
E: That’s a great question. And I’m glad to answer, especially because I’ve never quite thought of myself as a fiber artist. I still very much think of myself as a painter. I think that fiber art accentuates the beauty in fibers, usually in an alternate context. When people think fibers or textiles, they automatically think clothing, or rugs or something utilitarian. But fiber art exists beyond that. It can certainly be aesthetically pleasing, but beyond this it is heavily process based. When I think of fiber art, I think of time, and care and technique and a long, intimate process with material. The tactility of fiber art allows the artist to develop a relationship with the material within that process, and that bond is so beautiful to me.


M: Tell me about some of your background…
E: As long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in fashion and textiles. After college, where I got a painting degree at SCAD, I was awarded a year-long artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Over 60 visual artists from all over the world came to the center to create art, share insights and inspire others and I was really diligent about meeting with all of them.

This was a really formative time for me, and I met so many amazing artists. One of my favorites is Xenobia Bailey, who’s based in Brooklyn and does crochet installations. She’s just a beautiful soul. I also met Steven Westfall, a colorfield painter who’s a little Frank Stella-esque; he encouraged me to move out west where he felt my art would be most appreciated.


M: What an awesome experience that must have been! What inspired you to start creating fiber paintings?
E: While in the residency, I witnessed so much waste, which really bothered me. People would just throw out their used watercolor paper, scraps and even entire paintings. What they thought was trash, I found beautiful. A lot of it was fibrous, which opened my eyes to textiles in a different way than I’d ever thought of before.

Around this time, I was working on an abstract acrylic painting and just getting frustrated. I started cutting it up, rearranging the pieces and sewing them back together in different ways. That’s when I really started to incorporate wasted materials into my work.

Now my fiber paintings are like Rorschach blot tests. I begin with a blank canvas, start arranging fibers and see what happens. What you see in the painting is up to you. It’s a form of pareidolia / matrixing.


M: That’s deep! Is there something specific you draw inspiration from?
E: I mostly get inspired while hiking or just being outside. I like to look at how nature forms itself—really study all the details, colors, layers and intricate line work. And I also like to take the opposite approach and step back to see nature from a far-out perspective. I imagine that I’m in a giant art piece when I’m walking through the woods.

I even made a fiber painting to-go kit that I carry everywhere I go. When inspiration strikes, I can sit down in the woods and create art in the moment. Sometimes it gets really windy up in the mountains though and I have to be careful that the fibers don’t blow everywhere!


M: We’ve all been told that making a living as a fine artist is hard, how do you make it work?
E: Financially, it can be a struggle. But I chose this way of life, and it’s what I want to do. I do a little bit of everything—sell at art markets and shows, create custom work, rent out my large installations to events or festivals, sell original fiber-art greeting cards and whenever I can, I teach workshops on how to fiber paint, so all of that helps too.

M: What are some of the things you love about being a freelancer?
E: It’s nice to be able to just zone in and have space to myself. The flexibility is great. I’m still working one day a week at an antique shop but they let me bring in my work and do it there, which is nice. I am really happy because my work is finally funding my life.

M: Any struggles that you’ve had to overcome?
E: One thing I learned the hard way was the importance of charging people appropriately. You should get paid for your time, even if it’s consulting or researching. That can be really hard to do, when you don’t have something tangible to show for your time. But your time is important and it’s worth something.


M: Really great point, that’s always such a hard topic for creatives to deal with…when to charge and when not to. Another one is criticism. It’s an everyday part of a creative’s life. Any tips on how to deal?
E: Criticism and failure can be tough to deal with, but they’re always going to be there. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes it really sucks. And it burns. My art is my truth and my path; if someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t change that it’s coming from my soul. And just because you fail one time, two times, three times, ten times—it doesn’t matter because there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Someone’s going to say yes. Someone’s going to like your work.

M: You have such a great attitude! That’s an awesome way to look at it!

Isn’t she inspiring, guys??!! Check out more of her and her work in the links below!

(Photo credit: Emma Balder Instagram)

Keep up with Emma Balder:

Support Emma by donating towards an artist residency that she’s participating in this spring!

And watch for our Emma Balder Giveaway on Instagram!