Although junior Emme Van Vorhis lives in Davis, her mind remains in Atlantis.
Depicting creatures such as octopuses, jellyfish and whales in her watercolor paintings, she already has exhibited her undersea work in an art gallery and currently is part of the Pence Gallery’s art program Teens Take Charge, all at the age of 16.
“Davis has such a large art community. Teens Take Charge seems so fun because I can meet new people who enjoy the same things I do, and get a chance to show off my art,” Van Vorhis said. “Art calms me down and excites me at the same time because I can create something that has never been created before.”
Throughout the four-month course, participants will create public art pieces, visit museums and meet with local artists. The program will culminate in an art festival, a chance for the teens to exhibit their work and all they’ve learned through the course.
Pence Gallery executive director Natalie Nelson sees great promise in the program’s ability to help further other maturing artists’ careers.
“Most people … may not have had the opportunity to see an artist in their studio or ask them questions about their own career path,” Nelson said. “They’ll be able to see that artists come from a diversity of backgrounds and pathways — but the focus is always art. The program will empower students to create original work and use their creativity in new and exciting ways.”
Van Vorhis is looking forward to the chance to display her art once again at the Pence art festival, as she considers her previous attempt to be highly successful. Van Vorhis credits nestware, a downtown Davis gift shop, for giving her the opportunity to hold a gallery exhibit at such a young age. Her work, shown during the May 2013 ArtAbout, earned her several commissions for more octopus drawings, her favorite subject to draw.
“I got really interested in the texture and skin of sea creatures and I was inspired to try and depict that onto paper,” Van Vorhis said. “I have a fascination with octopuses, though. I really like them. I like the way they move and it’s fun to try and capture that movement in a painting.”
Van Vorhis sticks to drawing and painting, and loves to experiment with different watercolor techniques. Using mainly cool tones in various shades of purple and blue, her default is black and white, as shown in her most recent commission of an octopus and an elephant. The popular requests and positive feedback have boosted her confidence as an artist, allowing her to see her products as marketable.
So how did it all begin? Self-taught and without a strong mentor, Van Vorhis’ natural talent and interest propelled her into YouTube drawing videos and art blogs on Tumblr. Doodling through childhood all the way to her Drawing and Painting class at Davis High, she says the class finally allowed her to really expand her artistic ability.
“When I was little, I always liked to draw and doodle. As I got older, it became a way for me to express my feelings,” Van Vorhis said.
Her family supports her constantly, and although they never fail to give input, Van Vorhis usually chooses to go with her gut. Her sculptor aunt, however, always reminds her that there is no right way to do art, a reminder that sticks with Van Vorhis whenever she feels negativity toward her work.
Through the high school’s Drawing and Painting course, Van Vorhis has been able to delve into deeper materials such as mixed media self-portraits. Although challenging, the process has allowed her to realize more of what makes here who she is.
Art teacher Lynnette Diem sees and commends the careful thought process Van Vorhis goes through for her paintings.
“She thinks very deeply about all the assignments — how she can tackle it from a very personal angle and how she can add more depth,” Diem said. “What she really has going for her is an open mind. She’s open to suggestions and new ideas and she’s a hard worker. Volunteering at the Pence Gallery really shows her commitment; it’s going to show she’s somebody who really puts their heart and soul into their art.”
Diem utilizes the hands-off approach to teaching, mainly giving students creative space to grow and helping them with things they’re struggling with.
“I hope to open her up to different forms of expression and encourage her to continue to think uniquely, capturing things from original standpoints and working through problems she may encounter instead of just starting over,” Diem said of Van Vorhis. “But creative space is key.”
Van Vorhis’ passion for painting and her artistic ideas have played their part not only in the classroom, but in her social life as well. Friends easily name her the “artsy one” and enjoy her doodles just as much as her masterpieces.
Junior and friend Anna Verdiguel credits Van Vorhis for her use of various mediums and materials, as well as her courage with a paintbrush.
“Emme is incredibly creative, using different strokes to make each piece a complex individual,” Verdiguel said. “While all her work has the same feel to it, each painting is different. She experiments with many different colors — creating something most artists wouldn’t come close to. She’s not afraid to color outside the lines.”
When asked about her future, Van Vorhis unhesitatingly names art as her career choice. If not successful in painting, she wants to open an art gallery to give other promising artists a helping hand. But first, she plans to attend art school. Touring Rhode Island School of Design last summer, she recalls the awe she felt about that particular lifestyle.
“(The school) was amazing because I got to see the campus and walk into a class. I could see myself there someday — it was an awesome experience,” Van Vorhis said.
Regardless of a career as an artist or as a curator, Van Vorhis knows art is the only path for her; art makes her happy and content.
“It’s something that I could do for my entire life,” she said. “I could meet really interesting people all the time and help get different artists’ names out there. It’s amazing. It’s something creative every day.”