Meet Emma Daisy Gertel, a maker, illustrator and designer living in Milwaukee, WI. We admire Daisy's curiosity in navigating the world around her and how her experiences have shaped her artwork. Undertones of identity with a celebration of femininity as strength are characteristic of her work—created with playful charm in an attempt to bring joy and connection to others through beauty. Select originals and prints of Daisy's work are available to buy at Olson House. We talked with Daisy to learn more about her work and lifestyle.
Olson House: You seem really open about your background as an adoptee and exploring your identity. Can you tell us a little more about when you became intentionally interested in your Korean heritage and when you began creating art out of that space?
Daisy: It wasn't until my twenties that I learned to fully embrace and appreciate my differences, so acceptance and identity were always parts of life that I struggled with. I was adopted with my biological brother, so it’s a different experience from most adopted children. My adoptive parents are absolutely my family and I never questioned whether we were meant to be anywhere else. But, as I grew older and had a daughter, I started to become more curious about my own roots--where I came from and how that has contributed to who I have become. It’s only been in the past 3 years that I’ve more explicitly begun to explore my Korean American identity through art.
Olson House: We read that you studied fashion design, when did you transition out of fashion and into the creative role at the youth arts nonprofit? And then when/how did you decide to become a full time artist?
Daisy: I studied fashion design for 3 years and during that time received a full ride scholarship that had a service learning/volunteer component. I found Express Yourself Milwaukee, a local youth arts nonprofit to work with. The mission of the organization and social justice aspects of the scholarship program resonated with my core values. After rejecting fashion and the cutthroat industry, I created my own major at Mount Mary University, “Community Arts and Cultural Development.” At the time, independent labels and local designers did not exist in the same way they do today--the DIY culture was not developed yet so I didn't see a place for myself in fashion. After working my way through Express Yourself as a program facilitator, fundraiser, creative director and co-executive director—12 years later, it was time for a change and I wanted to get back to creative making and away from my desk and managing people. I left my day job February 2017 and dove in head first taking a big risk without a real plan or major projects to count. I trusted knowing that creating with my hands was the place that made me the happiest and I would find a way to make it work.
Olson House: Is painting your medium of choice? What other art forms have you used or hope to invest more time into?
Daisy: I only recently started painting more exclusively. Once I had my daughter, the demands of motherhood and juggling my time forced me to seek processes that were more portable, simpler, required less equipment and tools, and ultimately that could provide more instant gratification. Before that I did a lot of sewing, soft sculpture, work that involved a lot of tedious process and prep. Now that I have more space and time, I’d like to get back into sewing and combine more mediums and process.
Olson House: Do you have a studio space?
Daisy: I have a studio space at Var West in walkers point. It’s a great spot in a highly supportive, dynamic and diverse creative collective. Most of my work happens there, unless I’m working on a mural onsite. It has been really wonderful to separate my home life and work life as an artist; I appreciate the time to focus without distractions.
Olson House: Is there a piece of work that stands out to you as the most memorable and why?
Daisy: The mural I did last year in Black Cat Alley really stands out in my mind for two reasons. Though I have done large scale work before, it was really the first time I took a tiny painting as it was and transformed it into a large format. The success of that experience really opened my eyes to the possibility of working with and playing with scale. Secondly, it was one of the must fun murals to execute because it is in such a high foot traffic area where engaging with people became part of the painting process. Somehow it made the process feel more alive.
Olson House: Is there something new that you want to try this year? Or is there a project that you are especially excited about in 2019?
Daisy: I would love to dive back into clothing design or even home goods. The intersection of form and function is magical and for me clothing is familiar so I go there first, but overall, I am interested in translating my painting works into products and other formats with uses beyond just beautifying space from a wall. Actually, in May, I will be part of a Shower Curtain Show at Reginald Baylor Studios. I also have daydreams of designing lighting fixtures one day, but I have zero experience—I just think it would be incredibly fun.
Olson House: What are some of your other interests? What are your favorite things to do in Milwaukee?
Daisy: Cooking and baking are other loves of mine! I love to experiment and bring design and creativity to the kitchen with fancy desserts or plaited breads. I am married and have a 9-year old daughter. We love nature walks at Schlitz Audubon, beach glass hunting or biking the Oak Leaf trail. Other favorite things in Milwaukee are going to the art museum, exploring the Phongsavong Asian markets in Havenswood, the Bead and Button Show downtown (every year in June) or going to shows at the Rep or Milwaukee Ballet. We have such a rich performing arts scene for a city of our size.
Thank you for sharing your story and dreams with us, Daisy. We can't wait to see what you do next.
SHOP EMMA DAISY ARTWORK AT OLSON HOUSE