Smile Politely

Creation by the clock

When my editor presented this assignment, I jumped on it. 8 to Create is an art event that lets you see artists work in real time. I had never heard of anything like it, so of course I wanted to see what it was all about. I spoke with Emma Sielaff to get a general idea. 

Smile Politely: What is this event all about?

Emma Sielaff: Basically, 8 to Create is a live art event. University of Illinois students work as a team to curate and plan the event. The event is comprised of eight artists, local and from far away…Eight hours, eight artists, eight pieces—8 to Create! This year the event is being held in the Link Gallery of the Art and Design building at the University of Illinois. The point of the event is to bring artists from different communities together to learn more about what it’s like to be an artist and to create.

SP: So unique! That sounds fascinating! I didn’t realize they were individual pieces. I assumed it was a collaboration of eight artists making one big thing. Are they all using different mediums then?

Sielaff: Yes! I think it really adds to the event as you get to see different types of artists and their creative process. Its always awesome to see the finish products!

SP: Are they going to interact with the audience at all? Will we be able to ask questions, or is this an observation-only situation?

Sielaff: Yes! We encourage people to talk to artists and learn more about their process. In the past, we’ve had lunch with many of the artists and they are usually very friendly!

SP: Did you come up with this concept?

Sielaff: I did not. I’m not even the President of the club; Ellie Hahn is. But the idea started about four years ago and was started by a member who had done something similar before, in high school.

SP: What can people expect to see at an 8 to Create event?

Sielaff: It’s a live art show. People literally get to see the artist process at hand. With the eight different artists, everyone has a different style of technique, so it’s unique to see how each artist creates something—especially when they only have eight hours to do so. Staying for the reception gives you a more intimate feel. It lets you know what the artists were thinking during the process and why they chose to create what they did. It also allows you to stay and meet with the artist if you want to get on a personal level.

SP: Thanks for chatting!

I wander the gallery, looking for something or someone to catch my eye. The first thing that grabs me is a large jug of Mod Podge, a sort of three-in-one crafting glue. It’s a glue, seal, and finish that is commonly used for projects like scrapbooks and collages. It’s popular. Even I have some, and I don’t have a crafty bone in my body.

I look down at a work in progress, with magazine clippings and bits of glossy paper neatly piled around it. I introduce myself and ask the artist, Rachel Newell, for some insight into this eye-catching piece.

Smile Politely: So, how did you get started on this?

Rachel Newell: I start with things I think I can use. I set them aside and categorize them, sometimes by color or subject matter, or like an idea or feeling. Once I get a color theme, then it gets pretty easy, then I can pick out things like “oh this will go with it. ” At first I was going to try to do, primarily, thought, “I’ll be at the U of I. I’ll do U of I colors!”

SP: Which you kind of did! I see some kind of goldy orange and…I mean, it’s orange and blue…

Newell: Yeah, and then it kind of evolved. I kind of had an idea for this and then it sort of changed on me. I gotta scramble, and I’m bad at judging time.

SP: I mean, you’re probably not used to working with such a time constraint.

Newell: This was different, but I was excited to be a part of it. That’s why I was like the first artist to say, “Yeah!” Because they emailed me and I responded like an hour later, “Oh my g- I’ve never done anything like this! Yes!”

SP: It’s such a cool idea. I love the whole event. Well, you’re clearly busy busy busy…

Newell: Yeah! Thank you so much!

SP: Thank you!

I cruise over to what looks like an acrylic painting. I start chatting with Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke, who confirms my amatuer guess. He tells me he usually works with spray paint, but he can’t do that in this confined space. He’s focused and quiet. I don’t know him, obviously, but I would use the word “shy” to describe him. He’s somewhat less keen to chat with me than Rachel, which does not surprise or offend me. I’m a chatter box, and so is Rachel Newell. Emmanuel isn’t.

There are several photos tacked up near his painting, and a “rough draft” of the large piece he is working with. His About the Artist information says he “combines major influences of graffiti, architecture, cultural identity and language.” I ask about the photos, and he tells me they’re a sort of inspiration for a “mental place” he created on this canvas. I look back and forth between the photographs and his painting, and I see it. This image he has created is vibrant and packed with emotion. I can see bits and pieces of his snapshots represented here. There’s an impression of an umbrella from a crowd photo, taken in China. The blue, yellow, and white of a display case of water bottles is somehow nestled naturally into the scene.

In his artist statement, Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke says, “My work explores relationships between language, place, experience, and cognition through compositions that combine abstract forms…into collages of color, language, and space that attempt to capture or complicate perceptions and experiences.”

I got to ask a few other artists about their projects. It was eye opening. I’m used to working in theatre, so the process of artistic creation isn’t completely lost on me, but no one here works in a medium I am familiar with. It’s impressive to see in action. I’m looking forward to seeing this event again next year! Here’s hoping they can keep it going, because it’s truly a unique experience.


8 to Create took place on March 10th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The artists involved were Rachel Newell, Vivian Le, Elliott Stokes, Katie Nettie, Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke, Kira Schnitzler, Frank Vega, and EKAH. 

Photos by Katie Baldwin Prosise. 

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