Emma Seely-Katz, a senior at the Pratt Institute, won a $2,000 Art Scholarship from the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker for Spring 2020. In her student statement she wrote: I am in my last year of working towards a BFA in Pratt Institute’s sculpture department. Over the past year, I have been working on projects that, though not aligned with traditional ideas of “sculpture,” have been conceived within and guided by the experiences I’ve had while immersed in this curriculum. The first project I’m embarking on is the writing and illustration in watercolor of a children’s Hanukkah book.
I have already written the story for my Jewish children’s book, untitled as of yet but which I refer to as “Cat and Rat.” In the book, I hope to illustrate the story of Cat and Rat, old friends who reconnect at a cafe on the first night of Hanukkah and go on adventures around New York City to visit notable landmarks and encounter New Yorkers who assist the friends in their search for ways to make the holiday special even though they’re away from their families.
My first memories of rapt immersion in artwork all stem from the collection of children’s books I was lucky to grow up surrounded by. The frequent use of watercolor implanted itself in my brain; coming back to it in the context of a material study in college triggered a wave of recollection that renewed my love for the specificity of what watercolor can do that sets it apart from any other medium I’ve engaged with.
Artists working in watercolor such as Trina Schart Hyman who illustrated the prolific Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins (an annual favorite I read every holiday season) fostered in me an appreciation for the versatility, delicacy, and graceful gestures of watercolor but also its unpredictability, the element of randomness and chance that the use of such a liquid medium allows. I have found inspiration and exhilaration in the pigments’ unexpected drifts or frays.
Having a regular watercolor practice has made me a more adaptable artist in every medium, encouraging me to look for ways to harness unexpected or unplanned factors in my artwork and incorporate these reminders of entropy into my paintings, anchoring them in a universe at once dreamlike in its imagery and immanent in its physicality.