Meet Jan Emerson

Emerson's Style

I want to capture faces, speak in pictures. I brush a line, thick or thin, to shape a face. I look at the face and it seems to stay the same, but if I start over, I get a completely different capturing.

Sumi ink is stark and allows me to make statements, contrasts, soften for shadows—make a painting live simply by adding water. I like small moments caught on rough paper—like poems.

Sometimes I begin by blackening the entire background, letting face or figure emerge from darkness. Again, about contrast. For larger paintings in color, I use oils, not much medium. I start with raw sienna, paint in darks lights shapes, slowly add layers of color to fill the canvas. When I want to leave parts of the canvas white, I force myself to keep painting. Maybe I don’t want to call a painting finished. I like the small pieces. There is often a lot of open space, not filled in, leaving room for viewers to interpret the images as they will.

– Jan Emerson


Jan Emerson is a painter whose work is influenced by the German Expressionists, especially Kirchner. She has exhibited at The Art Student’s League of New York and the Manhattan Borough President’s Office. She studies with collage artist Mariano del Rosario and figurative realist Mary Beth McKenzie at the Art Students League of New York. She has also studied with Mary Beth McKenzie at the National Academy, with Terence Coyle and Costa Vavagiakis at the League, with Paul Fortunato at The School of Visual Arts, and with Adam Grosowsky in Eugene, Oregon. 

She studied English and German at Indiana University (BA), German at the University of Massachusetts (MA), and Education at Pace University (MA). She lived in Germany for over four years and travelled widely throughout Europe. She held an National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar grant and a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) grant for doctoral research in Berlin, and received a Ph.D. in German from Brown University.

Jan taught German, Medieval Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon, Mills College, and Reed College. As an associate at the Center for the Study of Women in Society at UO, she published on the medieval visionary and composer Hildegard of Bingen, and lectured on the German woodcut illustrations of medieval visions of heaven and hell. From 2005-2010, she taught Literacy, Journalism, and Poetry courses as a New York City Teaching Fellow in Washington Heights. She continues her love of teaching by tutoring privately, her love of stories and words by writing poetry and editing, and her love of painting and drawing by studying at The Art Students League of New York.

Sumi ink is stark and allows me to make statements, contrasts, soften for shadows. I love capturing moments on rough paper — like poems.

Jan Emerson