"Proud to call myself an artist"

Meet Emily Arkin, 43 years old. She spent 20 years of her life in Somerville and recently moved to Medford. She’s a scholarly publisher by day, musician, animator, playing card designer, knitter, dj by night, and that was straight out of her website. She really redefines the definition of an “artsy” person.


   With so many things to learn, I began to ask her about her life making art, starting with music. She’s been playing since she was a child. She took Violin classes throughout grade school to high school. Classical music usually requires an intense level of accuracy and focus. Her father, her brother all play Jazz through different instrument. If you watched “La La Land”, Jazz is about conflict, improvisation, stray away from the rules of classical mystic, therefore, Emily wasn’t good at improv. It all changed when she got to college. She met a lot of people, musicians mostly. Most of them could play 7 to 8 instruments.

“ Where did you find the time to learn all that??” She asked them.

 “ Well we didn’t learn it, we just pick it up and play”.

“ Huhm…, Ill guess Ill try that to”. And she did.

   While with music, she learned to express herself and be free, with art, she learned to have discipline and control. She always loved to draw. She took calligraphy classes as a child. While calligraphy requires your movement to strict and fast, she was always tend to be more freely with her pattern. “ The discipline and rules, sometimes, I have to turn that off, because I think it is not very useful to art, I think”. Later on, she takes graphic design and animation classes. It is not quite a job but it’s more than a hobby to her. She never made designing a part of her job but it is a part of her life. She still excited every time she gets the change to make something for someone or design for a project.

    Each time she talks about something, she can’t help but relate to other things in her life or tell a small story about it.  I was afraid that she would scratch the surface of all the question but the more she talk the more I want to ask. She often relate back to how the Somerville’s Art Council gave her the chance to meet with other people, who gives her that push to call herself an artist and gives her the experience to manage her own organization now: Girls Rock Campaign.

  For someone who is involved in so many forms of art,  I was wondering . She asked to me wait and rushed upstairs, she came down with a record and 2 CDS. Its her first album with her first band: Citizens Band by the Operators. She asked me to keep one but sadly I don’t have a CD player or a record player. As she started playing guitar, she began to make friends and create a band. This was one she was back in Somerville. Most of her band member is considered to be more enthusiastic than experience, but she loved it. Their temper and style free helped her freed herself from the chains of classical music. “ It was amazing to play music with those people, we can just sit together and write a song right there, we’re just clicked”. One of her bandmates is now an onion farmer, one is a nurse, and another is still playing music.

                                         Picture of the Operators ( Emily's photo )

                                        Picture of the Operators ( Emily's photo )

                  Citizens Band Album Cover

                 Citizens Band Album Cover

     By 1998, they had singles and went on tours but they finally have their first album by 2001. They didn’t have a clear theme when they wrote the song, but they named the songs in a sort of concept afterwards. The first song was called Citizens Band, it was made out of slangs that they use on road radios. The liked the name “Citizens Band” as it mimics the soviet propaganda, the “for the citizens” slogans. “ We didn’t intend to position ourselves in anyway, we just thought that it was funny” Emily said. She was really excited about the cover of the album. It was a picture of 4 children that she found on a sort of Russian archive. They looked cute and nerdy so she thought she could project herself and her bandmates onto those kids. Although she learned only a bit of Russian, she was extremely proud that she could writing the band member’s names using the Cyrillic Script. They recorded the songs in a traditional way with 2 guitars base and drum, but when they start to edit it in the studio, they began to play with more “unconventional instruments”. They used a theramin, a cordless drill on one of their guitars, they used the sound of a bottle cork pops out. They made a chart and assigned everyone with their “instruments”. The album was a sort of a monumental point for her, she can’t quite describe it but it , it’s like being something bigger, reaching to the next step. She also loved that she could design the cover of the album, “picking every fonts”. For many and definitely for me, “picking every fonts” is never fun. “I did designs for other projects before, but I was happy that I could finally express the music that I thoroughly know and understand graphically”.

    Her thoughts about the album, her most passionate creation, didn’t show much distinction from the rest, and by then it was understandable. It’s strong, while also blends into her life, her arts. She talks about art the same way she talks about her day-job, her family, her house: Lively and mesmerizing. She doesn’t use fancy word or academic essay structure, everything she said just seems real. You could feel the love she has for what she does. I remembered that as I sat there, a question just popped into my head that I had to ask: “ Do you think art is more spontaneous or planned out?”. For all the artists out there, struggling through the fanciness of modern art and the toughness of the traditional ways. For the filmmakers torturing themselves through the words of Werner Herzog:” Storyboard is the instrument of the coward” against there own ability on set: Talent vs Determination. Emily answered :“ It’s a little bit of both”. She said that you can’t force art to happen, sometimes you have to feel it, but under circumstances, you need those regulations and guidelines to learn and push yourself”. She learned discipline through classical music and calligraphy but she also sets herself free through rock and her designs. In the end, each life is different from the others. You just have to always try your best and do what you love. If you ever need an example about happiness, remember Emily Arkin: Scholarly publisher by day, musician, animator, playing card designer, knitter, dj by night.

By Hung Pham