Emily Arnold McCully
Galesburg, IL, US
New York / Chatam, NY, US
I was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1939, but grew up in Garden City, New York. My father was a writer for network radio shows, and my mother was an actress and singer. It was my mother who inspired my artistic abilities as a child. She saw that I was trying to draw people and objects, and set me to practicing accuracy. She saw my ability to draw as a skill, a talent to be developed so that it might support me some day.
As a child, I doodled and sketched and created my own stories, binding them into books. As class artist in school, I was asked to design posters, backdrops, and programs for concerts and plays. In high school, nearby New York City invigorated me. I often visited the Museum of Modern Art and sketched people in Union Square. The city fueled my ambitions for an active life in the arts, theater, and publishing.
I attended Pembroke College (now part of Brown University). Instead of pursuing my interest in drawing while I was there, I devoted my time to theater, reading, and art history. I was tired of the freakishness that seemed to be part of being an artist. For years, people stood around me as I drew, marveling that I could reproduce someone or something. I decided to throw myself into other activities, which I hadn't done before.
But after graduation, when it came time to get a job, I ended up as a quasi-secretary in an advertising agency. I also earned an M.A. in art history at Columbia. Finally, realizing I wasn't going to be promoted, I made a portfolio of drawings and took it around to all sorts of art directors. Gradually, jobs trickled in, mostly for book covers. Finally, an editor at Harper and Row Jr. Books spotted a poster I'd done that featured children. I received my first book illustration assignment, which led to another, and so on.
Meanwhile, I wrote fiction and published a short story that was selected for the O'Henry Collection. It was followed by two novels. At length, I began to write for children, and found my two competing impulses — writing/painting and acting — happily reunited.
My advice for aspiring artists and writers is this: Don't worry about what other people are doing. Don't try to emulate. Work from what is inside you, crying out — however softly, however timidly — for expression.