Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Artist Emily Christman finds comfort in DARK SHADOWS

In 2011, Emily Christman came down with chronic migraines and lived every day shut up in the house, subjected to constant blood tests, unable to take daylight.

“As a child, I had seen a little picture of Barnabas,” she said. “For some reason it struck a chord, and I had been determined to one day know what it was. I’m a big horror fan and I had heard somewhere about DARK SHADOWS, but knew little to nothing about it.”

Enter Netflix, which opened the world of Collinwood to her. The boxed collection of the entire original DARK SHADOWS series soon followed.

“During the little gaps of time I could actually see, I would watch the show in my darkened living room,” she said. “Then I got desperate to continue my art work, so I started carving little heads of the characters. Mostly, I did this during headaches and could barely see what I was doing."

Needless to say, these weren't optimal working conditions.

"I worked in poor light whenever I could bear it," Christman said. "Generally I'd get about two hours of relief a day, and 15 minutes or so where I really felt up to working." This narrow window of time meant she had to rush through many of the smaller pieces. Her vision gave her fewer problems at a distance, though, allowing her to struggle through an episode of two each day of DARK SHADOWS when she wasn't working.

Her doctor, she said, was familiar with the series.

"It actually worried me at first if watching the series was OK for me," she said. "But my doctor, who actually knew the show, thought it was the perfect little length to keep me sane and happy, without taxing me too much."

When she found herself feeling better, Christman decided to try her hand at creating a full-scale bust of a Dark Shadows actor. Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman on the series, was her choice. In the beginning, Christman worked primarily from memory, sometimes using screenshots from the DVDs as references. Later, she drew from books and online images to help capture Hall's likeness when working on the full-scale bust.

"Watching her in motion also helps, just to give you a better sense of all her angles," she said. “I started by layering oil clay on a plastic skull, and instantly recognized a likeness in the basic face structure. Seeing these faces everyday for that year, and seeing little else, I became very fond of recreating them.”

With the help of her father, she created a urethane mold of Grayson Hall’s head and cast her in silicone. During this process, she started to recover and was accepted to art school in London.

“So I had to shove her in my backpack and take her with me to where I now am living,” she said. “So I’ve just been painting detailing, and working away in my spare time. It will probably be some time before I find the hair I need to finish the head, but I thought a good display method would be if I made her shoulders and arms, and had Julia in her I-ching trance.”

While it was Barnabas Collins that initially intrigued her, Christman said she slowly gravitated toward Dr. Hoffman as the series progressed.

"I have to say at first I wasn't sure what I thought of Hoffman, but she grew on my very quickly," she said. "I think she's my favorite character overall. I personally love the dysfunctional little family unit that is Barnabas, Willie, and Julia, and how it developed, most out of the whole series. I also really like the Sarah narrative; I wish they had done more with that."

She's hoping to revisit her Dark Shadows miniatures now that her vision has fully returned.
"My small heads were all made while I was having a migraine, so I could just barely see out of one eye," she said. "As a result, they are a little wonky. I can't say I'm terribly satisfied with the small pieces I have from before. Ever since I improved I've been really aching to create some little monster-model style kits of my favorite scenes and settings.”

She says she’s underwhelmed by the classic DARK SHADOWS models currently on the market.

“I'd love to do some moody little set-ups of Quentin's dusty room,” she said. “Or the mausoleum, intricate little set ups with the characters lurking in the shadows, Lara in flames, Vicky at the gallows, maybe a nice juicy staking. I have yet to try small scale in full health and proper light, and I'm wondering if I could get a refined likeness if I tried again.”

She said she hasn’t ruled out the idea of a more elaborate art project.

“Some crazy little portion of me wants to do some wax museum type affair,” Christman said. “Full-scale outlandish scenes, but it would be sometime before I could find a place to put it.”

Christman later met Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott at the Monsterpalooza convention, but decided against showing them her work.

“I was too embarrassed to show them,” she said.

Visit Emily Christman's online portfolio at Below is a video she created to illustrate her discovery of DARK SHADOWS titled DARK YEAR. It's well worth watching.


Melissa said...

I also got into the show during a long illness that kept me housebound. The Dark Shadows world is so rich, complete, and fully realized that it's easy to slip into it and forget your own troubles for a while.

Chrissy said...

What fascinating work! I hope you are feeling better.

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