Colours play a significant role in Emily Dao’s creative process.
A Grade 9 student currently attending Ballenas Secondary School, Dao says in art class, her teacher would often compliment her classmates on their technique and illustrations, but would often tell her that she had a unique colour palette.
“For me, when I show the prettiness of nature and life through colours, I not only show an appreciation for it but it also gives other people the opportunity to see how I see beauty,” she said.
Until May 30, Dao’s artwork will be on display at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville. Her exhibit, titled E.M.I.L.Y., is an acronym that not only reflects on the gallery, but on Dao herself.
She said the ‘E’ stands for essence and the importance of expressing emotions in artwork and through colour. The ‘M’ for mystic, and with it, the implied meaning in every painting. The ‘I’ stands for inspiration and the many influences that shape Dao’s artwork. The ‘L’ is for labyrinth, which symbolizes the attraction that draws viewers to her work. And the ‘Y’ stands for youth, which embodies her enthusiasm as she transposes her mind to canvas.
For her MAC exhibit, Dao said she tried to show a variety of colours and explore the natural world beyond a singular palette.
“I tried different colours – a variety of colours, and dark tones, light tones, warm and cold tones. I want to show the best parts of nature.”
In E.M.I.L.Y., viewers can expect to see mostly natural settings, with a few portraits of people, all in impressionist style.
To Dao, impressionism is her method of self-expression, beyond simply painting what she sees infront of her. She favours the style, she said, because it allows her to show the subject, but also lets her express her personal mood and style.
As a fan of Claude Monet, her appreciation for his work is what first got her hooked on the style.
Dao lives with her family in French Creek, but was born in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2006. Her family moved to Canada in 2019, as her mother sought out a better education for her children.
At home, her mother will arrange different things around the house and then take pictures for Dao to use as a reference photo. If she has the time though, she prefers to work from still life and “really capture that moment in time as it happened.”
Though Dao has taken art lessons since her third birthday, she said she only started to make art a priority a few years ago.
For most of her life, she sought out a career as a pianist, but despite her musical talents, she still felt herself drawn to the arts.
“When I focused on playing the piano, I started to think that for piano I have to sacrifice a lot of things, like sports or even reading books in my free time. One day my dad just told me that I should do something that I feel passionate and comfortable doing.”
To help her hone her craft, Dao said she has an advisor that will offer guidance on proportions, composition and colour contrast.
Over the last year, Dao said that painting during “COVID lockdowns” gave her the opportunity to escape into a passion.
“I had lots of time at home,” she said. “Last year was the most beautiful summer because I could look at the world around me.”
She said her MAC exhibit started by painting the peonies and other flowers in the garden next to her bedroom window.
“It (painting) was something that made me feel happier in lockdown.”
Nature is Dao’s own self-assessed comfort zone, one that she’s eager to continue exploring before venturing into a different world.
The MAC exhibit is Dao’s first public gallery. She said her excitement and pride were hard to contain when she was first told she would exhibit.
Dao has her sights set on galleries in Nanaimo and Vancouver.
And after that?
Her bigger-picture plans include exhibiting in New York City and France.
“If I can swing it,” she said with a chuckle.
Once she’s graduated from secondary school, Dao would like to apply to Emily Carr University in Vancouver.