Student in a sleeveless black dress with tattoos in a painting studio
May 2023

In the Studio, Again

Emily Van Heusen 24 PR had a long journey back to RISD, but now she’s exactly where she needs to be.

Emily Van Heusen’s RISD connection goes back. Way back.

“My dad would have me in the stroller in the studio space all the time,” Van Heusen says, laughing. “I was with RISD from the very beginning.”

For a while, it seemed like Van Heusen’s RISD experience would be limited to the days she spent as a baby watching as her father, Brian Carlson 96 FAV P 24, worked through his courses. But after two stints at West Coast community colleges, her discovery of printmaking and receiving scholarship opportunities, she found her way back to RISD in her mid-twenties.

Van Heusen moved to Santa Cruz, California with her family when she was seven years old. There, she drew and painted while cultivating a deep appreciation for the natural world. “California’s landscape is impeccable,” she says. “I lived in the mountains but was 10 minutes from the ocean. Salamanders in rotten logs, creepy crawlies, tide pools, sea anemones, shells. I was always surrounded by nature.”

In 2020, Van Heusen combined her dual passions in order to make a difference in her community. She was living in Portland, Oregon and, as lockdowns began, decided to start art classes online. And as COVID spread, so did wildfires.

The record-breaking 2020 wildfire season affected Van Heusen in Portland, where toxic smoke filled the air. Her family in Santa Cruz had to evacuate their home. She reports, “Most of our neighbors lost their homes. The fire came within feet of our old wooden deck, the house my sister was born in, but it didn’t catch. That level of fire was traumatizing.”

“I took a printmaking class willy-nilly over Zoom,” she remembers. “I fell in love. Suddenly, I knew it was the thing I felt like I’d been missing forever. That’s when I got passionate about going back to a four-year school and recognized that I had the ability to help my community from afar.”

“I want to support the people that I love and the land that I love. I want to make the most informed art about the world around us.”
Emily Van Heusen 24 PR

With a DIY printmaking setup in her apartment, Van Heusen began selling prints and donating proceeds to communities in Portland and Santa Cruz that had been affected by the fires. She was active on social media and became enthralled with prints’ power to connect and share information.

The experience led her to RISD, where she declared a major in Printmaking and a concentration in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies. “I want to support the people that I love and the land that I love. I want to make the most informed art about the world around us,” she says.

Van Heusen chose RISD because she knew it was where she would get the most rigorous education. Her scholarship, supported by the RISD Fund, allowed her to make that choice. RISD Fundsupported scholarships are an important complement to endowed scholarships and make up roughly ten percent of the school’s annual scholarship budget. “I had all my schools and all the financial aid packages on the table,” Van Heusen explains. “It’s still a challenge to make it work, but I know that RISD is the best place for me.”

She is enjoying rediscovering East Coast favorites, from New England speech patterns that remind her of family (“people sound like they’re mean, but they’re not!”) and Italian food (“I live on Federal Hill. Ugh, the food is amazing!”). She’s also exploring new creative directions.

“I like to work very large and colorful,” Van Heusen says. “I focus on the life-death cycle but it’s mostly been the life side for a long time. Now, I’m starting to integrate the darker side of things. I love working with textures and making things drippy and bodily. And I love cutting prints and repurposing things. I make a print, which is life, then I kill it off. But then I turn it back into life by collaging it into something else.”

Student holding artwork toward the camera

When Van Heusen started printmaking via a Zoom class, she had the freedom to explore. “It was very homegrown. I could do it wrong but still get it right,” she reports. “Printmakers can get very, very specific in the details of their practice. But this experience was so open-ended and organic, there was room for growth.”