Emily Switzer

Artist and designer Emily Switzer discusses a shift in career paths and finding inspiration in the mundane and commonplace.

How would you describe your profession and your practice?

I would describe myself as a 3D artist and designer. My 3D practice is a natural extension of my film background and speaks to my desire to build worlds within worlds. I want my work to have a story behind it that can be communicated to the viewer at a glance, and then reveal itself further as more and more time is spent observing the final piece and picking apart the clues I have left behind.

Has your work changed over the course of your career?

I started my artistic career in digital art and illustration, with a focus on fashion illustration. I then learned 3D and ended up incorporating 3D practices into my fashion illustrations before finally transitioning all the way into 3D art. Before my art was heavily fashion focused, but now I have branched out into more of a generalist role, since I love creating whole worlds in 3D. I love pushing my work into a hyper-stylized state, imitating 2D practices or expressing surreal ideas in a realistic way.

‘Crystal Abyss: Secrets of the Deep’ by Emily Switzer
What was your “eureka!” moment that made you realize that art/design was the route you wanted to take?

I was completely burned out from my previous career, and I basically made a bet with myself in 2018 that if I become an artist now and utterly fail there is still enough time left for me to start a new career and retire as a millionaire. But at least I would have tried becoming an artist first, which was worth a shot. I bet on myself, and so far it is paying off.

Is your work inspired by anything in particular? What turns you on creatively?

I’m inspired by nature and the sky, because I am a daydreamer. I look to anime, cartoons, retro-futurism, dark sci fi, and horror films for stylistic approaches to my work. My aesthetic is very sparkly-feminine with a Gothic/dark edge. I try to find inspiration in the mundane and commonplace. Since I am in constant awe of the natural world, even things like morning dew or a misty day can get my heart racing.

Which designers or artists inspire you and why?

James Turrell: I admire his ability to manipulate space through light. In film we constantly talk about the ability to paint with light to create atmosphere for certain scenes. James Turrell can paint with light with such mastery and control, he can profoundly alter the way a viewer perceives a physical space.

Mark Rothko: His ability to take colours and put them in harmony or dis-harmony with one another is breathtaking. I had no interest in his work until I saw it in-person. The colours appeared to vibrate on the canvas. Seeing the colors together, working off each other, was so profound I think it changed my brain chemistry.

Eiko Ishioka: Legendary graphic designer and costume/set designer for film and theater. Her work in graphic design was groundbreaking, totally and distinctively hers in style and form. Later in her career she also branched into film and started doing costume design. Her work earned her an Oscar for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. So graphic, so gripping. Her sense of colour and proportion, not to mention the attention to details, means that any work she created has layers to it. There are whole worlds to discover in her designs.

‘Crystal Abyss: Secrets of the Deep’ by Emily Switzer
What was the name of your 2024 DesignTO Festival exhibition, and what can attendees expect to experience?

Set in the eerie, silent world beneath the ocean’s surface, ‘Crystal Abyss: Secrets of the Deep’ takes us on an enchanting journey to meet the many creatures that may or may not live in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean. This short animated film combines wonder, humour, and a touch of spookiness while exploring the fascinating realm of transparent deep-sea life.

Elegant jellyfish, glowing shrimp, and giant squids all make an appearance, as well as a few other creatures that defy explanation. As the short film unfolds we come to appreciate the cast of ghostly critters, despite their unsettling appearance, as possessors of an otherworldly beauty that is unlike anything else on earth.

How long have you been involved with DesignTO? Why is DesignTO important to the creative community, here as well as abroad?

I got involved with DesignTO in 2020, when they put out a call for online events during the pandemic. I participated because my work lives in the purely digital realm, so prior to that I wasn’t sure how I could participate in a festival that focused on physical art installations. The experience was great, so I’m excited to once again showcase a short film of mine online during the Festival’s 2024 run.

I think festivals like DesignTO helps bring attention to the vibrant and thriving ecosystem of artists who are practicing here in Toronto. Not only does it provide much needed coverage and promotion of these artists, but it gives them an opportunity to gain prestige for their work by offering recognition in the form of awards. I received favorable press coverage for my film in 2020 when it was released, and it emphasized to me the importance of participating in art-centric festivals so that my work can be enjoyed by a larger following outside of a commercial context.

Lastly, what random fact about yourself would you like to share with the DesignTO community?

I will talk about horror films until someone finally begs me to stop. I am sorry.

‘Crystal Abyss: Secrets of the Deep’ is just one of over 100 free window installations, exhibitions and events at the 2024 DesignTO Festival, January 19-28, 2024. Visit the Festival Schedule to learn more about ‘Crystal Abyss: Secrets of the Deep’ and other projects.