Artist Statement

Hilary Emerson Lay

Cityscapes & Houses

Hilary frequently employs the use of bits of paper cut or torn from newspapers and dictionaries when creating her whimsical houses, buildings, towns, and cities. In fact, she almost always uses the thin pages of an old Webster’s New World Dictionary of the Ameri­can Language, which she bought for a dollar at a yard sale from an Ecuadorian gentleman who had used it to help him navigate his way through the United States when he arrived as a teenager with no grasp of the English language. He told her that the book held magical properties.

Hilary begins her cityscapes by using matte medium to cover the entire canvas in torn (or meticulously cut) blocks of text. Sometimes the sentences align, sometimes the text is adhered entirely at random; sometimes a tiny spot illustration from a dictionary entry will appear, sometimes excerpts from two different pieces of paper from two different sources will have an eerily similar meaning. The pages are always chosen at random, allowing the underlying sense of the piece to develop organically, and many of her paintings are later named after a word or phrase that emerges from the text.

Although a country girl at heart, Hilary has always loved the way cities and buildings look when whimsically portrayed through illustration. Her cityscapes and houses are made up of listing buildings with messy rows of windows, lopsided doors, and words for sky. Hilary creates worlds where she, as a child, would have wanted to live.

Sock Critters

Hilary began sewing long-legged, bunny-eared, floppy-headed little critters out of socks in 2006. She has made, sold, and given away hundreds of these little guys, and has been told numerous times that they work wonders for people who are suffering from depression and/or are in the hospital (really!). Each critter takes just over an hour to make. The body and limbs are sewn on a machine and then attached by hand. The eyes go next, then the mouth is sewn (the mouth is always done last, as the shape of the mouth determines the critter’s personality) and finally, a bow or ribbon is tied around the neck. Hilary sets the critter up in front of her, spends some time with it to discover its likes/dislikes/pet-peeves/favorite colors, and writes up a bio for the little fellow. She never, ever names the critters, as that is the sole responsibility of the adoptive sock-critter parent.

Animals in Hats

Hilary’s newest form of art is creating mixed media paintings of animals in hats. The juxtaposition of a noble animal (a lion) wearing a ridiculous hat (a bowler) is just too per­fect. A disproportionate number of Hilary’s absolute favorite picture books as a child involved animals wearing clothing, so this newest form of art is perhaps a natural extension of a long-dormant fondness of costumed creatures.

The tremendous feedback she has gotten from people about her animals-in-hats series has reassured Hilary that she is indeed not the only one who loves animals in hats.


Among the many artists who inspire Hilary, some of her absolute favorites are listed below.

About Hilary >