Downtown Appleton isn’t just a destination for digital illustrator Emily Reetz; it’s also inspiration for her whimsical artwork. Reetz, born and raised in the Fox Valley, is a hometown enthusiast deeply entrenched in the Appleton art scene. Her breakout series is focused on capturing the spirit of the iconic places and spaces of her vibrant community — the one that has provided the backdrop for her fondest memories.
“As I was growing up, my family moved every two years or so, always within the Fox Valley,” shares Reetz, waxing nostalgic. “Each address held memories of a period of my childhood that no other place would. I think for that reason, I’ve always been interested in places and the immense meaning they can hold for people.”
Reetz, the creator of Sketch Tag Art, has channeled her creativity all her life, dabbling in writing and now devoting an entire room in her home to crafting.
Her inspiration for her latest project came from a city brochure she picked up downtown. After flipping through it, she was left with the feeling the brochure hadn’t quite captured the essence of the place she called home. Her creative spark ignited. What if she drew the “peoples’ Appleton,” she thought?
“I’d like to think that my series tells the story of the real Appleton,” reveals Reetz, “The Appleton you’d only know if you lived here — the smells of a fish fry on the Spatio, Jacob’s smoked meats, or the carpeting at Jim’s Place.”
Her idea came to life when she got a call last spring. The voice on the other end asked if she’d like to set up a booth at The Artery, a new urban craft fair happening just two weeks later. Reetz, despite knowing she didn’t have anything to sell at the time, accepted the invitation. With little time to spare, she began to “draw the town.”
Unsure of how people would react, Reetz was pleasantly surprised when people stopped at her booth and smiled.
“Real smiles,” she says, “the kind with memories behind them. Some laughed. Some welled with tears. Then, perfect strangers would turn to each other and start sharing their stories that connected them.”
Reetz is now drawing her way through the city, sketching every thing from the Fox River Skyline and the Appleton Public Library to Pierce Park and The Trout Museum of Art. She uses a basic stylus and simple iPad drawing app to create her modern storybook masterpieces. And though she devotes much of her time to drawing buildings that hold special meaning to her, she also takes custom orders at her online Etsy shop.
“I mainly work from photos,” explains Reetz. “I prefer to take the photos myself, so I can walk around a structure, touch it, take in its surroundings, and make mental notes. I see things differently in real life, and I feel a deeper connection with the places I have visited.”
Reetz, a wife and mother of three, does much of her work at night. She likes to duck into various coffee houses within the Fox Valley. One of her next projects includes drawing iconic Neenah. In the future, Reetz says, she’d like to author and illustrate a children’s book.
Her work also is available at the Blue Moon Emporium, Appleton Farmer’s Market and online at sketchtagart.com.
— By Sarah C. Spencer