Emma FitzGerald sketching

For the fifth year in a row, iconic buildings across Halifax opened their doors to the public in early June. The event was part of Doors Open Halifax.

Each venue on display had an important historical, contemporary or architectural significance in Halifax. Among the 36 buildings that were visited by the public was the Ralph M. Medjuck Building on Dalhousie University’s Sexton Campus.

To celebrate the five-year anniversary of Doors Open Halifax, event organizers enlisted the help of brilliant local artist, and Dalhousie alumna Emma FitzGerald (MArch’08). She was asked to create a custom sketch highlighting the long-time venues and iconic doors in the city.

“I immediately thought of a poster I grew up with on my childhood kitchen wall, a poster depicting the ‘Doors of Ireland’. It was made up of about 20 photos of doors in Ireland, and I spent many hours looking at it,” says FitzGerald.

She says that poster inspired her to create something similar for her Doors Open Halifax design. As part of her design, was a beautiful sketch of the MedJuck building; a place well known to the Dal alumna.

Sketch of Dalhousie School of Architecture Building, Emma FitzGerald“The emotions I felt while I was at the architecture school ran the whole gamut from accomplishment, to quite honestly, despair. It is not an easy program,” she says. “So drawing it all these years later and having come out on the other side felt quite good, like I had triumphed over all the challenges I faced inside the building.”

Since graduating with her Masters of Architecture degree from Dal, the Vancouver native has become well known around the city of Halifax for her inspiring drawings. Specializing in portraiture, the 34-year-old artist published her first book in 2015 called Hand Drawn Halifax (Formac Publishing). The book captured the life of many neighborhoods across the city, and was awarded the Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Choice award in 2016.

Prior to releasing her first book, FitzGerald had spent many years working in the field of architecture before eventually deciding to incorporate her love for “drawing on location” into her work. This prompted the formation of her own business, Emma FitzGerald Art & Design.

Hand Drawn Halifax cover, Emma FitzGeraldCombining skills gained while working as an architect, FitzGerald now sketches houses and buildings by hand, capturing the memories people create over the years.

“I would say this all began when I was in grade 4, if not earlier; my dream back then was to be an artist/choreographer/writer/architect. I saw a relationship between all those things, even at a very young age,” she says.

“I loved drawing, building forts, reading books, and making up dances. I was able to follow these impulses more formally when I studied drawing and printmaking at UBC, and later architecture at Dalhousie. I have been lucky to find a way to incorporate both architecture and art into these book projects. Though I might not be a dancer, the act of drawing in public is a performance, and I see the daily life of places as a form of theatre.”

With one very successful publication under her belt, FitzGerald is gearing up to release her second book SKETCH BY SKETCH Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore (Formac Publishing).

“I go all the way from Peggy’s Cove to Yarmouth, drawing on location and collecting stories as I go. It differs from the first book in that it is organized by season, as the shore can be so different depending on the time of year,” she says.

FitzGerald says she began working on the publication in the summer of 2015, and is now in the process of completing its final edits.

“The book felt like a natural progression after the Halifax book. A lot of my friends have started moving to Lunenburg and surrounding areas, so I was already heading that way more often,” she says. “The varied history, from Acadian, to Mi’kmaq, to Black Loyalist, made it a very interesting project. Each community has a unique spirit, formed by the people living there, the built environment and the landscape.”Sketches, Emma FitzGerald

FitzGerald says she feels very fortunate to be pursuing a dream she’s had since she was a young girl.

“It is exciting and I feel very happy to be so well received by Haligonians,” she says. “It feels like an extension of when I was a kid and would draw menus and invitations for my Mum’s dinner parties. Drawing was always part of my life and environment.”

Once her second book has been published, FitzGerald says she has no shortage of plans in the works. Her next project will take her to the Pacific Coast.

“I will be working on a book called “Hand Drawn Vancouver,” relocating for 10 months to BC to allow me to spend time closer to my parents and siblings for awhile,” she says. “I am also illustrating a children’s book “EveryBody is Different on EveryBody Street” by author Sheree Fitch, published by Nimbus Publishing. Lots to keep me busy.”