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Finish of the Month About Kathy Contact Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes

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Emma Wright - The Wright Touch

Like many college freshmen faced with the prospect of choosing their career path, Emma Wright was undeclared in her major and didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. Although she had a passion for biking and was on the cycling team at the University of California San Diego, she knew she wanted something more for her future.

Fortuitously, Emma was working in the campus bike shop when a team of decorative painters – who traveled by bicycle – asked her to join them on their next trip to help maintain their bikes and try her hand at painting. She soon discovered she had a talent for the craft and before she knew it, she joined the nationally known decorative painting firm of Larry Boyce & Associates of San Francisco as an apprentice in 1982.

While working on a residential project in Aspen, Colo., Emma had an epiphany. “I was stenciling on a staircase and suddenly knew that I had found my calling,” she admits. “I can’t even explain the feeling that overcame me. I just knew this was it.”

Having received invaluable on-the-job training from working on a wide range of projects such as the Archbishop’s Mansion and Zen Center Guest House in San Francisco, Emma  eventually became a full partner at Boyce & Associates, along with Tom Cielsa and George Zaffle.

In 1985, Emma moved to Stockholm, Sweden, and worked with one of the country’s largest private painting firms, Larsson & Ornmark. For the next five years, she further honed her skills working with Old World masters in wood graining and marbling.

The firm did not have a stencil artist among its hundred of painters, so that was a niche Emma was able to fill while working on the restoration of 18th and 19th century structures in downtown Stockholm, including the Royal Drama Theatre, National Museum, Grand Hotel, and Central Bath House. Some of her intricate stencil patterns – ranging from elements of gold leaf to imagery of flowers and pheasants – required as many as 16 separate overlays to complete.

Upon returning to her hometown of San Diego in 1991, Emma established her own decorative painting business – The Wright Touch. Since then, she has worked on a number of California’s landmarks, including The Prado in Balboa Park, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Sacramento, and La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla.

With a specialty in restoring historical buildings from the 1870s to 1920s period, she has also worked on many prominent residences throughout San Diego County using her expertise in: faux painting, fresco finishes, textured finishes, patinas and metallics, press patterns, pin striping, marbling, custom color wall glazing, troweled finishes, Venetian plasters, antiqued and distressed finishes, stenciling, dragging, ornamental and polychrome painting, wood graining, and color matching and consulting.

“Every job is different, and I learn something new on every project,” Emma enthuses. “I enjoy helping to make my clients’ environments special and unique for them, giving new life to their walls and ceilings. Plus, it’s nice being able to work with my hands and actually having something to show for a day’s work.”

Her artistry has garnered praise and recognition in such noted publications as the New York Times, Smithsonian, San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego Magazine, The Artistic Stenciler, The Faux Finisher, and Paint & Decorating Retailer. She has also been featured on television, including Sign On San Diego for her renovation work on THE US GRANT and the PBS series Small Business 2000.

To further expand her techniques, Emma has studied at The Pardon School of Specialist Decoration in London and various institutions in California. She also continues to collaborate with other artisans and painting companies. That is how she came into contact with Kathy Carroll and The Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes. When Emma was visiting a studio in San Diego, she was intrigued by a “Lime Butter” wall created by Kathy.

“I contacted Kathy and just started talking shop with her,” Emma recalls. “We hit it off right away because of our shared passion for decorative painting and faux finishing. I really appreciate being able to discuss what’s going on in the field and the different materials available with other professionals like Kathy.”

When asked about her favorite project, Emma easily points to her part in the 2006 renovation of THE US GRANT, San Diego’s second oldest hotel. Partnering with fellow artisan and friend David H. Lown, their work focused on restoring the historical aspects of the landmark property’s public spaces – lobby, entries, ballrooms and meeting rooms – and involved painting and finishing the luxury hotel’s ornate plaster and woodwork.

“Although I have worked on many large-scale projects, I have never been in the lead until THE US GRANT,” Emma explains. “It was exciting to be a part of the decision-making process. And having studied abroad, it has been an honor to be able to come home and give back to my community by working on historical buildings like this one.”

According to Emma, there isn’t necessarily any one project that has been the most challenging. “Being in this business for as long as I have, it’s the ebb and flow of working that can be difficult. Getting established on your own really takes a long time, especially with all the talent that is out there.”

For newcomers to the faux finishing and decorative painting field, she advises: “Patience is key. It’s finding the balance of making a living and weathering the dry spots.”

For more information on Emma Wright and The Wright Touch, contact her by phone at 619-296-3662, e-mail at emma@sandiegodecorativepainting.com, or Web site at www.sandiegodecorativepainting.com.

 

Faux by Kathy ©2003-2008
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