Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sustainability inspires a Philadelphia artist​ with vision​ and drive

By Staff Blogger

PHILADELPHIA -- Emma Podietz, an avid bicyclist who once made a grueling cross-country road trip from Colorado to Pennsylvania, graduated from New York University in 2012 with degrees ​in environmental studies and Latin American studies, with a minor in art.

Now based in her hometown of Philadelphia, the 25-year-old artist and
environmentalist is working as a freelance illustrator and ​on the outreach and education team of Philly's new bike share system, Indego.

Last year, when Vanderbilt
​University ​
law professor Edward
​L. ​
Rubin was getting ready to publish his first novel -- a 'cli-fi' story titled "The Heatstroke Line" -- he was looking for an artist to do the cover for
​the book
, and knowing Podietz from a family connection and an earlier academic book she illustrated for him, he asked her if she had time to
​do a new cover illustration for him.

She did, and the novel will be published soon by Sunbury Press in Pennsylvania and her artwork adorns the cover. In a recent email exchange, I asked Emma how she created the cover -- and how it all came about

"Thanks for your interest," she told me
in a recent email. "I am so grateful for this opportunity to do the cover art for Ed's book, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the book does once it is released nationwide."

, who grew up in Philadelphia in the 1990s and entered NYU in 2008
​, ​
said that even as a kid she did a lot of drawings and paintings on her own.
​Even at home, both her parents were into both painting and drawing and her family so that valued the artistic side of things, she said.

"I did a few side illustration jobs throughout middle and high school, and I continued to make art whenever I could as an extracurricular activity," she said. "After graduating from college, where I started out as a studio art major but ended up studying environmental studies and Latin American studies, I didn't really plan on having a career as an artist or illustrator. Actually, my goal was and still is to find a career that combines my artistic ability with my passion for environmental and social issues."

Working on Rubin's debut climate-themed novel set in a dystopian near future, Podietz found a good way to marry her art skills with her worries about global warming.

"Given what Ed's novel is about, you can imagine that I was thrilled to be working on the cover art," she said. "The concept of my illustration came mainly from my several conversations I had with Professor Rubin. I did
't want to create a cover image that was too melodramatic, but at the same time I felt it was important to create an image of a world that no human would ever want to inhabit.
I think that in this illustration, the colors do that work for the viewer, particularly the yellow sky and red sun."

[NOTE TO READERS: The last scene in Rubin's novel occurs when the main character has to walk a little more than a mile in Birmingham, Alabama (i.e., below the so-called ''Heatstroke Line)'' in April of that imagined future year, about 150 years from now. The temperature on that day is about 140 degrees, and the man in fact suffers heatstroke, and almost dies. But a 12 year old girl who goes with him does not suffer heatstroke. This is the scene depicted in the cover illustration!

As someone who loves the great outdoors and did a cross-country bicycle trip across America, Emma says that her interest in art and nature comes from her upbringing.
"I think my family has instilled in me the value of making things with my hands and also an appreciation for the great outdoors," she said. "My grandfather, who is now 96 years old and in near perfect health, has always loved camping and hiking and passed this on to my father, so our family went camping a lot while I was growing up.''

As an artist and environmentalist, Podietz has high hopes, noting: "Although I'm still exploring and figuring out a career path, I believe that the biggest challenge facing humanity is to figure out how to raise standards of living around the world while simultaneously monitoring and reducing the negative environmental and public health impacts that result from most forms of "development".

When asked for few words about Rubin's new novel, Podietz was upbeat, telling this blogger:

''This highly-imaginative novel is a valuable addition to the emerging 'cli-fi' (climate fiction) genre, and is a great initiator of conversation and debate relating to the potential consequences of global climate change. In 'The Heatstroke Line,' Ed Rubin carefully constructs a future in which technology allows human life to continue despite catastrophic changes caused by global warming. In this apocalyptic world, self-driving cars carry passengers straight from one climate-controlled space to another so that no one ever has to go outside in the suffocating heat. Vast regions of the world have become uninhabitable, and years of war and climate-related catastrophe have entirely reshaped global politics and power dynamics.''
"The novel tells the story of one man trying to raise a family in a future that is very different from today, have a successful career as a scientist, and find meaning in a world that many would find devastating to live in," she added. "It was jarring for me to read this book and consider that if our mindsets do not change, the current trajectory of human development might lead us into a future like the one imagined here. "

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