ALTON - Let it never be said that Emily Vandygriff backs down from a dare.

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This Alton nurse enjoyed making art privately in her free time. But when a friend dared her to share her paintings and drawings with the world, Vandygriff couldn’t say no. Now, the casual hobby she once used to manage stress has made Vandygriff the August Artist of the Month at Milton Schoolhouse.

“I work nights as a nurse, and it kind of became like a way for me to cope,” Vandygriff said about painting and drawing. “Sometimes when I get done, I can just breathe a little better with certain things in my life…So it just kind of went from there. I was submitting to galleries, and I started getting in. That also became a little challenge to the drive of, okay, we’re making art to feel better, but people want to see it.”

The themes of Vandygriff’s work can vary. She loves horror, so she enjoys painting pictures of her 7-year-old son as a zombie to make him laugh. She remembers a phase where she drew monsters in a feminine, 1950s pin-up style, and another phase of drawing birds “because [she] think[s] they’re scary.” Her family has four cats, who are also some of Vandygriff’s recurring subjects.

But of course, her favorite muse is her son. Just like art has helped her, she uses it to help him.

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“He does make it into a lot of my stuff,” Vandygriff said. “But also, some of my paintings are the monsters he said he’s seen at night, or when he has a bad dream. We work through it and I paint his monster, and then he’s not scared of it anymore.”

Vandygriff learned about the Milton Schoolhouse artist spotlight one day when she and her son were ghost-hunting at the allegedly haunted building. As her son peeked around corners with his flashlight and fiddled with an EMF reader, she sipped coffee and admired the artwork on the walls.

A few months later, it’s her work on display. Ever since that fateful dare, several of Vandygriff’s pieces have been featured in galleries or art shows. But she always remembers why she started making art in the first place: for fun and for herself.

Case in point, Soulard Art Gallery in St. Louis is currently hosting the “Art to Make You Smile” exhibit, which runs through Sept. 1. Vandygriff has a piece in the exhibit, a “botched” drawing of her niece that “just kept getting worse and worse” while she drew it. But she loves it. Whether her work is accepted into galleries or not, whether it’s perfect or “botched,” she loves what she does.

“She cracks me up,” Vandygriff said of the drawing, adding, “I still laugh about the fact that I was rejected from an abstract show because my husband still to this day is like, ‘You’re terrible at abstract. You would have been better off submitting our son’s work.’ Probably would’ve. But that’s okay. Not everyone is good at every kind of art.”

Maybe, but Vandygriff is pretty great at her art. To see it for yourself, stop by Milton Schoolhouse during the month of August or check out Vandygriff’s work at her Facebook page or @art_by_emilyvandygriff on Instagram.

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