Meet the Woman Making Wisconsin Buildings Brighter One Mural at a Time

By Christina Lorey

December 16, 2022

Fresh off finishing a 95-foot mural on the side of a Janesville school, Emily Balsey shares her biggest projects, her proudest accomplishments, and the advice she’d give any aspiring artist.

UpNorthNews Editor Christina Lorey: How do you describe what you do?

Artist Emily Balsey: I am an illustrator, muralist and maker living in Madison, Wisconsin, who makes colorful, quirky, character-driven art.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love being able to connect with people through my art. Whether it’s a father and son reading one of my illustrated books at bedtime, or engaging with an elderly couple while I am painting one of my murals, these small moments fill me up.

What’s the hardest?

Painting murals means I am away from home for long periods of time. Although I love creating murals, I miss my family! 

Emilys biggest mural a 95 footer next to the playground at St Mary School in Janesville

What’s the biggest mural you’ve ever painted?

I recently finished a 95-foot mural next to a school playground in Janesville, Wisconsin [St. Mary School].

What’s the best mural you’ve ever painted? 

One piece that comes to mind is a mural I painted at the Bubbler at the Madison Public Library during my artist residency in 2019. The mural consisted of book-reading characters drawn with a thick black outline. As the library guests walked by my studio, I asked them to help color the characters with paint markers. Over two months, the mural slowly filled with colored doodles, tiny messages of love and inclusivity, and whimsical patterns. I love thinking about how many hands helped create the final art. 

Emily got the community involved in creating murals for the Madison Public Library

What’s the best piece you’ve ever illustrated?

An illustrated portrait I drew of our family. As it was laying on my desk, unbeknownst to me, my 5-year old daughter added her own doodles and “writing” on it. After my initial shock of her drawing on my original art, I quickly grew to love that portrait because it was our first collaboration! It is still hanging prominently in our living room 10 years later. 

Any advice for any aspiring artists? Something you wish you knew when you were just getting started?

Make something every day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes– take that time for you and your creative process. It doesn’t have to be in your favorite medium, and it does not have to be perfect. The importance lies in the practice, as all of that making will inform your art for years to come. Try to have fun! 

Emily and her daughters first collaboration

What haven’t you done that you still want to?

I’d love to paint a mural that encompasses an entire front of a building including doors and windows. I’ve seen a few during my travels, and I love how they completely transform the space.

Follow Emily’s latest art adventures on her Emily Balsey Illustration Facebook page. And visit her website to check out her greeting cards, framable prints, and more, which are all available for purchase!

Emilys headshot taken by Adam Senatori


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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