How Sac State artist Ember de Boer found her passion in 3D sculpture

Moving away from original paintings, de Boer is “married to sculpture.”


Zachary Cimaglio

Ember de Boer stands in front of her work at the “Emerging Artist Showcase” at the Arthouse in Sacramento on Nov. 5, 2021. She said spent a lot of time carefully hanging each piece of the exhibit and the prices of each piece are listed to not undercut the values of the other works in the gallery.

Zachary Cimaglio

Growing up, Ember de Boer was the kind of kid who always had something to draw with in her hand and explained to her mother that she felt compelled to make drawings every day.

Having found her identity as an artist as young as 5 years old, her mother wasted no time getting her signed up for private art lessons where she cultivated her skills and discovered her passion in the following years. 

De Boer at 4 years old draws with a Crayola marker circa 2002. She said had a passion and undying desire to make art since she was a toddler and that was the reason her mother enrolled her in formal art lessons in the following years. (Photo courtesy of Ember de Boer)

De Boer, 23, is studying art and philosophy at Sacramento State, creating works of art in the university’s art sculpture lab, which have now been featured in the Union Gallery and at the “Emerging Artist Showcase” in the Arthouse on R Street, Sacramento. 

She is also the president of Individuals Motivating Progress Across Communities Together Club on campus, an interdisciplinary art club that provides creative spaces for people to create their works in a supportive space.

The club was founded by Genesis “The Mayor” Torres in fall 2020, with de Boer succeeding as the president just a semester later.

While her current work mostly consists of ceramics, resin and 3D art, she got her start with drawing and painting before she found her way into 3D works. 

From the start de Boer experienced mixed feelings about her paintings as the art lessons she took taught her to see things in more than two dimensions, leaving her with a sense of duality in her art. 

A painting of a reindeer in de Boer’s bedroom studio in Lenexa, Kansas circa June 2016. Before she discovered her love for sculpture, she said she poured a lot of her work into 2D painting, specifically of natural environments and animals. (Photo courtesy of Ember de Boer)

“I remember my very first art lesson was about seeing light and dark and everything,” she said. “The sooner you understand that everything that exists physically has these dimensional qualities, the better an artist should become and the more you’ll be able to see things.” 

She said the more she invested herself in her 2D paintings, the more she began to see her art in three dimensions and desired to work with it more directly. 

I’m married to sculpture and painting is my mistress.

— Ember de Boer

“In paintings you recreate form, or you create the illusion of something 3D,” she said. “But sculpture is actually working with it. “

De Boer compared her relationship with painting to a romantic one with a significant other  feeling she was committed to the medium and slowly began to question whether it was “right” for her.

“I’m married to sculpture and painting is my mistress,” she said. “I play with painting. I tried to bring her into my sculptures. But, really the commitment is to making forms, making installations, immersive experiences [and] making tactile objects.”

One of the biggest supporters of her newfound passion for 3D art was Sac State sculpture professor Robert Ortbal, whom she identified as her mentor.

However, Ortbal said he sees himself as one of her peers rather than a person who “teaches” art.

“When it’s really good, a relationship with a student, the learning goes both directions,” Ortbal said. “It’s an exchange. I don’t like to see it as a mentor and a student, but as an artist.”

According to Ortbal, de Boer spent her own time and money to come to a convention in San Francisco where she built some important relationships with the art community. 

“A lot of students just focus on the work,” Ortbal said. “But, there’s another component to being an artist, which is the social [aspect], the networking.”

Ortbal’s guidance and her own connections with other artists paved the way for her to find her true calling in sculpture, which is what most of her work goes into today.

As she gradually discovered her passion for sculpture, de Boer also made a huge change to her life in pursuit of a distinct identity as an artist. 

Originally hailing from Kansas City, de Boer said she never felt like she fit in with her hometown since it was largely out of touch with her own values as an artist and as a person.

De Boer decided that she needed an environment more in tune with the themes in her artwork, which focuses on environmental concerns, and California seemed like the natural choice to her given its diverse art community. 

A glass resin and steel piece titled “Phenomena” from winter 2019, made in the Art Sculpture Lab at Sac State. The piece is part of de Boer’s earliest body of work at Sac State, which she said was critical to her discovery of broken glass as her main medium in future works. (Photo Courtesy of Ember de Boer)

Upon moving to California, however, she found herself working harder than ever to make ends meet and lived with roommates that often treated her poorly.

“I did all sorts of crazy things to save up money because I just wanted it so bad,” she said. “And moving out here, the first three months were rough. I cried every single night for three months.”

Despite these obstacles, she found herself attending Sac State after a roommate of hers recommended it and invited her to sit in on a few figure sculpture classes.

Though she originally had her sights set on Oakland for its diverse art scene, de Boer found herself more at home in Sacramento where she still lives today and works toward her professional career. 

“It feels so familiar that I don’t feel like a fish out of water here,” she said. “That amount of feeling like there was a little bit of familiarity helped me. I would have been so overwhelmed. The size of Oakland compared to Kansas City is incomprehensible.”

Today, de Boer has found success in establishing herself as a local artist, and her work was recently featured in the “Emerging Artist Showcase” titled “Trace Elements” at the Arthouse in Sacramento.

“You can stare at her sculptures for a while trying to figure what elements were used in them,”  said Diana Ormanzhi, the Arthouse’s curator in an email to The State Hornet. “It adds an extra layer of intrigue on top of the already striking sculptural forms.”

De Boer is one of many artists to have her work hung at the showcase because the Arthouse provides a platform for artists from all walks of life, according to Ormanzhi.

“The Emerging Artist Showcase in [the Arthouse] was created to streamline the process of displaying art in a gallery setting for those who are just getting started in the Sacramento arts community,” she wrote. “My goal has always been to display the work of artists from various cultural and social backgrounds while highlighting their unique art practice.”

The showcase, this time titled “Trace Elements,” features de Boer’s most recent work and can be viewed at the Arthouse from Nov. 4 to Dec. 30.