Emily Emerson

Emily Emerson

Emily Emerson Interview

Emily Emerson

Children's Illustrator

Was creativity part of your childhood?

Absolutely. I knew since I was very young that I wanted to be an artist and I would tell people that was what I would do when I grew up. I used to have art contests with my friends and took a lot of pride in being the “artist” of the class at school. My father is a photographer and my mother studied painting and textile design in school so I had a nurturing, creative family that has always supported my choice to be an illustrator. I feel fortunate for that.

Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

Growing up, I loved The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. My favorite movie as a child was My Neighbor Totoro. When I was a teenager I discovered the other magical worlds of Studio Ghibli and was totally enchanted by them. Later, I discovered vintage children’s books from greats like Mary Blair and the Provensens.  Even just looking at photos of amazing animals from around the world in National Geographic is so inspiring. As a kid, I would read interesting facts about animals and recite them to anyone who would listen.

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Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?

I have a strong, early memory of a board book featuring The Muppets as babies. I vividly recall the joy of seeing the colorful characters on each page. I still have that book!

Do you keep a sketch book?

I do have a sketchbook, though I often go back and forth between drawing in it and drawing on loose sheets of paper. I sketch in pencil, and then take the sketches to the computer to color. I want to take some time this Spring, when the flowers are blooming again, to sit by an open window, listen to the birds and start a gouache sketchbook. In fact, I’d like to just skip Winter and get right to it!

Talk us through the process of creating one of your latest illustrations or books.

I start by sketching my subject, let’s say an animal, from reference. I study what gives the animal its interesting characteristics and personality. Then I simplify or exaggerate those features. I sketch on paper and enjoy this time away from the computer. After presenting a few sketches to the client, I take it to the computer and add color in Photoshop. I also sometimes add textures I’ve found (such as from paper, large pebbles, or marble, etc. that I’ve taken photos of) to create a textured look. I keep working, adding more and more detail, and making any changes the art director requests until the art is approved!

What do you hope children take away from your drawings?

The same thing I took from books as a child: a love and compassion for animals and nature.

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Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.

My studio has items I’ve purchased from art fairs, a wooden elephant-shaped clock handcrafted by a local artist, and a lovely print of an Alison Jay painting featuring some rabbits in a hot air balloon (the balloon is a tulip and the basket is a Delft teacup). This painting reminds me of a trip I once took to the Netherlands. On my desk, I have my sketchbook, a calendar, and a glass cup with sunflowers painted on it (I’m from Kansas) that holds my pencils. On the technical side, I have an iMac and a Wacom Cintiq - both of which are invaluable to me!

Outline your dream project.

The “Save the Manatees” and “Save the Rainforest” campaigns were big when I was a kid. I had t-shirts and school supplies with illustrations of manatees and tree frogs on them. I would like to work on projects that increase public awareness about important environmental issues – such as saving the bees and other pollinators.

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