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Emma Carlisle Illustrating paper, clay and wood.

April 17, 2015

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Emma Carlisle has recently finished her MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, under the watchful eye of, (amongst other acclaimed tutors) Martin Salisbury, who has a new book out that I reviewed on Monday this week.  I caught up with Emma to ask a few questions about what she is working on now.

What made you take up illustration and where has the path led you since graduating ?

Illustration wasn’t something that I’d even heard of when I was at school, my GCSE art teacher once said that I had a “cartoony style” which at the time I was a little offended by!  I was more interested in painting realistic portraits – not that I was very good at it.  I went onto Hereford College of Art where I studied a National Diploma in Art and Design, this is where I started doing more illustrative work, but even when we started to apply to universities I was still looking at doing Fine Art courses, it wasn’t until one of my lecturers said “Have you thought about Illustration?” that everything seemed to click into place, the prospectus’ were exactly what I was looking for.

It seems strange thinking about how clueless I was, as I think being an illustrator is now a better known career. Even my 5 year old niece says she wants to be an illustrator and work with Auntie Emma when she grows up.  After graduating from my BA in Plymouth, I thought that I’d only just scratched the surface in something I was really interested in – children’s books.  So I applied for the MA in Childrens Book Illustration, which was highly spoken of by my tutors in Plymouth. I couldn’t believe the amazingly talented tutors who we were taught by and I had the best year and a half studying with like minded people. Whilst on the course I was lucky enough to sign a 2 book deal with Macmillan Childrens Books and my first book, ‘Lion Practice’ , will be published by them this July.

Great news Emma, Well Done !

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What did you think of the course and would you recommend it to other artists who may want to go into Children’s Illustration ?

I would 100% recommend it! It was the best year and a half, I learnt so much and gained so much experience, skills and contacts, I couldn’t sing it’s praises any higher! I had a year out between studying on my BA and MA and for those studying now I would say to consider taking that year out to save money and decide if it’s the right step for them. Doing an MA is a massive financial commitment as there is no funding for the course fees or accommodation.

Do you have subjects or areas of illustration that naturally attract you to draw them and equally are there projects or topics that you perhaps wouldn’t find so interesting to illustrate ?

When I was on the MA I was really interested in the cross over between imagination / play within children’s books, so my sketchbooks are full of story ideas and sketches based around this. My ideas come from real life so if I overhear a conversation on a train or see something that interests me I’ll draw that, but it’s mainly cats, I love drawing cats!  Topics I wouldn’t want to illustrate is a hard one, I don’t like drawing horses so maybe that – but weirdly I can draw Unicorns fine : )

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I see your work has diversified into illustrating on clay and wood, can you explain how this progression came about ?

I met my boyfriend Ben last year, he’d been painting wooden badges for years and sold them alongside his comics at fairs. He had some of my cat shapes laser cut for me and he helped me make them into badges, I listed the original 30 on Etsy and they sold within a few days, which neither of us were expecting. From there I designed more and more badges and decided to bite the bullet and apply for a table at Renegade Craft Fair.  I had an intense month of hand painting and making wooden jewellery and in the end took along 500+ badges and necklaces.  Ben jokes that I took something he enjoyed doing and multiplied it to a mass produced scale, but he’s so supportive and I would have never done it without him.

I’d always been really interested in working within ceramics, my friends and I used to sneak down to the ceramics room at University and see what the students had been up to. It was always interesting seeing an idea sketched out and then made into a 3D object.  So when I saw that the art college I used to study at was having a 10 week evening class I jumped at the chance.  After the course was over I was hooked.  I went on to do 18 weeks at my local charity funded art workshop, which is where I really experimented putting my illustrations onto the pots I was making.

Earlier this year I invested and bought a kiln (as I’m moving next month and struggled to find a kiln that I could rent locally.) I really did my research into different kilns and firing temperatures, I spoke to lots of people and went up to Pottery Craft who showed us around the workshop and told us how the kilns were made.

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What has been your favourite work to date ?

Illustration wise it has to be my first book, which is out in July, I’ve been working on it for two years so I can’t wait to see it on the shelves in a few months time. But I really love creating something new within ceramics and thinking  “I made that”.  I think my most recent pots (cats and birds) that have come out the kiln are my favourite right now.

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Who are the artists who most influence your work, or those work you find most amazing to look at ?

I love scrolling through Pintrest and Instagram to find new artists to influence my work. I love that social media makes it so easy now to contact artists that you admire! I ‘met’ Emily MacKenzie via instagram and we now trade pieces of work – I own two of her screen printed cushions that I LOVE !  I’m a huge fan of her work so to find out that she likes mine too is amazing.  Another persons work that I love to look at on Instagram is Polly Fern, her ceramic pieces are incredible, as are her illustrations.

Where do you see your illustration heading in 5 years time ?

More picture books.  Also I’d love to illustrate something a little longer for an early reader audience. I have so many story ideas, I’d be very excited to see them come to life over the next few years.

Pop over to Emma’s Etsy Shop and pick up a pooch today !

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I love the animal broaches and jewellery, where did these shapes and characters spring from ? How much does working in your sketchbook influence what cats and dogs go on to become 3D ?

The fronts of my sketchbooks are book ideas and the back of my sketchbooks are 3D ideas. Sometimes I’ll just draw pages of dogs or cats or foxes and then choose the best ones, scan them in and send the appropriate files off to the laser cutters. Sometimes I’ll look at my stock and think “hmm I’m really missing ____” and then design something around that.

Just before we were going to Renegade last November, I realised I was lacking in anything other than animals, so I put out an instagram post asking for what non-animal designs people would like to see, I had a huge response and some really wonderful ideas. This year I think I’m going to narrow down the collection – a great excuse for me to paint more cats !

You can also find lots of other images on Emma’s Instagram page or on her agent’s site Elizabeth Roy . Well worth a wander.

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Thanks Emma for sharing your lovely work and thoughts with Fishink Blog. Good luck with everything  and we love the cats and dogs too !

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