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- author Jackie French

Thursday 1 November 2018

Meet the Illustrator: Emma Quay

 Describe your illustration style in ten words or less. 
Capturing small, everyday moments with sketchy lines and movement.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
Solitude, light, silence, time… and my sketch book and pencil case.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I think it might be good old pencil — a nice soft, blunt one. It’s where my books always begin, and often stay.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
It’s hard to find someone who can draw like Degas, capture colour and light like Bonnard or develop characters like Schulz.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
A small part of me likes the idea of renting a studio in the Montmartre of the beginning of the 20th Century, amongst those of Picasso, Matisse, Derain and friends; sharing the excitement of new ground being broken, devoting every minute of daylight to my art, and joining in the stimulating and impassioned conversation over dinner at the Lapin Agile before returning, inspired, to my canvasses to work late into the night. However, after a short time I’m sure I’d grow tired of the egos, the squalor and the arguments, and long to get back to my quiet studio in suburban 2018. As I said, I do like my solitude!

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I’ve always made books, since I was a small child — there was something in me that needed to tell stories, firstly through pictures and later with words too. My mum tells me that as a toddler I’d fold up any scrap of paper I could find and cover it with drawings. I must have been inspired by the picture books tucked into bed with me every night, with illustrations by Eric Carle, Celestino Piatti, Dick Bruna, Margot Zemach, Brian Wildsmith, David McKee and Maurice Sendak.

My new book, My Sunbeam Baby, is dedicated to our long-time family friends, the Fudges. It was Heather Fudge who sewed some of my first books together — the diaries from our caravan holidays in Wales. I thought it was magical that a line of stitches down the ‘spine’ could turn a few sheets of folded paper into a book. Seeing a small number of sentences and a handful of illustrations transformed into a printed and bound picture book still holds the same delight for me.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
This is the ‘dry’ area of my studio, where I do most of my drawing. There is a desk for computer work nearby, but I like to draw with my paper in my lap — I find my line work is a lot looser and livelier if I do. I’m surrounded by things I treasured as a child, including Bobby the dog and pottery made by my dad, as well as the charity shop finds no one else wants in the house! At four o’clock, the light streams into my studio through the long, diagonal rooftop windows and makes lovely patterns on the walls.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
It’s difficult to choose! There’s the endorphin rush of the early stages when the ideas are flowing and anything seems possible, and then there’s the wonderful stage that comes just after the long task of making the outlines and constantly checking for continuity, when one begins to add a little colour and texture and it somehow seems to make everything come together and the characters burst into life.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
One of the most important parts of the picture book illustration process is deciding which moments to illustrate, and not always choosing the ones which initially cry out for attention. Making sure you spend long enough trying different ideas, and sketching through them at this stage is invaluable. Through my illustrations, I often try to imply what might happen in the moment after the one I’ve chosen to depict — even if it’s as simple as drawing a character mid-movement, or a drip falling from a melting ice lolly.

Emma grew up in the English countryside, and has wanted to illustrate children's books for as long as she can remember. She works from a studio in her garden and sometimes feels like she barely leaves it, but her illustrative work is held in collections around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Emma Quay is a writer and illustrator of many award-winning picture books; her memorable characters for Rudie Nudie, Shrieking Violet, Bear and Chook, Not a Cloud in the Sky, Daddy’s Cheeky Monkey and Scarlett, Starlet are favourites on many children's bookshelves. 
You can follow Emma on instagramfacebook and pinterest or check out her website