A Conversation with Emily Sutton
Emily Sutton chats to us about her inspirations, methodologies and favourite things...
What does it mean to you to make art for children?
I think that children are both the harshest critics and the most appreciative audience; you can always rely on them to be brutally honest and I love that when they like something they engage with it in such an intense way. I have a 3 year old niece and it’s so inspiring to view the world through her eyes – she notices the smallest and most particular details, and this is at the forefront of my mind when creating my illustrations.
What were your sources of inspiration for the product you have designed for Sessions & Co.?
I have a beautiful Victorian school chart hanging in my studio and this provided the main inspiration for my print. In addition, I have a large collection of antique picture books and ephemera that also fed into the imagery.
Did you have a favourite work of art when you were growing up?
As a child I was absolutely obsessed with picture books; particularly those with a lot of detail such as Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do all Day? and the books of Maurice Sendak. I was given a copy of Edward Lear’s The Jumbilees illustrated by Edward Gorey and I remember being intrigued by the intensely hatched and mysterious images. Given my current career it’s perhaps surprising that I wasn’t so interested in visiting fine art galleries (that has since changed!) but was more engaged with cartoons, illustrations and the puppets of Jim Henson.
What do you do when faced with a blank page?!
Despite having worked as a full time artist for nearly a decade the fear of the blank page never seems to go away! To try and avoid this I will always start by working through ideas in my sketchbook – it’s a less formal and daunting space and I don’t worry about making a scrawling mess. I usually begin with tiny thumbnail scribbles and the ones that show promise will get worked up with more detail until they’re ready to emerge onto the blank sheet. With something complex like a book or this alphabet print it’s essential to map it out in this way. With my watercolours the planning stage is much shorter, and sometimes I actually like the freedom of working spontaneously onto a fresh sheet of paper. It does take a certain amount of bravery though, like plunging into cold water!
Do you have a particular thing you listen to when you’re designing?
I’m currently obsessed with podcasts. Despite the fact that I love living and working on my own I find it comforting and relaxing to have some background chat. My favourites are This American Life and Marc Maron’s WTF but I also subscribe to lots of comedy podcasts and went through a true crime stage as well (an interesting juxtaposition to illustrating children’s books!). As for music, if I really need to focus, I turn off the dialogue and listen to American big band music from the forties or some jazz which reminds me of past New York adventures.
What’s your most treasured object (inspiration)?
My most treasured object? Hmm that’s tricky; I have so many objects, books and toys that I find inspiring and that feed into my work, but as a very nostalgic person I would probably choose the sampler that my grandma (Nanny) made when I was born. She was a primary school teacher in America and her husband was a librarian; it’s a great sadness that they weren’t alive to see me become an illustrator of children’s books. I have it framed and hanging in my bedroom and I think of her and my grandpa (Pop) every time I see it.
What are your tools of the trade?
My tools are basic: pencils; dip pen; watercolours; inks; hot pressed paper. Nothing fancy or high tech which makes life a lot more simple, I find. I sometimes work in fabric and also do some printmaking.