This month for the Lars Book Club we have been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I am loving it! Our illustrator feature Emma Block created the lovely book art inspired by this book. It will have you longing for a cozy night in. Perfect for these cold, dark winter months! Emma is a British illustrator whose work we have admired for years. She graciously let us peek into her workspace as she gave us some insights into her career and how she got there. If you haven’t checked out her Instagram page, you’re in for an inspiring treat!
So let’s dive into the interview!
Illustrator Feature: Emma Block
Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you get your start?
I’ve always known that I wanted a creative career, and I’ve always loved drawing painting and making things. When I was 16 I studied a two-year art and design course, which is where I learnt about illustration and first started putting my drawings on the Internet. Through my blog, I had my first illustration commissions by the time I was 17.
How does your upbringing influence your creations? Where do you turn for inspiration?
I grew up in London and had a very creative upbringing. Neither of my parents are artists, but I was always encouraged to be creative and I had a whole cupboard dedicated to paints, paper, glitter, and pom-poms. I love visiting museums and galleries in London for inspiration, and travel is a huge inspiration for me.
Aside from illustration what other mediums, hobbies, or activities do you enjoy?
I love yoga, baking and reading. Even if you do the thing you love for anything it’s there important to switch off and relax.
What are your favorite things about running your own business? How do you juggle the creative and business sides of your company?
I love being my own boss. I started at such a young age that I’ve never really had a proper job. After I did one shift in the biscuit factory when I left university and decided to stick with illustration. I am lucky that I really enjoy the creative and the business side of things. I hate doing my accounting, but I love negotiating with clients and using social media to promote my business and connect with people. Of course, the best thing about being an illustrator is days spent at my desk painting with a cup of tea and a podcast in the background.
How much value do you place on attending art or design school?
I had five years of art education, two years of general art and design and a three-year illustration degree. I don’t think having a degree in illustration is essential, and it is a big decision to make with university fees so high, but I know I did really grow and improve during my time at university. There are so many wonderful online courses these days, teaching everything from the practical elements of painting and drawing to running a small business. I think if you have the skill and passion you can definitely become an illustrator without needing a degree.
Social media gives people a much larger platform to display their work. What are the pros and cons of being so visible?
For me being on social media has hadhuge benefit. It’s how I get all of my work, and it’s helped me both secure book deals and promote my book. I love how interactive social media is. I can see which project people enjoy from my book, and I can answer their queries. It feels like I have students all around the world. I guess the downside is establishing life-work balance, in terms of how much time you are dedicating to social media, also how much you personally share. It’s very easy to spend evenings replying to comments and messages and forget that that is actually work.
I’m really lucky that all my followers are really lovely and I almost never have unkind or inappropriate messages or comments. I am careful not to share too much of my personal life or where I live. I do often get recognised in London now, which is strange!
You’ve worked with some incredible companies! What advice do you have for those who hope to work with similar clients? How were you discovered?
For me it definitely all comes from being on social media. People have from my work through Pinterest, Instagram and Google images. Don’t underestimate the power of good SEO. With certain companies like greetings card companies and publishers they will have submission guidelines on their websites, but with a lot of dream clients, there isn’t a clear way to contact them. The best thing to do is to be making really beautiful work that you love and make it as visible as possible online.
Have you had any major setbacks on the road to where you are now and how did you overcome them?
There have been times earlier in my career but I said yes to things I shouldn’t have, and ended up working too hard for too little money. I’ve grown in confidence hugely over the years, and my business has grown too. The biggest challenge I face is dealing with the chronic repetitive strain injury in my hand and wrist. Years of working for too long without a break has permanently damaged my wrist, I can still work but I need to take things at a slower pace. I take regular breaks, I stretch, I wear a wrist support, I see a physiotherapist, I dictate everything instead of typing. Unfortunately, you don’t really think about doing any of this stuff until you’ve already injured yourself.
When you’re in a creative funk, what helps you overcome the roadblocks?
I will just switch things up and do something else. If I’m stuck with a painting I’ll go to the post office and run some errands, or go out for coffee with my husband (he is a jazz musician and usually at home in the day) or I will just work on a different project. I normally have several different paintings on the go at once, and if one isn’t working I can just switch to something else.
Photos provided by Emma Block and taken from her Instagram.