Celebrating Curiouser with Emily MacKenzie
Last year Curiouser and Curiouser celebrated its big 10th birthday and, despite the recent lockdowns, we are beyond grateful for the decade of retail adventures. We have had a fantastic time working with so many talented artists and getting to know so many lovely customers. One of the nice things about running a business like ours is really getting to know artists, sometimes at the beginning of their careers, and seeing them grow and develop over time. We want you to meet the creative people behind artwork that we love.
So we invited the Edinburgh-based illustrator Emily MacKenzie to tell us a little bit about herself. Best known to our Curiouser customers as the creator of the "50 Shades of Scotland" & "50 Shades of England" prints, she is as colourful as her artworks! Emily's home in Portobello feels like being inside a rainbow with hundreds of art pieces hanging together, each drawing you into their colourful details. We interviewed Emily and this is what we found out.
(note: since the interview Emily moved house. I haven't visited yet but I bet it is just as colourful and dreamy)
Watercolour circles so characteristic for Emily's 50 Shades prints.
- Emily, how did you start your creative adventure?
After graduating from ECA with a degree in graphic design I worked for 7 years as a book cover designer for an Edinburgh based publishing company, but always dreamed of becoming a children’s book illustrator. About 6 months or so before my 30th Birthday I started to panic about not doing what I really enjoyed, grumbled about what to do for a few months then decided to take the plunge and go freelance in the hope of getting a bit closer to my dream job. I then spent time developing my illustration style in a studio I shared with my friend Lizzie for a couple of years and amongst other things we’d make screen-printed products to sell at craft fairs. It was then that my first book ideas started to develop from the results of some screen-printed notebooks I made.
2. What was it about children's illustration that you were so drawn to?
I've always loved children's books and remember having some real favourites as a child that are still on my shelves in my studio as I still look at them for inspiration. I'm drawn to character illustration and as a child I loved getting lost in the world of the character in the book I was reading really studying the detail in the pictures, I also really loved imaginative play with my favourite toys - Sylvanian Families. My favourite books were usually about forest animals as we lived next to a pine forest, and the games I had with my Sylvanians were often outside in the garden or woods. I think the things I read and played have really shaped and inspired my work as an illustrator and I still really enjoy the escapism of jumping into working on illustrations of a character/world I've created and the endless possibilities of things that my characters can get up to.
Wall of inspiration and creativity in the studio.
3. How do you approach a new project?
It’s different each time really, particularly with my children’s book work. Some characters form in my sketchbooks before I know what their story is going to be, other ideas for picture books develop in my head as a text but then I don’t know what animal to make the main character. With my prints and other work it’s a similar thing, it varies depending on the project. My 50 Shade of Scotland print idea formed in my head one day when walking around town and by the time I got home I had a list of more than half the colours I had to quickly write down. If I want to think through an idea a bit more or if I get stuck writing part of a story, I find going for walks or swims often helps me with the development process. Also just spending days drawing whatever comes into my head and then pinning it up in front of my desk so I can keep looking at it often helps spark bigger projects off.
4. What is the message behind your work?
I’m not sure I really have one! I just make things that make me happy or appeal to my sense of humour really.
The cutest group of little hedgehogs in yellow vests going for an outing.
5 Does being a mum changes how you see your work?
Definitely! My book characters are often inspired by people I know or things my nieces/nephews/friend's kids get up to, and I can already see a similar thing happening with my own son. I worked on the story/artwork for my latest book 'Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter' (which was published June 2020) from him being about 6 months old to 26 months when I finished the drawings last Spring. Over that period the things Roddy was getting up to (teething/weaning/crawling etc) and the toys and objects he was playing with just naturally became things I drew into the artwork so this book will always be a fun reminder of these early years with him. I'm also finding I'm thinking about drawing things he's really interested in so as he's obsessed with numbers, owls, learning colours and trains at the moment it'll be fun to see if these things end up in my future projects!
6. Best things in your creative life?
Tricky! At the moment I’ve fallen back in love with screen printing after four years of not doing any. I’m really enjoying thinking in separations again as it’s very different to how I’ve been working on my more recent projects. The majority of my work is made using a mixture of watercolour inks, watercolour crayons and coloured pencils so it’s fun to be using layers of flat colours and a limited palette for a change.
Emily's working space with inks and watercolours.
7. What is the project you are particularly proud of?
I’d say it’s my book Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat. Although it was my second book to be published it was the first one I developed and went to my publisher with.
8. What animal would you choose to be in your next life?
Polar bears are my favourite animal but I don’t think I’d like to be one - they have it tough! I grew up next to a pine forest so maybe I’d be better suited to being a hedgehog or a deer or something like that.
Emily in front of her 50 Shades of Scotland print.
We hope you love them as much as we do.
Many thanks to Emily for finding the time to talk to me.