Illustrator Interview – Rebecca Emberley

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Spider jacket iconI discovered Rebecca’s work through participating in her crowd-funding for her ITSY BITSY SPIDER book. By the way, as of two weeks ago, in addition to its print format, this story is is now an interactive book app for the iPad with Little Bahalia Press! Here’s the link. I have always been intrigued by collaborative projects and Rebecca is such a great example of this. (The best thing about self-publishing my picture book was the collaboration with illustrator, Maja Sereda.) 

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[RE] I do both, but usually start with a concept. I have illustrated books for which the finished text came later..

[JM] Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

[RE] I am from a family of artists and that definitely influenced my work! I grew up in New England in a 300 year old house with lots of learning and lots of art going on. However, I was raised to see art as a job, it was the work we did. Living that way is very integrated.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[RE] It was always there – I was introduced and trained by both my parents (they met in art school, one an illustrator and one in fashion design) in everything from oils to sewing – I made shoes, a sailboat, went through silversmithing, copper enameling, collage, watercolor, life drawing, oil and acrylic, batik, embroidery, you name it, we did it. I didn’t buy a greeting card until I was in my 20’s…and I went on this journey with my brother Michael, who is also an illustrator. Off time if you call it that was spent on sports. I ran track we all skied and sailed my brother was and is an avid bike rider.

[JM] How I love the creative journey your parents introduced you to. Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[RE] I will always love collage which is the medium that I used in all my books – first paper on paper, then some found object, now cut paper scanned into the computer. I also am currently enjoying silk-screening, still sewing, some photography, surface design, I like making odd stuff – I have been illustrating for 35 years and I think I’m in the process of moving into design and away from quite as much illustration.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[RE] I’m not sure – probably someone else’s could point out to me the patterns in my work. I definitely have a color palette that recurs. I am not always character driven.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[RE] Sure, everything I publish now is created the same way. I damaged my right hand from repeated years of using scissors and an exacto knife to “draw”. The last book illustrated that way I had to soak my hand in ice once an hour. I knew that couldn’t last…I drifted for awhile, which then leads to your next question about collaboration. My father had been trying to get me to use a computer for years and I resisted. I still don’t have a loving relationship with the computer, but I am grateful for it.

With my father as my tech guide I worked out a process where I can cut much larger looser shapes out of paper then scan them into the computer, color them and create the art. My brain works oddly in that, from the shapes, I can see the art without actually connecting them.

Here’s a look at the book I just finished – it’s a large book of paper party goods hopefully the beginning of a long series! These 4 shots are from my latest book; Party in a Book – Spots, Dots and Stripes.





sketches for pattern surface

sketches for pattern surface

[JM] I admire you reinventing your technique after your repetitive hand injury! Tell us a little about some of your collaborative projects.

[RE] My father and I created 10 books this way. I’m currently collaborating with others for book and book apps and I really love the collaboration process, it’s refreshing to be more outside your own head! I have collaborated with my husband Peter and daughter Adrian on songwriting which is a lot of fun.

[JM] What prompted your change of publishing model for THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER and what was the biggest lesson you learnt from this experience?

[RE] Money – I have always earned my living from books and design work. That was getting harder and harder to sustain yet the bills kept coming. Vast amounts of deep discount sales meant lower royalty rates. I could see that part of the issue with trade children’s book publishing is high overhead. I eliminated most of the overhead. Once you do that you don’t need to sell as many books, but if you do you will profit greatly. Most trade children’s books are sold through the book market. Parents will still buy books but where will they buy them? My sales are split between book, gift and fashion widening the exposure and the customer base.

It’s not for everyone. It is A LOT of admin work that I don’t really care for, but I am working out the kinks. I found a distributor that really fits my business model and my aesthetic. Working with AMMO books has been great. I published 6 books this year but plan to cut back for next year so it’s easier to focus. I’ve learned that there will always be production issues and to not worry about what everyone says you HAVE to do…it’s likely that you will succeed anyway if you have a specific plan in mind.

[JM] If you want to find out more about Rebecca’s entrepreneurial publishing, Emma Dryden interviewed Rebecca about this on her blog, drydenbks, a few months ago.

 Rebecca, what does your workspace look like?

[RE] I am currently in between studios – we are in the process of dividing our property and moving into the barn which we have been renovating and reclaiming studio space for both of to use – here is the outside:


– here is my temp desk upstairs in the barn.


What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

Painting by Maternal Grandmother

Painting by Maternal Grandmother

Self Portraits of Adrian

Self Portraits of Adrian





Puzzle Sculpture in Barn

Puzzle Sculpture in Barn

[RE] I have quite a bit here are a few of my fav’s:

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[RE] Joshua Tree, California

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[RE] Cats – down to one at the moment – and chickens

Husband, Pete and Tula the cat!

Husband, Pete and Tula the cat!

Ruby sketch made by my daughter

Ruby sketch made by my daughter





[JM] Which island in the world would you like to have a month’s creative retreat on?

[RE] Bali

[JM] One word to describe yourself?

[RE] Not possible…

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[RE] Green tea

Rebecca can be find at the following links:                                                 

[JM] One of my most exciting discoveries I have had as I have been interviewing illustrators these past three years, is how many parents and grandparents have been the ones to share their love of art with their (grand)children and create safe, encouraging spaces for them to experiment. I loved reading about the breadth of your creativity, Rebecca, and your flexibility. To your continued success.

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7 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Rebecca Emberley

  1. I am a huge fan of Rebecca’s art, maybe because of her design sensitivities, maybe the playfulness, but definitely the sense of joy in her work – I can smell it, I can hear it! Thanks so much for the interview, ladies. And Rebecca, you are an inspiration to so many of us!

  2. I LOVED this interview. Thank you! It was super inspiring on so many levels. Oh to be a member of the magical Emberley family. Rebecca, your work is lovely and distinctly your own.

  3. Catherine says:

    Great interview ladies! Always so inspiring :0)

  4. What must it be like growing up with artist parents? Must be glorious! My parents were both creative in various area (electronics/art, baking/sewing) but not working artists. I feel like I missed out.

    I love the colors and collage that Rebecca uses and creates! Such happy art. And I think I have studio-barn envy now. 🙂

  5. What an inspiring interview with Rebecca. I love how she faced some major challenges and collaborated with her father and learned to work in a new medium. I love collages. Her work is very unique and beautiful!

  6. Great interview! 😀 I love to learn more about the creative process of artists! 🙂

  7. rhythm says:

    One of my absolute favorite illustrators! Her books are tail wagging fun! Thanks for the insightful interview!

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