Emma Yarlett – Illustrator Interview

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MeI promised you more Europeans so here is another fellow-Brit, Emma Yarlett. I think when you see ORION AND THE DARK, you will realize why I shot off an email immediately to Emma to see if she would be up for an interview. By the way, 95% of the artists I ask are happy to do interviews despite their often crazy schedules!


ORION AND THE DARK – Orion is scared of wasps and monsters and girls and sheds and storms and spiders and heights, but most of all he’s scared of… The DARK!

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

[EY] Definitely an Author/Illustrator. I’m doing more and more author/illustrated books and enjoying it so thoroughly. I find that to be able to imagine the words and the pictures together from the very beginning creates a fusion, which is a little harder to find in collaborative books which are written and illustrated by two different people. When I’m writing and drawing a book they words and pictures are imagined at the same time- although it’s the words that pour out of my pencil first. I leave the pictures in my head for a little longer… to let them whirl around and form more conclusively before transferring them onto paper.

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

[EY] I am originally from the Leicestershire in the midlands in the UK. It’s a beautiful place full of wonderful countryside as well as the smoke of a big city. I think having grown up within 15 minutes of nature and 15 minutes of city life has helped in being able to dip into the emotions I felt as a child in either place… handy when writing children’s books!

I now live in the beautiful town of Falmouth in Cornwall which is 300 miles away from Leicestershire and by the sea. I find the slower pace of living and the beautiful surroundings really help me to produce my books with as little stress as possible. More and more I want to incorporate the beauty of my surroundings into my work… but it can be hard when the book subject doesn’t quite lend itself to seascapes!

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

[EY] It’s the classic response, but I have always drawn… My parents have a loft full of my childhood drawings in Leicestershire! Even from an early age I was always encouraged as an artist, something that I am so grateful to my parents, family and friends for. There were a lot of people cheering me on and providing the opportunities to experience life as an illustrator even as a young teenager doing a bit of additional summer work experience at a graphic designers! My more fully fledged experience as an artist began when my art studies became full-time when I was 18. It was an amazing experience to be submerged into the art world and be creating art everyday. Initially most things looked awful, but as I continued to experiment and push through barriers, gradually my ‘signature’ or ‘fingerprint’ began to appear… the thing that made my work look like my work.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[EY] My preferred medium is a mixture of lots of things. My favourite of those are; watercolour, gouache, collage and pencil.

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

[EY] When I started creating real published books I seemed to go through a ‘night phase.’ The night time, the night sky and space have always enthralled me… and so I think when I found a platform for my work I suddenly had the space to exude that enthrallment!

I’ve also noticed that my work does have an autobiographical quality. My second book Orion and the Dark (published by Candlewick on March 24th) is all about a very imaginative little child with a BIG fear of the dark… Something my parents and I find very familiar!

[JM] UK and Continental European picture book audiences are often quite different to US ones. Do you create with a specific audience in mind?

[EY] My specific audience is children and people. I always aim to create something that I love, a child will love, and an adult will love. I don’t ever think of regional audiences (which may be to my detriment!) but aim to create a universal message that a child of any country would engage with.

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

[EY] Here are a few bits and pieces from Orion and the Dark. I LOVED working on this book, it really was such a joy. I especially loved creating ‘The Dark’ as character that encompassed the characteristics of the dark whilst looking a little mysterious and scary at first… but ultimately is a very friendly and kind chap.Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.49.42 Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.45.48 Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.45.35 Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.45.10

This first piece shows a little of Orion’s character and what exactly he is scared of… (most things it would seem!). The second piece shows a moment from a little later on in the book… I won’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil it for you! The third piece shows a little bit of the UK edition’s secret hidden cover…

All of these artworks involved a lot of trial and error, painting and repainting to create that ‘moment’ that I was hoping to convey. Each involved a great deal of mixed media, with very little digital editing. I really love to create art that has a physical final painting.

[JM] What advice do you have for illustrators trying to break into the children’s literature field?

[EY] Keep going! Keep making your work better. Never get to a place where you think “Aha! This is the best thing I will ever do!” and just stop progressing… Art should be constantly evolving.

Also on a far more practical level- it’s so important to network! Doing work experience, contacting industry people and going to conferences and book fairs may feel a little strange and like it’s taking you away from your studio but the repercussions of doing these sort of things will be felt for years ahead. When I was in my second year of university I did some self-initiated work experience at a publisher, and today (five years on) I’m just completing my second book with that very publisher. It’s amazing to have that sort of history with a company and to be able to look back and see the journey.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[EY] It looks a little bit like this…! Recently I did a guest blog about my workplace so thankfully I’ve got lots of photos lying around on my desktop at the moment!

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

We have lots of ‘things’ hung up around our house. Here are a few examples!

tumblr_nizp0b7bRY1qapprso1_500 tumblr_nizp0vOhJM1qapprso1_500 tumblr_nizp15Aetx1qapprso1_500 tumblr_neit1sPz701qapprso3_1280 tumblr_neit1sPz701qapprso4_1280

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

[EY] Uplands Park in Oadby, Leicestershire, England. It’s where I spent so many days climbing trees and playing football as a kid.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[EY] DOGS! Although we do have a very charming lion cat that comes and miaows at our door but then inexplicably runs away when you open it.


[JM] I. WANT. THAT. CAT! Okay, back to you. Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[EY] I nearly became a professional soccer player.

[JM]  Oh my gosh, I love that. I played more cricket than soccer growing up. One word to describe yourself.

[EY] Imaginative!

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

[EY] ANYTHING with chocolate on it.

I love your Sardinia/Sardine art! Emma thank you so much for joining us on Miss Marple’s Musings. I also personally love the fact that so little of your work is digital. Wishing you continued success along your journey.

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9 Responses to Emma Yarlett – Illustrator Interview

  1. I love, love Emma’s depiction of The Dark! There is something both happily wondrous and eerily Twilight-Zone-ish about it that appeals to my similarly dichotomous personality.

    I also love and agree with what she said about creating with “children and people” in mind with universal themes, and not a particular regional audience.

    And my third love (trying not to overuse the word here) is the art in her house. That wall full of origami cranes and the paper skeleton sculpture…oh. My. Goodness! Both of those just make me so very happy, and brought a ray of sunshine to my cloudy Wednesday. 🙂

  2. I love Emma’s work and how she views things as an artist. Her depiction of the dark is both spooky and fun at the same time — perfect for a child’s imagination. I like Emma’s thoughts about “art should be constantly evolving.” She’s had a wonderful journey to date, but an even more interesting one ahead of her. Love the creative artwork in her house. Great interview. I look forward to reading her book.

  3. Keila Daws says:

    Talent! Brilliant to make the Dark a character. Thanks for the peekaboo. And the permission to eat more chocolate where inspiration cones from, apparentlym

  4. Awfully nice of Emma to stop by for a chat – that’s what the interview feels like! I enjoyed hearing how Emma finds a special fusion when words and pictures come together in her imagination, it seems similar to the way I feel too, esp. Since words come more often first. And how she likes to incorporate her surroundings in her work when she can. I hope I’ll be able to get hold of Emma’s books in CO!

  5. Erik - TKRB says:

    That is really cool! Ms. Yarlett sounds nice! I like the art in her house! 😀

  6. Love the interview. We’ve been lucky enough to have this book in the U.K. for a little while now. I agree with the earlier comments that it’s fantastic to have “the dark” as a character in it’s own right and portrayed as being wondrous. For those who’d like to see more of the original artwork, it can all be viewed on http://www.childrensbookillustration.com/view_artist.php?id=47

  7. What a beautiful interview. Love the opportunity to see how a character is created, Orion looks wonderful … and a secret hidden cover?! Am just a little bit excited about that!!

  8. Pingback: Orion and the Dark – Perfect Picture Book Friday | Miss Marple's Musings

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