For a peek into how others are working, Loretta Flockhart invites writers and illustrators
 to reveal a few secrets about their creative spaces, processes and tools.
 This month, we hear from illustrator, Emma Graham.

Emma's latest work, Señor Saguaro was published in January 2023 by The Little Fig LLC. Previous work includes Everybody Counts, also published by The Little Fig, Symphony Hollow, published by Spork, and Sammy the Sea Squirt, published by Suffolk Mind UK.

Emma's latest book, Señor Saguaro

Tell us about your creative space.

I’m lucky to have a beautiful studio in our conservatory at home. It is bright and airy in the summer, so I throw the doors wide and enjoy the sounds from the garden. In winter, the burner gets lit and keeps me cosy. My old drawing board is in the corner, surrounded by my art stuff, prompts and ideas on the pinboard. There's also books and things that inspire me, things collected from the nearby beach, sea glass, feathers and weird mudlarking finds.

Emma at work in her studio

What are your creative tools?

Mainly acrylic inks. They are wonderfully vibrant and allow me to build up layer. I also use colour pencils, but I’m experimenting more with other media as it is always good to try to keep things fresh. I really do have too much art stuff. People give me things plus being from an artistic family I have inherited materials from my mum and nana, and there’s a wonderful connection to them when I use them. I must embrace technology more and next year’s plan is to get Procreate, though there is so much pleasure in mixing inks and drawing traditionally, I can never give that up.

Emma's creative space

Tell us about your routine.

This is my full-time, 9-5 job, not that it feels like a job as I get to do what I love. If I have a deadline those hours change to fit the work. Daylight is best for working, though I do have a natural light lamp for the dull winter days.


Any particular prompts to get started?

Inspiration can come from anything and anywhere, and usually in the middle of the night. But daily walks through the woods and along the river are good for generating ideas or clearing my head of the jumble they create. A notebook by the bed is a must. Sometimes it is just the peace and quiet, especially at the early stages of a project, but music too and audiobooks. I have a huge ‘to read’ pile and this is a good way to work, relax and reduce that pile!

Emma's mudlarking finds

What's the best creative advice you’ve been given? 

Draw, draw, draw and keep sketchbooks. Mine are catalogued as to what is in them, so I can refer back to ideas and characters.


Any advice for illustrators who are trying to get established? 

Believe in what you are doing. Yes, there will be tough times, times when you doubt yourself. Find other people’s work that inspires you and look at why they work. Is it the colour, line or texture? How could these things work with your style? Always keep learning and experimenting. Look in the libraries and the children’s book section at the bookshop to see what is selling and what the trends are.

Inspiration from nature  

What was your favourite book as a child?

There are so many. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart was magical aged seven, and my mum reading The Hobbit to me. But the book that nudged me to be an illustrator was most certainly, Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth. Those stunning illustrations, so full of love and tenderness, still give me a warm glow when I look at them.

Everybody Counts, illustrated by Emma

Does exercise help your creative process?

Walking and wild swimming (braved it in lockdown during pool closures, but there’s no going back and I swim all year) are good for my creative process. There is so much around us and taking time to look and listen is essential as an illustrator and writer. Ideas are all around us and we can be in tune with it all.


Are you a planner or a pantser?

A bit of both, but mainly planning. If I’m working on a project, I give myself ‘to do’ lists at the start of each week.


What inspired you to first start illustrating? 

Nothing in particular, I just always wanted to make books. As a child, I wrote and illustrated them as gifts to Mum and Dad, but as an adult I guess I realised that I could actually do it as a job.

Emma's website and social media

Why for children?

Children’s books are where a love of stories, reading and imagination starts. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that journey?


What question do you most like being asked about your work?

‘Would you read this story and see if you’d like to illustrate it?' or ‘How do you fancy a book contract?’


What is your least favourite question about your work?

‘What’s your proper job? Oh you colour pictures for books full time? That’s your only job?’

                                                                                                                *Header image: Pete Olczyk
*All other images courtesy of Emma Graham


Emma Graham lives on the Suffolk coast in the UK with her husband, chickens and studio cat. Coming from an artistic and creative family, she has always been surrounded by books and from an early age wanted to be an illustrator. She graduated from Norfolk Institute of Art, and went into graphic design. She later studied horticulture and worked as an exhibit designer and grower, and was awarded a silver gilt medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. Emma is a lover of the sea, woods and nature, and this is where she finds inspiration for her work.


Twitter: @emmagrahampics 
Instagram: @emma_graham_illustrations 



Loretta Flockhart is the new Creative Secrets editor, and features editor, for Words & Pictures. 

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