Happy New Year! 

This month our featured illustrator is Emma Latham. Emma is an illustrator from rural Cheshire now living in Nottingham who currently has work in a good few published children's books and who graduated with a BA(Hons) in illustration from the University of Derby in 2008.

I have always dreamt of becoming either an artist or astronaut. When I realised the latter didn’t involve hanging out with Martians and that space food tasted gross I decided that being an artist sounded like more fun.

Three year old me with my head stuck in a book

In my early years I would spend hours drawing on literally anything – if I had no paper, furniture it was! One day I decided to draw a birds-eye view of an entire town onto a chest of drawers I had in my room. Ever since then, my mum made sure there was no shortage of paper to draw on. 

I first remember making up stories when my youngest sister came along and I had to share a room with my other little sister. For the price of a chocolate digestive biscuit, (which she could somehow always acquire through her excellent persuasion tactics), I would tell her all sorts of silly stories. One involved a couple of peculiar elf-like characters that lived in the wardrobe and painted their house different colours everyday whilst accidentally breaking everything in the process.

I remember creating a comic in primary school with a couple of other classmates. We didn’t want grown-ups reading it so we called it ‘Strictly For Kids!’ I was put in charge of the cover. I went all in and committed myself for the entirety of three whole lunches to doing the first edition only for us to find out after getting it all photocopied that it read ‘Stictly For Kids’ – I missed out the ‘r’. Everyone thought it was hilarious except me. Luckily it didn’t deter me from designing and drawing for too long. 

Although I live in Nottingham now I’m originally from a small town called Sandbach in rural Cheshire which no one has ever heard of. It’s known for two things. One is a pair of sandstone Saxon crosses in the cobbled square, which, with the school class, we used to do charcoal rubbings of before the council eventually decided letting local school kids clamber over and literally rub away 1000-year-old artefacts wasn’t the best idea. The second thing it is known for was for being voted officially the worst service station in the UK during the 90s!

I didn’t have to walk very far to be in nature and as an introvert I loved that especially when I could take our dog with me. Seeing the world through a dog’s eyes always made me laugh. They, much like a child, can have the best day ever just in a muddy puddle or in some tall grasses or finding a stick which will never fit through a door despite poor Molly’s best efforts. I loved observing local wildlife too  though my dog feared the cows who would sometimes chase us through the field no matter how much I tried reassuring them I was a veggie who came in peace. I think this is why I often like to draw funny animals and incorporate them into my stories. 

My late dog always loved bringing home sticks too big for the door just as much as my first dog.

As I got into my teen years I developed bad anxiety. To make matters worse like most people with ginger hair – especially us awkward types – bullying became a daily part of life. I learnt early on that during breaks funnily enough the name-callers wouldn’t ever cross the threshold into the art rooms or library  it was like an invisible shield or something. They would occasionally deliver dirty looks through the window, which I just covered with some silly sketch or unflattering portrait of them. So that’s where I tended to hang out. I always had trouble expressing myself but I found through art I could channel my feelings easily. 

Fast forwarding past more teen angst, eventually I left home and went to university. I wanted to go to Derby because it had nice vibes and I always loved wandering in the Peak District. So off I went with my portfolio twice my size in a train with a single carriage that kind of looked like one of the grumpy trucks from Thomas the Tank Engine which hadn’t had a wash in decades. 

I really enjoyed university and the illustration course and tutors were amazing. It was a great time to experiment with lots of mediums and I loved discovering new artists. Some of my early influencers were Lane Smith, Maurice Sendak, Dave McKean and Shaun Tan as well as various surrealists including Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. I especially liked using mixed media and for a while really got into 3D illustration and created various dioramas in my second and third year. 

A 3D illustration I did for my final university project – I played around with scale to convey the characters loneliness.

I also played around with 2D collage for my first ever children’s book A Messy Recipe, a story about a little monster who bakes a huge really disgusting cake to cheer his mum up.

A double page spread I did for my first ever children’s book, (before I knew anything about bleed and gutters).

I finished university in the bleak aftermath of the 2008 recession. Working several bar jobs and juggling odd freelance jobs was tricky but looking back it was also an exciting time and, though the bar jobs were minimum wage, the customer face to face aspect helped with my social anxiety. 

I felt that I needed to work on my illustration speed though which really was more of sloth nap –acquiring a graphics tablet became one of the best investments I ever made. It really helped to combine handmade painted textures with digitally drawn details much faster and seamlessly.

My work today is quite different from what it used to be. I can’t look at old stuff without wincing and I feel like I’m still constantly changing. I’m always on the lookout for inspiration from nature walks in the Scottish Highlands to art galleries of Berlin. Thankfully I have a partner who has these shared interests whilst making sure I don’t get completely lost – something I used to be very good at! 

Huge, majestic forests have always been a place where I can unwind as well as refill on inspiration for new story ideas.

Checking out some amazing art by Christine Streuli in the Berlinische Galerie of modern art in Berlin

I also have two cats which keep me inspired a lot of the time. One is probably the stinkiest cat known to man. The other is a panther in a house cats’ body whose purrs sound like a motor bike rocking up somewhere nearby.

Our cats Koji and Lex always seem to be plotting something.

I have illustrated many stories for educational presses including Collins Big Cat and Franklin Watts. Since the pandemic I started to get lots of enquiries from various amazing independent authors which has been great and having a looser art direction enabled me to push my creativity further. It also allowed me to quit my then part-time graphic design job and become a full-time freelance children’s book illustrator. (Woo!) More recently I have been really focusing on writing and illustrating my own stories which I would love to get published one day. 

A dummy book cover for Maggie the Magnificent Magpie.

Interior spreads of a dummy book for Maggie the Magnificent Magpie.

Gallery of illustrations

*All images: Emma Latham


See Emma's Portfolio

Follow Emma on Instagram


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
Find their work at fourfooteleven.com 
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

  1. Can this really be my daughter I am reading about? Ha ha only kidding - Well done Emma, we are extremely proud of you and your wonderful creative achievments x


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