I can’t remember whether it was “La Petit Patisserie” or “The Flower Shop” that initially caught my eye, only that it was love at first sight and I wanted more.
I soon discovered that the artist behind these winsome and enchantingly feminine illustrations was none other than 20-something-year-old Emma Block of London, England.
Inspired by vintage clothing, 30’s jazz, 50’s illustrations, old photos, travel and people watching, Emma’s work is delightfully retro and thoroughly modern at the same time. Using paint, colored pencil, ink, cut-paper collage and Photoshop, she creates charming, spritely, a little bit quirky, always refreshing pictures in an inimitable style that has a distinctive handmade quality about it.
You may remember my review of Tea and Cake, which Emma illustrated while in her final year at university. Since leaving school, she’s worked on an incredible range of projects (lifestyle mags, greeting cards, posters, children’s books, product branding) for such notable clients as The British Heart Foundation, Time Out, Anthropologie, Hallmark, American Greetings, Hand in Hand Soap, Madison Park Greetings, Aimez le Style and Mollie Makes.
Though I adore her food illustrations, I’m also enamored with her stylish, interesting characters and personas, and her hand-lettering and pattern design. She has an impeccable fashion sense, and do I have to mention how much I love seeing her art on tableware and napkins (too pretty to use)?
I’m so pleased to welcome this incredibly talented, hardworking young artist who drinks copious amounts of tea while she works and loves cake. A girl after my own heart. :)
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♥ ♥ MEET EMMA BLOCK ♥♥
Name of shop or business: Emma Block Illustration
Year established: 2011
Items you make:
I work as a freelance illustrator and sell prints and paper goods through my etsy shop.
Studio Location: North London
Three words that best describe your art:
Handmade, nostalgic, feminine.
Self taught or formal training?
I have a first in BA Illustration.
Tools of the Trade:
I work in a very mixed media way. I use gouache, coloured pencils, cut paper, ink and a little bit of photoshop.
Inspirations and influences:
I love vintage fashion and vintage films, particularly anything with Audrey Hepburn in it. I’m also really inspired by cities; London and Paris are an endless source of inspiration.
Three significant milestones in your career:
My first proper commission was a Christmas card for Woodmanstern [while attending] my first year of university.
My first book, Tea and Cake, was published in 2011, the year I graduated, which was a huge milestone for me.
Working with Hand in Hand Soap and seeing my work for sale in Anthropologie was another great moment.
Food that inspires your best work:
Cake! I love drawing cake, baking cake, eating cake.
Bestseller in your shop:
My Style Icon prints, depicting my personal style heroes from Audrey Hepburn to Brigitte Bardot, have always been popular.
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
I have memories of creating as early as three, drawing pictures of horses with square bodies. When my parents moved house they found a self-portrait I had created in nursery school, made with some of my own hair. Pretty terrifying!
I started creating drawings for Illustration Friday when I was 16, so those were probably the first things I made as an ‘artist’. They’re a bit embarrassing now but at the time the positive feedback really encouraged me.
Why do you think illustration (vs. other art forms) is best suited to your personality and talents?
I think illustration really suits me. I love responding to a text or a design brief, which is probably what makes me an illustrator not a fine artist. Being an artist can be very solitary, but fortunately I’m very self-motivated and quite happy to work for hours with a cup of tea and the radio for company.
Describe your studio or workspace. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
I have a home studio, which is quite a large, bright space. I treated myself to the desk of my dreams when I moved house a few months ago, so I have plenty of room for my mac, scanner, sketchbook, art materials and a few plants. I have shelves adjacent to the desk, which house more art materials and sketchbooks, plus my printer. I like to have everything I need to hand.
Do you have an all-time favorite illustration from among the many you’ve done thus far? What do you especially like about it?
I love the piece I did inspired by Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn surrounded by yellow flowers. It was a piece I really enjoyed doing and if I re-did it I wouldn’t change anything.
How did you get the contract for Tea and Cake? What did you like best about doing the illustrations for it? Did you use a lot of real food as models?
The publisher, Hardie Grant, contacted me after finding my work online. My portfolio already had plenty of teapots and cake in it, so they could see I would be a good match for the project. I loved having the opportunity to draw from life; a lot of my own teacups and saucers ended up in the book. Sadly I didn’t get to use many real cakes as models. I had to research the recipes online to find a reference picture, or in some cases guess what the finished product should look like.
What’s your fave recipe and illustration from the book?
The passion fruit yo-yo biscuits are my favourite recipe from the book. They are so tasty and they just melt in the mouth! I think my favourite illustration is the cupcake with the raspberry on top. It’s a mixture of cut paper, coloured pencil and ink washes to create the shadows on the icing. I used an old patterned paper bag to create the cupcake case.
Please tell us about the children’s books you’ve worked on. Are there any particular children’s book authors and/or illustrators (dead or alive) who inspire the work you’re doing now?
I worked on a Hansel and Gretel board book with an American publisher, which should be out later this year. I have also done a school reading book for HarperCollins called Prince and the Parsnip, which is a bit of a feminist twist on the Princess and the Pea! I have another children’s book in the pipeline, which I’m very excited about, so fingers cross that all works out.
Quentin Blake was my earliest influence, I’ve grown up loving his work and he made me want to be an illustrator. M Sasek is another huge influence, I love his mid century aesthetic.
How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?
I am very guilty of criticizing myself and comparing myself to others. I’m trying not to judge my own success on what other people are doing, but focus on what I’m doing. For me, making a living as an artist and doing what I love every day is success.
What’s the best part of being a young up-and-coming artist living and working in London?
Working from a home studio can be isolating, but fortunately there is always something happening in London. I love meeting up with other illustrators for a coffee, or to go to an exhibition.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about? Dream projects or clients?
I am working on a lovely project at the moment with Aimez le Style. Last year I worked on some lovely home ware with them, melamine cups and plates and napkins. This year I’m working on a stationery set that I’m really excited about.
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RECIPE FOR PASSION FRUIT YO-YO BISCUITS
- 300g (10-1/2 oz/ 2 cups) plain flour
- 300 g (10-1/2 oz) soft butter
- 100 g (3-1/2 oz/ 2/3 cup) icing (confectioners) sugar
- 100 g (3-1/2 oz / 3/4 cup) custard powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 passion fruit
- 60 g (2 oz) melted butter
- 250 g (9 oz/ 1-1/2 cups) icing (confectioners) sugar (additional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350 °F/ Gas 4).
2. Beat together the flour, butter, icing sugar, custard powder, salt and vanilla. Roll into 36 small balls and place on a greased baking tray. Press down on each ball with the prongs of a fork to form a round biscuit. Bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until cooked, but not colored. Allow to cool completely.
3. Strain the pulp from the passion fruit and remove the seeds. Mix with the butter and icing sugar until smooth. Spoon a small amount of passion fruit butter onto one biscuit half and top with another biscuit. Continue until all the biscuits are ready.
~ from Tea and Cake (Hardie Grant, 2011)
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Some of the images featured in this post are available as archival prints via Emma’s Etsy Shop. She is available for commissions as well as “other nice things,” including beautiful bespoke wedding invitations, family portraits, website banner and logo design.
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♥ MORE, PLEASE ♥
- Emma’s Website/Blog/Portfolio
- Emma Block Illustration Facebook Page
- Emma’s Etsy Shop
- Emma’s Instagram
- Emma on Pinterest
- Emma’s designs at Society 6
- Read my review of Tea and Cake, which includes a recipe for Lemon Teacake
- Learn more about Emma’s process here.
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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.