We chat with Illustrator & Designer, Emma Francesca about study, exhibitions and her illustrative style. She tells us about her 2 years living and working in Tonga with a boutique news publisher; her love of Garfield & The Smurfs; plus she shares some excellent pointers on how to develop your personal style.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? As I child I loved drawing, and starting ambitiously on design and illustration projects such as making calendars, small books and creating characters and posters for my bedroom wall. Being a child of the 80’s I was often drawing bubble lettering, garfield and smurfs for my primary school friends. My school assignments and exercise books were always heavily decorated, with a leaning towards the illustrations, lettering, use of colour and design. During highschool I narrowed my subjects down to the ones I enjoyed most such as painting, printmaking, art history, english and music. This lead me to do an Intermediate Year in Art and Design at AUT in Auckland after highschool, to help me decide whether I wanted to go down the fine art or graphic design illustration route.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? My particular interest in visual communication, and telling others stories lead me to study a Bachelor of Graphic Design at AUT, majoring in Illustration. My first ever graphic design job was in Nuku’alofa, Tonga of all places, working for Vava’u Press for two years. Vava’u Press were a boutique news publisher producing ‘Matangi Tonga’ a news magazine and website, and flight magazines. This was great experience looking back in terms of problem solving as I was the sole designer on the island and learning to be sensitive to a different cultural style and values. Upon returning to NZ from Tonga, I had a solo exhibition in Hamilton titled ‘Palangi in Paradise’, which was my visual interpretation of a Tongan fable and my experience living there. Whilst working as a graphic designer over the years, I continued to work on my illustration and art practice on the side, having solo and group exhibitions and working on personal projects to develop my style and own artistic voice.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the studio that you work for. I am currently running my own freelance illustration and design business, going by Emma Francesca (Francesca being my middle name) based in Dunedin NZ. I predominately work on illustrating and designing digital and printed publications for organisations and design studios in Australiasia.
‘Head Tales: Stories that Heal’ published by CAN, was a digital compilation of participants stories from a storytelling project designing to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Alongside designing and illustrating stories for the the digital publication, I worked alongside three Australian illustrators and an animator to visually interpret each story. I also continue to exhibit my work, sell a series of giclee prints and work on commissions or personal projects. Last year I worked on my first street art work in Dunedin, painting an ‘Empress of the Penguins’ behind Vogel St Kitchen for the Vogel St Party, alluding to the great local conservation work by the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust to save the endangered penguin.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others? I thoroughly enjoy the aesthetic and feel of working with traditional mediums such as paint, pencil and clay and incorporating them with digital tools such as photography, photoshop, dioramas and animation to tell stories. I believe you need to stay true to who you are, your values and what you are passionate about when developing your illustrative style. Some pointers:
1. Practice and develop skills and techniques in mediums that interest you.
2. Be aware and influenced by current trends, but only incorporate aspects and do it in your style.
3. Continue to work on personal projects on the side, as this helps you to develop your own artistic voice.
4. Also stepping back and analysing the commonalities in your work, and getting people you trust or respect their opinion to analyse your work.
Who would be the “dream client” that you would do anything to work for? I would love to work for a publishing house and design and illustrate publications that have a social conscience. I would also love to design and illustrate sophisticated children’s books that use visual and literary subtexts and symbolism to tell a story and engage the reader. I am a huge fan of the work of Shaun Tan, and Oliver Jeffers that seem to straddle both the illustration and fine art world beautifully with their practice, weaving significant morals and messages into their stories.
Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months? This year I am trying to expand my portfolio of design agencies and organisations that I freelance for on a regular basis. I would also love to be represented by an illustration agency to do more editorial illustration work. I am looking for more gallery representation in NZ and Australia, and I am currently working on my online shop and creating a new series of giclee prints. I thoroughly enjoy the flexibility that freelancing allows, getting paid to do what I love and creating more of a work / life balance. This is always a work in progress.