Profiles: Emma Cowlam

Emma CowlamHomegirl London pays homage to Emma Cowlam.  She produces stylish hand stitched and hand drawn original illustrations from a unique and personally developed sewing technique.  Emma’s inspiration derives from everyday street style, capturing the beauty of her subjects and transforming them into classic designs.  Her work has graced style bibles like Elle and she’s even produced a bespoke collection for Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  She’s recently launched a great range of cushions and illustrations at the Graduate Collection which is titled ‘Lovers.’  I caught up with Emma to find out what makes her tick …

Q: Tell me about your design background.

A: I graduated in 2009 with a BA Textile Design Degree from Chelsea.  Whilst studying and after I graduated, I undertook a series of internships in various sectors of the design industry, gaining a wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience – Cath Kidston, Lisa Stickley, Designers Guild, Candy Anthony and Alberta Ferretti.  I interned for 3 months with Hilary Alexander at the Telegraph and then worked freelance for You magazine, Mail on Sunday.  I also spent a few months working in New York for a trend forecasting agency before returning to the UK and starting freelance illustration.  It’s always been my aim to create products featuring my illustrations for interiors, fashion and lifestyle markets.  Since graduating I have grown my illustration business, which has become my full time employment in the past year.

Q: Describe your design style.

A: I take inspiration from everyday street-style images observed throughout my daily life and transform them into lasting snapshots.  I produce hand-stitched and hand-drawn original illustrations from a personally developed and unique sewing technique.

Emma Cowlan Illustrations

Emma Cowlam’s hand-stitched and hand-drawn work

Q: How did you come up with the idea of using hand stitching in your work?

A:  As part of my BA Textile Design degree at Chelsea School of Art I was awarded a place on an exchange programme to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan for 5 months during the second year.  Here I was able to take classes other than textile design, one of which was fashion illustration.  I’ve always loved drawing and images and the tutor was truly inspiring and encouraged her students to illustrate and draw continually.  One of the projects she set was to create illustrations from more unusual materials (other than that of pen, paint, etc.) so I chose thread and this is how my technique evolved.  Since the beginning, the technique has become more and more resolved with illustrations becoming a lot more detailed and refined.

Q: Tell me about your creative process.

A:  I start by making a simple line drawing composition, which is translated into a hand-stitched illustration on paper using black thread.  I’m then able to use the hand-stitched illustration with its loose flowing lines as inspiration to draw from.  I make a drawing onto paper using an extremely fine black drawing pen.  This drawing can then be scanned and digitally manipulated using various computer programmes – thus seamlessly evolving the traditional technique of sewing so it’s suitable to the modern digital age.

Q: What influences your work?

A:  I source and glean inspiration from anywhere and everywhere – people I see and take photographs of or do a quick line drawing of in my sketchbook, images from magazines, books and the internet.  I collect a lot of images and store them in folders and sketchbooks to be flicked through when needed.  I’m heavily influenced too by all number of different design-related things – be it in fine art, sculpture, architecture, fashion – the list is endless.  I particularly love book illustration too.  For me inspiration and influence can be sparked out of anything and I suppose that generally I simply am influenced by things I pick up by osmosis in my daily life.

Emma Cowlam Bike Lovers

Emma Cowlam Bike Lovers Print

Q: What have been your career highlights?

A:  Currently, the collaboration with Graduate Collection and English Eccentrix plus my exhibition at Somerset House.  One of my earliest highlights was my collection of 60 hand-stitched illustrations for the V&A Museum shop as well as my collection for Liberty.  Winning my pitch to House of Fraser and their nationwide Mary Portas concessions is definitely a highlight and they now stock and sell my illustrated stationery range from the Illustrated Paper Company, www.houseoffraser.co.uk.  Last year I was awarded the University of Arts London Graduate Award, which was another professional success I was thrilled to receive.

Q: Which person has influenced your career and why?

A:  Many people have influenced my career and continue to.  Janis Selek, my illustration tutor from the fashion illustration course in New York, would probably have to be the main reason I’m an illustrator today.  Her encouragement and enthusiasm was infectious and I’m extremely grateful to her for all that she taught me – and the confidence she has instilled in me.  Her career successes and design ethos are ones to which I can aspire to with her having illustrated for the likes of Vogue, Elle and Women’s Wear Daily.

Q: Which person would you most like to illustrate and why?

A:  I would love to have been around in the 60s to illustrate Jean Shrimpton during her modelling career and currently I’d like to illustrate the model Daphne Selfe.  Her delicate yet strong and present posture and stature coupled with her beautiful bird-like bone structure would make for a wonderful illustration.

Q: Tell me about your Lover’s Collection for the Graduate Collection.

A:  It’s a collection based on illustrations from my portfolio which capture a nostalgic, romantic feeling and the relationship and connection between 2 people.  I wanted the collection to showcase a more narrative illustration whereby a viewer can feel that they can relate, connect and respond to the people within the images.  The collection includes cushions and prints.

Emma Cowlam Prints, Graduate Collection

Emma Cowlam Prints, £85, www.graduatecollection.co.uk

Emma Cowlam cushions, Graduate Collection

Emma Cowlam Cushions, £55, www.graduatecollection.co.uk

Q: What’s new for 2013?

A: I’ll be working on creating a brand of products featuring illustrations in my signature style.  Expanding my homeware products with Graduate Collection.  Showcasing my illustrated ceramic tableware collection with English Eccentrix and Stoke-on-Trent pottery Royal Stafford at more international trade shows www.englisheccentrix.co.uk.  Growing my stationery collection for the Illustrated Paper Company (IPC) of which I’m a co-director with Deborah Ross Mckay www.illustratedpapercompany.com.  Collaborating and designing a collection for a well-known, high-end, UK fashion retailer which will launch in July 2013.  Exhibiting my wares at trade shows.

You can buy the ‘Lovers’ range from www.graduatecollection.co.uk.  You can also buy a selection of the Graduate Collection products from www.notonthehighstreet.com/partners/graduatecollection/products. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Graduate Collection, special thanks to Emma Cowlam and Sophia Cottier.