Today I am delighted to welcome Emma Lazell to the blog for a special Q & A to celebrate the release of her hilarious debut, ‘Big Cat.’ It tells the story of a little girl called Isobel who stumbles across an unusually large cat in her grandma’s garden whilst looking for grandma’s glasses. Unfortunately without her glasses grandma fails to spot that this big cat is in fact a tiger and invites him to stay much to her other moggies dismay. Isobel thinks this new pet is so much more fun than her grandma’s other cats but he’s causing chaos wherever he goes and devouring everything in site. Brilliantly told with bold, vibrant illustrations this is bound to delight and entertain young children. Each spread is intricately drawn inviting the reader to pore over the spreads time and time again. It has a retro look that really appealed to me despite being placed in a modern setting. Emma has created a lively and funny debut that left me with a huge smile across my face.
Q & A – Emma Lazell
How did you become an illustrator?
My first degree was a BA in Illustration at the University of the Creative Arts. Following this I worked as a teaching assistant, playing a big part in the school’s art department and leading art clubs and events, and alongside this I spent my time writing and illustrating little stories inspired by the children I worked with, and also taking on some freelance work in illustration and design, including stationery illustration and rebranding projects. Following this I went part time and opened up a children’s art party business, which I ran for a few years before moving to Cambridge to start the MA in Children’s book illustration, this had always been the dream! I had an amazing time on the MA, being inspired by the exceptionally talented staff and peers, and really found my way of working. I had a huge blown up illustration of Big Cat at my stand at our MA graduate show at the beginning of 2018, which was spotted by Neil at Pavilion, and over the course of 2018 turned into my debut book. Soon after I met my agent Alice, of Madeleine Millburn literary agency. I now spend my time drawing and writing and planning new projects, and I am looking forward to being involved in lots of book related children’s events over the course of 2019.
Tell us about your creative process & the materials you use in your illustration
My work is a mixture of hand drawn line, handmade textures and digital colour. I rarely stay inside of a sketchbook, and prefer to work onto scraps of card and paper that can easily be scanned in. I draw using dip pens, fine brushes, fineliners and soft black pencils, and then create layers of texture using Indian ink and black watercolour which I scan in separate layers and assemble digitally, using Photoshop to alter the colours. Then I layer on more vibrant colour using digital brushes.
Where do you work?
I have a studio in my garden in Cambridge, which is often invaded by my cats, but I try to also get out and draw or write on location, or in cafes with friends.
What gave you the idea for Big Cat?
My Cats! Big Cat started out as a story all about an oversized domestic cat, based on my naughty cat Ruby. It was a few drafts on that Big Cat became… without revealing any of the story… the Big Cat that he is.
What is your favourite part of the book?
There are three moments I really like in Big Cat: the big tiger reveal at the end for its saturation of orange; the tiger tea party; and the moment where Isobel realises how fun Big Cat is, compared to grandma’s other cats.
How did you select the names for your characters?
I didn’t have a particularly difficult job here, as my main characters have very self-explanatory names: Grandma and Big Cat. Isobel, the little girl, is named after my younger sister, although her name doesn’t actually appear in the story.
What books did you love most as a child?
Certainly Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but I think this love is very evident in Big Cat. Growing up I loved We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and I can still recite it by heart to this day; Michael Rosen’s poetry, which I can fondly remember my primary school headmaster reading us in Friday assemblies; Pat Hutchins’ The Very Worst Monster – I think this says something about the kind of big sister I was! And I also love Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry series.
Which illustrators or artists are you inspired by?
Standout inspirations for me are Quentin Blake, Roger Duvoisin and Tony Ross. I love their confident and expressive use of line. I think discovering Duvoisin as a student was a turning point for me in my work, I suddenly felt I could be so much more free with my line, and could achieve everything I wanted purely from a great and confident line. Contemporary illustrators I love are Helen Stephens, Maisie Paradise Shearring, Laura Hughes, Isabelle Arsenault and Becky Cameron. I love illustrators who work really freely and expressively, and I am so inspired when an illustrator is confident enough to share their earliest and roughest sketches. I’m also really inspired by fine art; I love the fauvists, I think they inspire my bold colour palettes. My favourite painting is Matisse’s La Bonheur de Vivre, and again I am so inspired by its vibrant colour palette.
Are you working on a new book or any other projects at the moment?
Yes, I am, I am working with Pavilion Children’s on a new book, due out Spring 2020. It’s top secret at the moment but I can say, if you quite liked Big Cat but you’re more of a dog-person, then this will be the book for you!
Thank you to Emma for this really insightful and interesting Q & A.
‘Big Cat,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop. Thank you to Catherine and Pavilion for inviting me to host this Q & A and for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.