Jolly Interviews! Emily Barrell

From Friday 8th (to Thursday 14th June) the Cambridge School of Art will be hosting their graduation show. Among the artists on show will be a fine illustrator named Emily Barrell.


How did you end up at the Cambridge School of Art? What do you think of the city and it’s art scene?

I was recommended to go look around by a friend. I had previously wanted to go to a London University but I can safely say I’m glad I didn’t as I’ve had a very happy experience at Cambridge. Just from looking around the studios I got a good vibe from the place, it focused quite a lot on drawing helped me decide and that it was the right choice. I see Cambridge as my home. I love living here, it’s very diverse but also very English at the same time and there are some fascinating places to visit. With places like The Front Room gallery willing to exhibit Illustration and to bring it to the public’s attention. With recent exhibitions from artists like Rob Ryan things looking up for a more varied art scene.


Animals seem to be a huge source of inspiration for you. Is there a reason for that?

Animals definitely are a huge inspiration for me, more so than people. I find them a lot more interesting and appealing to use in my work. I mainly use mark making and pattern in my images and animals lend themselves well to my preferred visual language. I love looking at the texture of fur or feathers and reworking them into patterns. I enjoy spending time getting to know about the background of the animal; with my recent bird project I found out so many facts about certain species and their colours and markings and this adds a bit more depth to my work because I get really into the subject, almost obsessively. This obsession comes through in the different marks I make in my illustrations.

Who are your biggest influences?

I enjoy finding new illustrators. It’s inspiring seeing what is current in Illustration. I have a few main influences; James Jean has been an inspiration to me since secondary school, his Illustration work is just so visually stunning and beautiful. When I have a creative block I look through some of his books, especially at his sketchbooks, and I start to feel the hunger to create work again. Others include Esra Roise, David Bray, Lizzie Stewart and Talya Baldwin. Their work has inspired me to do what I do today. I find music to be a pretty big influence on my work too.

We’ve interviewed several Cambridge or ex-Cambridge students and it seems to be a welcomed pattern that there’s an abundance of talent in Cambridge. Who are some of your favourite contemporaries?

Theres been so many good projects from everyone on my course its hard just to pick a few! Some that stand out to me are Sarah Battista whose illustrations are witty and playful, Tim Parker who has already been interviewed on this blog but whose work is really interesting and lends itself to narrative and editorial roles nicely, Sophie Harris who uses papercutting to painstakingly create beautiful images and Meria Palin who has produced a lovely children’s book. I’d strongly suggest anyone who wants to see just how talented everyone on the course is to come along to our degree show and seeing all the amazing work in person!

company girlwolf and girl

There’s a sense of the surreal in some of your work (tigers on the roof!). Where does that come from? Is this your preferred style rather than some of the other more commercial work in your portfolio?

Well the tigers on the roof just had to be illustrated! It’s a scene from Angela Carters Nights at the Circus novel and it was a scene that really stuck with me even once I had finished reading the book. It was a brief to create Illustrations for the book and I knew that I would have to Illustrate it! Angela Carter has a way of describing scenes so that they become stuck in your mind like memories, so to draw tigers on top of a roof was interesting! I’ve always been interested in surrealism, symbolism how people’s dreams are interpreted. Using it in my own works means I can be more playful. I guess it’s something I just touch on from time to time it’s not necessarily a preferred style.

blue tit pattern

Many of your pieces use pattern to create texture. There’s a tactile sense to your work that would lend itself well to textile design. Have you given any thought to creating patterns for textiles?

That’s an interesting question! This is maybe a project for the future as I am interested in fashion and textiles so a mix of my illustration and textiles would be pretty exciting. Thinking about it I could see my patterns lending themselves well to silk scarves or womenswear in particular.

wolves outsidewoods

After graduating, which formats are you going to attempt? You’ve got a couple of book covers in your portfolio, is that something you’re particularly keen on?

I do enjoy working on book covers, it’s a nice playful format. Even though we are constantly surrounded by technology I love reading books, I feel passionate about people reading more and reading helps me with my own work. It’s probably why I’m also really interested in narrative and sequential projects. I like the idea of bringing something new or significant to a narrative that may not usually be picked up on or thought of as important. I feel my work is mainly narrative lead. I do, however, also enjoy creating things such as wall charts and stamps that play a different kind of role. I don’t consider myself to necessarily just fit into one box I want to keep myself interested and interesting. I’m going to continue to experiment with different outcomes in personal briefs.


Would you consider setting up your own business or are you someone who works better in a team?

I wouldn’t mind either really! I would love to set up my own business, I already have some success selling canvas bags with my work on and I really enjoy that side of my work. Seeing my Illustrations on everyday items like bags or greetings cards appeals to me and I’m looking to open an Etsy shop soon.