Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 22, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Emma Allen

Emma Allen is a children’s book Illustrator based in Kent. Emma works mostly in watercolor, gouache and pencil and finds inspiration in lots of things, but perhaps most of all in the beautiful colors, patterns and shapes in nature. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and also the Association of Illustrators.

Emma is a children’s book Illustrator from Kent, England. Emma works mostly in watercolor, gouache and pencil and finds inspiration in lots of things, but perhaps most of all in the beautiful colors, patterns and shapes in nature. She loves to recreate the magic of childhood with her paintbrush and illustrating whimsical scenes of children in the great outdoors, often in the company of animals, is a real passion. After working for years in acrylic Emma recently made the move to watercolour and has never looked back!

After studying at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London Emma went into a career in magazine production, and then changed direction after the birth of her daughter to follow her dream of becoming an Illustrator. Emma gained a Distinction in ‘Illustrating Children’s Books’ from the London Art College and also achieved the ‘Student of the Year’ award.

Some of Emma’s recent clients include Stoneworks Education Ltd, The Story Corner Ltd, Cocolivo, My Mother’s Love, The Wild Tomorrow Fund, and Clearfork Publishing with Garden Party. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and also the Association of Illustrators.


My illustration process usually starts with some character designs. I may do some research if necessary, and I will sketch out how I envisage a character might look, and what colours might work well. Sometimes I might try multiple different versions of the character to see what works best. When thinking about the colours of the character I may already have in mind a range of colours that will be a theme throughout the book, so the character should fit in with that.

Then I work out a flatplan, in which I can see the running order of the pages and I do a very rough thumbnail sketch of each page. This gives me a starting point on each illustration. From this I will have a rough idea of where the text will go and I can also see how the illustrations will flow, and how single page illustrations will look opposite each other.

Depending on what I feel is necessary for the project I may do a larger rough sketch of the illustration, or I may move straight on to a more finished pencil drawing. Sometimes I might use shading if I feel the drawing requires it to give the art director a better feel for the energy of the piece, but it varies from project to project. Composition and balance is really important in the drawing. Where I can I like to add little details in the background to give the drawing more energy and interest. I give a lot of thought to the tone and mood of the scenes I want to create.

Once the final drawings have been through the proofing process it’s time to think about painting the illustration – my favourite part. My first task is to carefully copy the drawings onto a good quality watercolour paper using my lightbox. Once this is done I stretch my paper onto a wooden drawing board using gummed tape and water. This means that the paper is stretched flat and taut and shouldn’t buckle when it gets wet with paint, it gives a really good, steady surface for painting. It usually takes about 4 hours to dry so I often stretch multiple drawings at a time so that I can move straight from one to the next without a delay.

Once the paper is dry I decide if I need to mask any areas of the picture with masking fluid – this may be required if there are small details within an area upon which I need to do a colour wash. And then I get to work with the painting process. I tend to do backgrounds first, and try not to go too dark too

quickly – I can always add more colour as I go along if I need to. I think very, very carefully indeed about what colours to use and where. The balance of colour is really important and I keep that in mind constantly as I’m working. Occasionally if I need to dry an area of paint quickly it is helpful to give it a gentle blast with a hairdryer to set the paint. Once the largest background areas have a colour I like to try and paint the illustration as a whole so that it develops evenly, instead of only focusing on one part and then moving to another, I find it helps to bring the picture together. I love the last part which is adding the finer details, as these often really bring the illustration to life.

Once the painting is completed I carefully cut it off the board and it is scanned. I import the image into Photoshop and zoom in, tidying up any messy bits or edges and correcting any colours that look slightly off – occasionally the scanner may not pick up certain tones as well as others. If I have painted a vignette illustration I always carefully cut around it using a clipping path and delete the background, replacing it with a pure white background, to eliminate any smudges or marks which may not seem visible on screen but may well be visible when printed. Sometimes these can be hard to see but if you tilt your computer screen backwards you can see which bits are truly white and which bits need cleaning up. Once this is done I may print the illustration out on inkjet paper to consider how the colours look and whether anything might be over saturated. I’m very conscious that colours on screen and colours printed on paper can look different, especially as computer monitors themselves vary in terms of the colour they display, so I try my best to anticipate this before I send the final file to the client.



How long have you been illustrating?

Illustrating was something I had always wanted to do but I initially found myself working in magazine design and production, until I had my daughter in 2009, and that was when I changed direction to pursue illustration. I graduated from the London Art College with a Distinction in their ‘Illustrating Children’s Books’ diploma, and towards the end of my course, in Autumn 2013, I was contacted by my first client who commissioned me to illustrate a children’s e-book.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first illustration commission was done for free while I was still a student, in order to build up my experience and portfolio, however the client very kindly and unexpectedly donated a payment at the end of the project. My first contracted payment for an illustration commission was the following year.

Have you always lived in England?

Yes, I have always lived in the Southeast of England, where I was born. I like to be close to family – although I do dream of moving to the Southwest.

Did you go to Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London wanting to become an art director?

No, I actually had illustration in mind at the time. But after finishing at Central Saint Martins I landed a job as a Production Assistant and worked my way up from there. In hindsight the skills I learned have been incredibly useful in my life as an Illustrator, because I was already fluent in Photoshop when I started out in illustration and had a background in design and layout, getting files ready for print and working to deadlines.

Did buying all those picture books for your daughter inspire you to go to London Art College to study illustrating children’s books?

Oh my goodness, yes. Once my daughter was on the scene all of these beautiful children’s books found their way in to our home and I was absolutely in love with them. I had kept a lot of my own childhood books with the intention of passing them on to my children (The Chronicles of Narnia, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton etc) but it had been a while since I had stopped to look through a picture book aimed at younger children. I realized they were essentially works of art – stunning, and magical. They were inspiring. My daughter is probably too old for picture books now but I will be keeping every single one of them. She has over 400 books in her bedroom now and it’s fantastic, it’s like having a library of inspiration at my fingertips.

Did you realize you were up for winning the Student of the Year award at LAC?

No, I had no idea, I was completely overwhelmed and stunned when I found out.

Did art school help you get illustrating work when you graduated?

Yes absolutely, in so many ways. Not only in preparing me for the actual job of illustrating, but also in the sense that some of my first clients found me through the LAC website and got in touch. I loved the course, and my tutor Maggy Roberts was fantastic, I learned so much.

What type of illustrating did you do first starting out?

Most of my commissions at the beginning were a mix of e-books and product illustrations. Initially I was working in acrylic on card, and I think my style was quite different then to the way I work now. Eventually I decided not to work in acrylic anymore as it took a long time and sometimes I felt as though I was battling with the paint, and it ruined a lot of paintbrushes no matter how well I washed them. I’ve experimented with various mediums but I’m happily settled with watercolour now, and these days the colour range I prefer to use is somewhat different. I’ve always strived to improve my artwork, I’m never complacent, I’m always looking for ways to do it better.

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

I think children’s books was always at the forefront of my mind when I knew I wanted to be an illustrator. That’s where my passion lies and always has. There is something so magical about them, and my own childhood books meant so much to me and still do, they were a huge influence on me. I wanted to be a part of it all.

Was Sarah’s Song your first illustrated picture book?

Sarah’s Song was my first picture book for a publishing company. Prior to that I had illustrated a number of children’s books for individuals looking to self-publish, and a picture book to accompany a product for a company in Canada, plus several children’s e-books. I had also illustrated some bespoke books for schools.

How did the contract come your way?

I received an email from the team at Clear Fork Publishing and it went from there, I think they found me online. They gave me a couple of book options to choose from and I felt that ‘Sarah’s Song’ by Rosie Pova resonated with me the most. It’s a very touching story about the bond between a young girl and her grandmother, and the way in which they navigate life together as her grandmother grows older.

How did Clearfork Publishing find you to illustrate Garden Party: A Counting Adventure.

As I had already illustrated Sarah’s Song for Clear Fork Publishing they offered me another contract to illustrate Garden Party: A Counting Adventure. It gave me the opportunity to work with the tremendously talented author Tania Guarino – she is just amazing. I particularly loved illustrating Garden Party because animals, plants and nature are one of my favourite subjects to illustrate, so I was very excited about working on it.

I see Sylvie Poggio Illustration Agency represents you. How long have you been with them and how did they find you?

I was contacted by Sylvie Poggio in January 2019, who said that they had stumbled upon my artwork and were interested in representing me – I was delighted to say yes.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

I think my illustrating style has evolved over time, and I have been so inspired by the artwork of other amazing Illustrators – there are so many to admire! I am particularly awestruck by Illustrators such as Alex T.Smith and Laura Ellen Anderson, I also think Emily Hughes illustrations are absolute perfection. I’m inspired by books I see in the library and could spend hours wandering around the children’s section of any book shop, just absorbing everything and feeling constantly amazed by the sheer amount of talent that is out there in the world. There is a particular children’s book that has really stuck with me, ‘The Churchmice Adrift’ by Graham Oakley; the sheer cleverness of the way that the text and illustrations tell the story together without the illustrations merely repeating the information in the text, but essentially finishing the sentence in pictures, is amazing. There are so many instances in that book where the text will set up a joke and the illustration is the punchline, it’s terrific, and as soon as I read it I knew that if I ever wrote and illustrated my own children’s book that I would always try to do the same. I also think my illustrating style has also been influenced by the sort of person I am becoming as the years pass by, and so things that mean a lot to me tend to pop up in my illustrations and get a lot of love and care as I paint them – trees, birds, children, there are so many things that inspire me.

Do you work full time as a free-lance illustrator?

Yes, I do. It keeps me very busy indeed.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a book?

100%, absolutely. In fact I am working on a dummy book right now for a story that I wrote myself and I am loving every second of it. I have masses of ideas for other books as well, it’s just finding the time to make a start on them that is tricky – but I will. I would also love to write a novel for slightly older children, and in fact I do have one underway. I want to do it all – if I only I didn’t have to eat and sleep I would get so much more done.

Have you ever illustrated a book novel cover?

No, not yet, but I would absolutely love to.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I would call it more of a ‘work space’ than a studio. I would love a studio.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Absolutely, I have in the past and I have always enjoyed it. I’ve met some great people doing that and they are always very passionate about their work.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

I have illustrated three educational e-books for the wonderful author Claire Culliford ( and will be starting work on a fourth in a few weeks. The books are all aimed at educating young children about environmental issues, which is hugely important. I have also worked with Stoneworks Education.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

No, not as yet.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

It is definitely something I would like to do. In fact the picture book idea of my own that I’m working on could very nearly be wordless – not quite, but there are pages in that that really don’t need any text, it’s all there in the illustration.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Goodness, that’s a hard question! I’m not sure I really think about my work in those terms, it feels more like a journey at the moment and I’ve enjoyed every single project I’ve worked on, it would be hard to choose.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolour paint on paper. I jump between using cold pressed and hot pressed watercolour paper depending on what feels right for the project. I always, without exception, stretch my paper before I paint it.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, when I made the leap from acrylic to watercolour it was almost like learning to paint all over again – you paint in a completely different way with each. I can’t imagine painting with anything other than watercolour now, the colours are so pure and luminous, and the way they glide over the paper, amazing. At times with the acrylic it felt a bit like painting with custard, so I’m glad I made the switch.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

It changes every day depending on what I’m working on and what is going on around me. Some days I work from school drop off until school pick up, however when I’m on a deadline I could still be up working in the middle of the night.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Yes absolutely. I will always research the things I need to draw first, that is the bones of the drawing and then you can build creatively upon it with your imagination.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes I do. We live in an age where everything is done online and people can find you on the internet, that is how most of my clients have found me.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I couldn’t do my job without Photoshop, but usually I don’t actually illustrate with it. I scan in my paintings and then I colour correct them and zoom right in to tidy them up before sending the finished digital file to my clients.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

No, but I’m hoping to invest in one very soon.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I would love to see a book that I have both written and illustrated myself on the shelves of a book store. In fact I’d love to write and illustrate lots of them.

What are you working on now?

I have literally just finished working on a picture book for Stafford House Publishing, and I’m due to start work on a book for Oxford University Press in July, plus an e-book for another client. In between those commissions I am working on my own picture book dummy, and hopefully I can squeeze in some novel writing at some point too.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Well, my absolute favourite watercolour paint is Sennelier, the colours are just beautiful and it glides so well onto the paper. As for paper, in some ways it’s even more important to get that right than the paint – bad paper can be horrible to paint on. Papers that I’ve found to be very good are Arches and Fabriano Artistico, however I’ve also had great success with brands such as Bockingford and Daler Rowney The Langton. All of those papers have proved to be a really good surface for painting on. For pencil drawings I find Daler Rowney smooth or fine grain cartridge paper is great, and I use a mix of traditional pencils, graphite pencils and carbon. Other very useful items to have are erasers which you can sharpen like a pencil to get more precision, and masking fluid – of which I have tried a few and my favourite is Schmincke. I buy a lot of my art materials online as there aren’t many places to buy art materials near to where I live; my favourites tend to be and

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

You have to be passionate and you have to have perseverance. Take on board any feedback that you receive, good or bad, and learn from it – don’t be discouraged, keep striving to improve. Never stop working on making your portfolio the best that it can be. Look at the work of other illustrators that you admire and learn from what you see, take inspiration from your local libraries and book shops. Join associations such as the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) – go to one of their annual conferences and get a portfolio 1 to 1 for crucial feedback. Promote yourself online in as many places as you can – a website with a gallery to your portfolio is essential. Make a database of contacts and send out promotional postcards of your best piece of work to Art Directors. And above all, when you get a commission be friendly, professional, reliable, never miss a deadline, and always strive to make your next piece of work your best one ever.

Thank you Emma for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Emma’s work, you can visit her at:


If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Emma. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Perfectly enchanting. Thanks for a lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emma, I have always been a huge fan of your illustrations and would LOVE to work with you one day!! Let the stars align…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love your illustrations! I really want to live in the underground den! So cozy and comfy. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Emma, your work is SOoooo appealing! Thanks for sharing all this 🙂 Thanks, Kathy!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: