Emma: illustrator and mum
I’ve known Emma for many years. We’re both French and we met at a fencing club. I’ve followed her work since and I’ve seen her art evolving throughout the years. Whilst working on her portrait, it’s been fascinating watching Emma work, sketching people in her local park in East Dulwich with her notebook and a dip pen. I can see how Emma’s gentle and charming personality resonates in her work. For her mother portrait, I was lucky to witness plenty of tender and fun moments between Emma and her gorgeous and smiley son, Viggo. I’m very chuffed that Emma accepted to participate to my ‘My mum is an artist’ series. Let’s meet the artist…
1. Tell me about yourself? What do you do? How long have you been doing it for? How did you get into it?
My name is Emma Farrarons, I’m 36. I’m a French national living with my husband Asger and son Viggo in South East London. I work part-time as a freelance illustrator and part-time as a graphic designer in publishing where I’m very proud to be part of the amazing picture books team at Macmillan Children’s Books. Macmillan publishes some of my favourite picture book authors and illustrators. I now share this love with my son, especially at bedtime.
I studied illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art. It’s while I was back in my home city of Paris at ENSAD (arts school) that I discovered my passion for illustrated books from an illustrator’s and graphic designer’s point of view. I’ve worked in the industry for over 14 years now. I’m surrounded with art!
My recent published books include the best-selling Mindfulness Colouring Book series.
2. How long have you been a mum for?
My son Viggo has just turned 3 at the beginning of September. He got an ice cream machine and an electric toothbrush for his birthday. We are in the middle of perfecting dark chocolate and coconut ice cream….
3. What do you love about your art?
I love leaving my desk and venturing out for a session of observational drawing. Drawing from life is my favourite thing to do and something I only discovered last year. With a sketchbook in hand and a pencil case full of art materials, I go for long walks until I find a subject, a setting or a someone that inspires me. I lean against a wall, camp on a picnic blanket or sit on a bench and draw what I see. It’s both mindfully meditative and fun and a chance for me to experiment with different art materials and textures without any pressure or fear of making mistakes.
During observational drawing, I am mindful about being as playful as I can with art material. I like to use brush pens, graphites, fibre tip pens, pencils, a dip pen with a vintage nib and black ink in a bottle (which I tape to an A4 cutting mat), charcoal, pastels, ink dilutions, gouache, watercolour, tippex, scissors, glue and scraps of paper. I sometimes focus on mark making, or tone. I sometimes draw people, buildings, interiors or nature. Some of my favourite places to draw are on the train to work, Kew Gardens, playgrounds, busy cafés and the V&A. Above all, I love drawing children.
I’m starting to fill my shelf with a library of sketchbooks. They are literally becoming image banks that I refer to for my imaginative work.
4. Has motherhood changed you as an artist?
Since becoming a mother, I’ve learnt to become less of a procrastinator. I’ve learnt to work faster, be more organised. I’ve learnt to let go of things when they don’t go my way, and to work whenever there is a free window. Luckily, being an illustrator allows me to be flexible. But there is a lot of discipline required.
Since motherhood, my illustration voice has evolved and transformed. I discovered my passion for drawing children. One of the things I love doing most of all is to observational draw my son. I draw him while he is playing, eating, brushing his teeth and even sleeping. I’ve learnt to draw quickly as he doesn't stay still - drawing him from life has almost become a sport! My sketchbooks are becoming diaries of motherhood and his childhood.
5. What has helped you combining your family life and your professional/artistic life?
My husband has been a great help. During the time I completed the Mindfulness Colouring Book series, my husband and I shared my maternity leave. After each feed, Asger would take our son out for long walks just so that I could work on the material for my books.
It’s also helped to have my own office to work in. I get to shut the door, put on music or a podcast and focus on my work. Before this, when Viggo was born, we used to live in a smaller flat where the office was also the living room, laundry room, dining room and playroom. It was impossible to concentrate.
6. What advice would you give out to other mums who try to combine their art/creative work with their family life?
If possible, try to have your own creative work space where you can shut the door behind you and concentrate with zero kid distractions.
Get sound isolating headphones. It can help focus. I listen to a lot of ambient music when I need to concentrate, or podcasts and audio books when the work doesn’t require thinking. Sometimes I just put them on without listening to anything. It just helps me get into the zone.
Try bullet journaling to schedule your month. I use it strictly for planning my work, brainstorming, planning a week, months or a year.
Network with other creative people or creative parents. I have other illustrator friends I meet up with to go location drawing. We are very open to exchanging tips and give each other illustration advice.
Use a timer. My mum gifted me with her smart watch, which has a timer. For example, I hate tidying. I tell myself that if I tidy for 10mins (using my timer), I can get some of it done. Before the 10mins are up I've found that I've achieved a lot. I use the timer for work too. If I want to have a productive day, I use timer to answer emails, tedious admin, indulge surfing the web. I use it to make sure I don’t lose track of time and move to the next task without any risk of procrastination. I even use it when I'm drawing from life - if I want to do 2 min, 5 min, 15min or 1 hour sketches.
8. Do you have dreams for your child?
I dream of him developing an artistic side of some sort.
9. Have you noticed an artistic side in your child?
I think that my son has a vivid imagination. A few months ago, he told me that the neighbour’s cat that visits our garden “isn’t an actual cat, but a man in a cat costume”.
10. What are your main struggles and victories since becoming a mum?
Lack of sleep has been my biggest struggle and biggest shock to the system. If I don’t sleep, I don’t work well and then my immune system suffers and my week can be ruined. So I try my best to sleep more!
Another struggle is that my son has a lot of food allergies. It can be difficult and stressful to meal plan and cook a varied diet for him. I’ve had to learn to become more experimental in the kitchen to make sure he has a nutritious diet. One easy recipe hack is my homemade mixed berry smoothie with banana, soaked chia and flax seeds, oat milk, and frozen green peas! That way I know he has iron, vitamins, protein, fiber, omega-3, vegetables and fruit in one delicious pink drink.
I’m still working on trying to find time for fitness. But I bought a bike and explore London's quieter streets together with family on weekends.
11. Is it true that women artists “can’t have it all”?
Do you mean women mother artists can’t have it all? There is definitely one thing we have less of, it’s time!
12. Can you tell me about your plans for this year?
My plan this year is to continue developing my observational drawing and start looking at sequential drawing. I’m excited about what my artist future holds and where a year’s work of observational drawing will take me. Another plan is to move my son from his cot to a proper bed.
Marion & You Photography is a lifestyle family photographer in South East London specialising in family, newborn and maternity photography.
[Marion specialises in London family photography, Beckenham family photography, Bromley family photography, Dulwich family photography, Forrest Hill family photography, Herne Hill family photography, Greenwich family photography, Kent family photography as well as areas in and around London.]