With the imminent launch of her newest picture book, Orion and the Dark, author / illustrator Emma Yarlett reveals her obsession with the dark, how her characters and story lines emerge and who inspired her to create her own picture books.
1. Your first book for Templar was about the moon and now the dark. Do you have a ‘thing’ about night time and are you scared of the dark? 😉
I definitely do have a thing about night time don’t I? My dad is a keen astronomer, and I remember as a child being shown through various weird and wonderful telescopes the beauty of the night sky, the stars, the moon and the planets… It’s strange to realise how much this has subconsciously impacted me. Every time I look up to the night sky, without hesitation I always spot as many constellations as I can, always starting with Orion of course!
I’ve never really been afraid of darkness, I’ve always been more afraid of the way nice things can become terrifying when it get’s dark. When I was a kid for some unknown reason, my parents had two life sized teddy bears that sat on a sofa in the spare room of our house (weird!). In the daytime I didn’t mind them so much, but when it was nighttime and I had to walk past them to go to the bathroom… it was terrifying!
You know what? Just like in the story, the Dark just suddenly appeared in my sketchbook. I’ve got no idea where he came from at all – he just arrived in my imagination and oozed out of my pencil. Of course he needed a little adjustment to make him the chap he is today, but all in all he is much the same as he has always been!
3. Where do you get your inspiration for your stories and do they start with the words or the pictures?
I love reading wonderful creations by greats such as Roald Dahl, CS Lewis and Julia Donaldson, I find them very inspiring. But the real inspiration for my stories comes from just taking some time out to sit and observe the world and think. I like to take something we all know or have experienced in one form or another (such as a fear of the dark, or the moon), and come up with a key concept to do with these things… like if you’re afraid of the dark, what would happen if you met him? And when I find an idea I really like I begin to build a story around that key thought. I’m a very visual thinker, so as soon as the idea for the story is there I’m thinking in pictures and narrating it with my own thoughts. Sometimes I leave the idea stewing in my head for months, and then one day I sit down and it suddenly pours out of me all at once. That’s what happened with Orion and the Dark!
4. Who inspired you when you were University?
When I was at university I was really inspired by my tutors, but also by my fellow students. I went to Falmouth University, and the students that attend there are truly marvellous. I can remember looking around the studio and thinking there was no way I could ever make it as an illustrator because the work of everyone around me was so much better than my own! Without having that inspiration, and that competition and fighting spirit, I don’t think I would ever have made it to the place that I am today.
Illustration wise, whilst I was at university I really loved the work of Falmouth illustration graduates Liv Bargman, Owen Davey and Tom Frost. Outside of the Falmouth illustration hemisphere, back in the day I really loved David Roberts, Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Alex T Smith, Emily Gravett, Jack Hudson, Laura Carlin and many more.
5. Your fabulous typography makes an appearance in this book, did you study type design at University?
I didn’t! Prior to studying at university I did an a-level in Graphic Design, so I guess I picked up some lessons in type… but I just absolutely love to do it. I love experimenting with letter forms to create something completely one-off and specific to the space it needs to fill. I do like digital fonts, but for me it’s all about the hand-rendered… I can’t put into words what it is about hand-rendered typography that I love… I just know that I do!
6. What made you choose picture books to channel your illustrative genius?
Illustrative genius, I like that. I’ll definitely be quoting you on that in the future! From being a weenie little human being, to being a fully fledged adult, picture books have always captured my heart and my imagination. I remember when I was four convincing my parents to let me colour in the whole of the Beatrix Potter book, when I was six copying out all of the pictures from I want my potty by Tony Ross, and my first experience of looking through Quentin Blake’s Clown. Looking back, Picture books have always been there and so for me it was an obvious choice to make my way into their world.
A huge thanks to Emma and in celebration of the launch, we made our own Dark for her to add to her collection. Hope you like it!