As Emily Mackenzie launches her latest picture book, ‘Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat‘ we catch up with her about work, characters and .
PBB: Ralfy Rabbit was an instant hit here and Stanley too, where do you find inspiration for your creations?
EM: Thank you! I tend to look to my childhood and my own interests for inspiration. I grew up next to a pine forest in Northumberland and went for a lot of animal spotting walks as well as counting the wild rabbits that would find themselves in our garden. I was OBSESSED with Sylvanian Families, loved playing with my teddies and reading too – visiting Hexham library was a Saturday morning highlight.
As an adult I like to learn new creative skills, knitting being one of the few hobbies I taught myself a few years ago! I also love screen printing and particularly enjoy printing my characters onto products which I used to sell at craft fairs. Ralfy is a mix of my childhood interests and is based on a batch of colourful rabbit shaped bookmarks I screen printed for a design market a few years ago. Stanley on the other hand appeared long before Ralfy did and started off life as a red and turquoise cat screen printed onto some notebooks I made. Like Stanley, some of my early knitted creations were a bit mad and looking back I’m quite embarrassed about some of the colourful loopy monstrosities I gave away to my friends and family in those first years as gifts!
I suppose Stanley is based on myself, and the book is about embracing being creative and celebrating friendships.
PBB: Do you find the writing or illustrating process easiest/more natural?
EM: I really enjoy the writing process but I love working on the illustrations as that’s the bit that tends to come first without me really thinking about it. When an idea for a new character starts to brew in my brain it doesn’t take long before they just start appearing in my sketchbooks – often when I’m working on completely unrelated projects. When I realise I keep drawing the same character over and over again, I start to try them out with different expressions and doing different activities until they almost tell me themselves what story would suit them best and then I begin the writing stage.
PBB: If you could collaborate with anyone in the literary world, past or present, who would it be and why?
EM: Oh that’s tricky! Personally I don’t think you can get a more perfect match to Roald Dahl’s books than my idol Quentin Blake, but imagine what it would have been like to get your hands on those manuscripts and dream up what those characters looked like from scratch?!
PBB: Your books are wonderfully vibrant what medium do you use and do you have a preference?
EM: I experiment with different materials but particularly enjoy the versatility of ink and how unpredictable it can be – my favourite bits are often when two colours bleed together by mistake creating unplanned swirls. I use Ecoline watercolour inks which are fresh and vibrant and Faber-Castell polychromos coloured pencils which I like to use for outlining. I love using Caran D’ache Neocolor II Crayons which were perfect for all the loopy wooly bits in Stanley! When I get chance I really enjoy screen printing too.
PBB: Can you show us a cheeky peek from your current sketchbook?
EM: I have spent the last couple of months completing the artwork for my new book, which I’m not allowed to share yet, but here are a few drawings I’ve done.
PBB: Whose illustrative work do you admire at the moment?
I’ve got a REALLY long list of illustrator crushes at the moment! Here’s a small selection of some of my current favourites: Marc Boutavant, Carson Ellis, Salvatore Rubbino, Sarah Dyer, Yasmeen Ismail, Emma Carlisle, Emily Hughes, Christian Robinson, Benji Davies and Isabelle Arsenault.
A huge thanks to Emily for giving up her time to share a snippet of her work processes with us and to Emma Bradshaw for setting up our Q & A.
Don’t forget to grab your copy of ‘Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat‘!