Tuesday, September 5, 2017

STGCC 2017: Booth Highlight - Get Drawn Into the Surreal Magical World of Jessica Emmett's Art

Pandas, dragons, unicorns and cute meowfaces! Those were the things that attracted Red Dot Diva to Jessica Emmett's art when she first met her at last year's STGCC.

Since then, they have kept in touch on Facebook, and Jessica's charming and colourful visual ideas were exactly Red Dot Diva needed for the RDD blog's rebranding project.

Jessica has a knack of infusing the familiar and the strange, especially when she decides to let her imagination fly with drawings of monsters and creatures from the fantasy realm. While Jessica was very busy preparing for STGCC 2017, Red Dot Diva asked her a long list of nosy questions!

Red Dot Diva: Please introduce yourself, and tell us how you got into the career of illustration and graphic design.

Jessica: I’m Jessica Emmett, a freelance illustrator and artist from the UK who’s now living and working in Singapore.

I’ve been creating and making from as far back as I could hold a pencil. I grew up being very dyslexic, so it’s no surprise I gravitated to visuals in high school. On my art foundation I found a passion for photography and ended up doing a Photography degree and a Media Arts masters in Manchester. I was accepted onto a PhD to study how adoption is represented in art and media, given I am a transracial adoptee myself who had worked with many East Asian adoption communities. But life threw me a curveball in the form of the financial crisis which affected me and my husband as a young married couple. I had to withdraw from the program a week before my start date. Devastating, but also an amazing opportunity to re-evaluate what I really wanted to do with my life.

I asked myself what I always wanted to do. As much as I loved photography, I never stopped loving to draw. I also always wanted to do an online comic. Despite my lack of formal illustration training, I created and collaborated on Adopted the Comic that ran for a few years. It continues to be an important resource for the adoption community. Even though I thought I was terrible at drawing I was shocked that people started to make requests for me to do illustration commissions. It led to illustrating an education book, Learn Thai, and on completion of the first book I was hooked! I decided to dedicate myself to illustration.

Alongside my illustration, I’d also picked up sculpting again. It is only recently I’ve started to take 3D work more seriously.
Red Dot Diva: That's quite a journey you've been through!

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Red Dot Diva: Who are some of your artistic heroes?
When I was younger I used to have a lot of M. C. Escher and Dali posters on my bedroom walls. I continue to be heavily influenced by surrealism. The first time I really was so incredibly inspired by an artist was when I saw a book of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures. I proceeded to make mini sculptures in my back yard and run around in the snow making pictures and taking photos which is the very reason I was gifted my first SLR camera!

During university I became very inspired by artists like Jenny Holzer, Christian Boltanski and Tracey Emin as I started to consider how art could be used to make impactful social commentary while exploring very difficult and at times personal subject matters.

I left university into the age of the internet. We are all bombarded with images every day and with that my influences have grown broader with no single artist jumping out at me. It’s fair to say, these days I’m more influenced by my direct communities and TV/ film/ games.

Red Dot Diva: How would you describe your art style?
Jessica: Currently I’m going for “cute surreal”. I like people to use their imaginations and I often incorporate story elements into my illustration. I’ve always been a deep thinker and I’m always keen to add meaning and social commentary into my work, be it serious illustration or fun comics. But then again, sometimes I just like to draw things that are cute with no further meaning.

Red Dot Diva: Tell us a more about your webcomic, Mad Scientist Cat. What is it about and how did that come about?
Jessica: Mad Scientist Cat is a side project comic I collaborate on with my husband Adam (Kat) Roberts. It’s a fun webcomic that follows Dr. Mad as he navigates academic life.

The real Kat is a neuroscientist that currently works at NTU as a researcher, which is why we moved here nearly 3 years ago. When I was still finding my footing in Singapore, I was looking for events to take part in. A few people suggested 24 Hour Comic Day. I had planned to go alone thinking Kat would have no interest.

Suddenly, 2 days before the event, Kat said he wanted to come along and asked if I wanted to collaborate with him on a fun comic. I was shocked, he’d never wanted to do anything creative before! It’s hardly a surprise that he wanted to do a comic about a scientist cat. From the few strips we pencilled up, we realised we could take this further than that one off event. So a year later we launched at STGCC!

We’ve been so busy lately that we’ve not had chance to update it in a few months, but we’re always coming up with ideas so the project is still alive =).

Red Dot Diva: Do you think webtoons should stay as webtoons? Or do you think, it's worthwhile for webtoons to become storybooks and graphic novels?
Jessica: I love the fact that webcomics really push the boundaries of what comics are and how comics are formatted, which gives creators an amazing scope to explore and experiment in a way I feel is limited in more traditional print media. I get really excited seeing comics that use basic animation in gifs, explore scrolling / panning / 360 panoramas, and digital mixed media elements. I also think that it's fantastic that webcomic creators aren't limited by length. The downside I feel is more about the expectation for creators to work, almost full time, on free content. As you can imagine, this is not a great model for the creative industry as a whole. I have worked on 3 webcomic projects and I have done so knowing that my daytime work would always have to take priority over them.

I don’t object in the slightest when web comics get printed. I do think that it can depend on the webcomic on how well it translates to a page, just as digitized print comics don’t always work well for screen viewing. But maybe the question isn’t really about whether webcomics should or should not get printed, but more to contemplate on how comics as a whole fit within the greater context of the current state of digital, traditional and self publishing. And whether or not webcomics are an extension or separate form to traditional print comics. I find it a fascinating dilemma to ponder.

Red Dot Diva: What are your favourite and toughest subjects to draw?
Jessica: I’m a self-taught illustrator so I still find everything a learning process. However backgrounds are still the bane of my existence. I am a very detail oriented artist and I want to draw everything in detail! Learning how to balance background details is my next goal.

When I was studying for my art foundation, I was told not to draw dragons and fantasy characters as it wasn't "real art". I really took it to heart, and I spent many years after trying to put aside my geekiness in favour of more contemporary work. It's taken me years to realise that the term "real art" was one of the most damaging phrases ever uttered to me and now, unsurprisingly, I have regained the love of drawing dragons, unicorns and things that pop into my imagination.

Red Dot Diva: At what stage of your artistic adventure, do you think you're at now?
Jessica: It was only a few years ago that I took the move to focus on illustration over my design, contemporary and community work, so I still feel very early career. I know this runs very contrary to the 11 years of experience I’ve had as a freelance artist. It doesn’t help that I have a bit of a classic artist temperament of never being happy with my work because I’m always wanting to do better. Despite my internal struggles, this year I resolved to work hard to stay more true to my artist voice and I feel I am at an exciting stage of my career.

Red Dot Diva: While living here in Singapore, did you pick up anything visual that was unique or unusual, and managed to incorporate that into your pieces?
Jessica: The ink drawing, Texture Monster - Flora, was completely made up of textures I photographed around my housing complex. The fusion of nature and man-made urban materials in Singapore directly influences this piece. The original and A3 prints of this piece will be made available for the first time at STGCC.

I cannot express how supportive and inspirational the creative communities in Singapore have been. It’s clear to me that Singapore has untapped my creativity and influences all aspects of my current work.

Red Dot Diva: You helped me design my awesome new logo and collaterals, a project which lasted a couple of months (mostly because we were both busy!). Thank you so much for that. How do you go about developing initial ideas and images on similar projects like these?
Jessica: Your logo redesign was such a pleasure to work on so I’m not sure who should be thanking who.

I don’t do much design work these days but logo work tends pulls me out of design retirement! The reason I love to work on logos for individuals & small organisations is that I see it as a puzzle. The first step really is just to understand the person or organisation and understand what direction they want for their business/activities. This sometimes involves tough conversations or helping them realise the image of their organisation. This part was a bit easier because I’ve followed you on social media for a while now and met you a few times, enough to get a sense of what “Red Dot Diva” was all about.

The making process is quite straightforward. First, I just do hundreds of sketches on paper. Just writing the name and trying shapes and icons. Clients tend to not see this part, it’s messy. I will self-edit and send all the viable “concepts”. From those I ask the client to pick 3 concepts they like and will develop up to 3. Then it’s narrowed down to 1 which I finish off in the formats needed. I try to keep it simple and straightforward =).
Red Dot Diva: It was really fun and chill working with you on this project. I enjoyed our digital time together!

Red Dot Diva: At STGCC last year, you were sharing a booth with Kelly Bender and Seth Adams. Was that your first time selling items at a booth?
Jessica: Yes, I did share with Kelly and Seth last year, and it was the first time I’d EVER sold anything in person (rather than online)! I was nervous that I’d stupidly chosen such a massive event to start out at, but Kelly and Seth were a great laugh so that helped with the nerves. 
Red Dot Diva: There was so much biceps at that booth, and being the only female in the group, how was the experience like? Did you go all out and did a lady biceps throwdown?
Jessica: No lady bicep throwdowns I’m afraid, but with banter I can give as good as I get, that’s all I can say about that hahaha!

Red Dot Diva: What made you decide to have your own booth at this year's STGCC?
Jessica: Last year, I took Kelly up on his open call for booth sharers without really thinking about the bigger picture. As fun as it was to share a booth with Kelly and Seth, they had quite different visual aesthetics and content to me. This posed some difficulty when we all tried to recommend each other’s work to visitors that came to our part of the table… not for lack of trying.

So when STGCC emailed about a booth, I thought it made more business sense to find someone to share that had a similar style. I did only one call out to friends, but cost was a factor for most. Even I ummed and erred about the cost for ages. After a number of conversations with my husband, I realised that taking the brave (and expensive) move to have my own booth might actually be a good thing, so I stopped looking and decided to go solo (well technically Kat will be there so not totally solo).

Red Dot Diva: What will you be offering at your STGCC booth? What can fans look out for?
Jessica: Last year I was in a booth next to an indie designer toy maker. I remember thinking, wow I can’t believe he made those himself. A few weeks later I thought I’d try it! I’d been making polymer clay items at home for a while but I really wanted to learn resin casting. It set me on a 12 month quest to learn how to sculpt, cast moulds, pour resin and paint models.

I’ll be featuring a small range of small handcrafted resin unicorns as well as launching printed unicorn keychains and handcasted metal and resin mini unicorn charms. The orange unicorn keychain is also a STGCC 2017 exclusive and only 20 have been made! I will also be selling a number of original illustrations and prints.

Kat will be joining me with a print issue of our webcomic. We are both very excited about STGCC, it’s such a big part of our Singapore life.

If you are heading to STGCC 2017 on 9 & 10 September, do not miss checking out Jessica Emmett's awesome unicorn merchandise and other of her wonderful art available Artist Alley Booth No. AA-39!

Jessica's works of art have such instant appeal, so Red Dot Diva is sure you will find something that you can bring home!


Here are some online places where you can follow Jessica's art projects:

Website - http://www.jessica-emmett.com
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/jessica_emmett

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