interview | emma j shipley

Cheetah Drawing

Since the inception of all things art on this season’s catwalks, the worlds of fashion and art have perhaps never seemed so close; yet there are few designers whose work so literally synthesises the two. The strikingly imaginative and intricately formed hand- drawn prints of graphic artist, Emma J Shipley – inspired by the irregular patterns and unique beauty of the natural world- have inspired substantial critical acclaim, even in her pre-graduation years. Following the opening of Emma J Shipley’s new London studio, Schön talks inspiration, creativity and craft with the talented trailblazer. 

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have a particular routine when designing? 

I consider myself a graphic artist, so the research and ideas stage is a really important part of the process. There has to be a concept each season that carries through the whole collection. I love travelling for inspiration and often use photography to document flora, fauna and colour. Films, books, artists and music are all influences too. When it comes to starting on the final designs I use pencil and paper, first sketching to plan the composition of the piece and then building up layers of graphite to develop the depth of tone. This can be a really time consuming process but I’m a perfectionist and it’s important to me that these drawings are artworks in their own right. After I’ve created the drawings I scan them in to work on them digitally; adding colour and blowing them up in scale to fit the size of the scarves. The designs are then printed straight onto silks and cashmere blends in Italy and finished by hand. 

Why did you decide to apply your creative talent to fashion? Is there something in particular about fashion that resonates with you? 

I love the fact that my drawings don’t have to stay flat on page. I’ve always been interested in fashion and the way my artworks can interact with the body – I think that’s when they really come to life. 

You worked part-time for Anne Tyrrell MBE whilst completing your MA at the Royal College of Art. What were the biggest lessons you learnt from this time? 

It was brilliant to work in a design consultancy alongside my studies – something completely different to my personal work that I was so engrossed in at the Royal College. It taught me a huge amount, in particular, working to deadlines and briefs, the importance of commerciality and understanding the market. Anne herself has been a fantastic mentor and is very inspiring. 

Lemur drawing

Where did you learn illustration? 

I’ve always loved drawing and had that skill from a young age. It’s obviously something I’ve worked on and developed over the years, and I think it was at the Royal College where I really started to refine my own signature style and create something really unique and distinctive. 

Travel is obviously a huge inspiration to you. Is there anywhere in the world you dream of visiting? 

The Galapagos Islands and Madagascar are both on my list. They look stunningly beautiful and are also really interesting from an evolutionary point of view. 

We are fascinated by the plurality of scientific references in your designs. Could you see yourself as a biologist in another life? 

Yes, definitely, I would love to have been an early naturalist, exploring, discovering and documenting new species through drawing! I’m always inspired by nature, in particular the unique beauty and irregular patterns of the natural world. Science and mathematics are intrinsically part of this, so I look at evolution, fractal patterns, equations and geometry too. These influences are all twisted by my imagination, exploring surreal fantasy, to create artworks which are half-real and half-imagined.


How do you feel about the ever-increasing presence of new technologies in the artistic world? 

It’s really exciting and opens up more and more possibilities for designers. However I think it’s important not to forget about the importance of craft; digital technologies shouldn’t be a replacement for that but should be used to enhance and compliment traditional skills – to do things that weren’t possible before. Personally, I think that something that has been created entirely digitally doesn’t have the same essence of soul of something that has had a human touch. 

 How do you see your work developing in the future? 

I feel like I’m growing with each collection, but there’s still so much I would like to do (and so many animals and locations to explore). Travelling for new inspiration will be important, and I’d also like to branch out into new products to apply my artworks onto. Eventually, I would like to build the complete Emma J Shipley lifestyle encompassing fashion, home ware and graphic art. 

Words / Deanne Ball

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