Emma Cowlam Illustrator: A Day In The Life

Emma Cowlam

Emma Cowlam is a graduate of Chelsea School of Art in London. As part of the degree course she was awarded one of the college’s highly competitive exchange placements to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Since committing to illustration full time 5 years ago she has developed and evolved her illustration style. She has built up a diverse portfolio and now completes a wide variety of freelance illustration work for both private and commercial clients, including Elle, Glamour, Living Etc, the V&A Museum, Somerset House, Liberty of London and Radley. Emma has won a number of prestigious awards, including gold awards from Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and House Beautiful magazines, she is represented by Marie-Claire Westover at Lipstick of London.

Emma says: I’ve always been a morning person and my alarm goes at 6am. By 6.30am I’m at Champneys, my local health club. I’ve always adored swimming and for the past 10 years have started my day with at least an hour in the pool. My illustration studio is at my cottage so my commute to work is driving from the pool along beautiful country lanes. When I arrive I’m greeted by my very friendly companion: golden retriever Dot. I got her when I started illustrating freelance, whilst I spend my days drawing she sleeps quietly at my feet, keeping me company. I have a ritual of getting to my desk by 8.45am with porridge topped with fresh fruit and seeds, which I eat as I check my emails and make a daily to-do list. Juggling several projects and client briefs at the same time I need to make sure I prioritise my time.

I’ve always loved drawing and as a child was fascinated by picture books, especially the classics by Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr and Quentin Blake. I was far always far more interested at looking at the pictures than reading the story! When I left boarding school at 18 I had decided art school in London was where my future lay. After a one year art foundation course at Wimbledon School of Art I went onto a BA Textile Design degree. Opting to take illustration classes literally changed my life. Suddenly I saw drawing was a ‘real’ career. After I graduated I interned and freelanced in London and New York at a wide range of places which included the Daily Telegraph and the You magazine of the Mail on Sunday. My desire to illustrate was overwhelming so I decided to commit to freelance illustration full time. I stick by two pieces of advice which are ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’ and ‘hard work gets you places’. Professionally I admire Shirley Hughes and Judith Kerr who I’m lucky enough to have met at drawing events. They still have such passion for illustrating and have established and sustained highly successful careers.

I can honestly say love every single bit of my job! From my agent Marie-Claire at Lipstick of London telephoning with a new job, to meeting the client to discuss creative ideas and drawing the illustrations in my studio to fulfil the client’s brief. Even after 5 years I still get a thrill seeing my illustrations in print when I go to the newsagents. However, my least favourite part of my job is definitely organising paperwork such as my invoices and expenses for my accountant. I find it such a chore and prolong it until it is absolutely necessary.

At 1pm I break from drawing to take Dot into the woods for daily scamper. Her favourite part is when we walk down the lane and past the farm where she enjoys staring at the chickens, which ruffles their feathers while I buy freshly laid eggs. I walk for forty-five minutes while Dot has a good sniff about and chases wild bunnies and speedy squirrels. My walks with Dot give me time and space to think clearly during my working day. Whatever the weather it helps me find solutions to problems I’m puzzling over. I find during walks ideas pop into my head for future drawings and ironically I tend to have my best ideas during my time out of the studio! On returning to the cottage I make myself lunch, usually a simple salad in summer and a warming soup in winter and begin drawing again. Around 4pm make myself a green tea to enjoy with a snack such as a box of raisins. Their little red boxes remind me nostalgically of my childhood. On a studio day when I’ve not had to catch the tube to a client meeting in London I like to finish at 6pm and take Dot out for a short time. She trots alongside me to the post box where I frequently send letters and cards to friends and family. Letter writing is something which has stayed with me since boarding school, for me there is nothing more exciting than seeing a hand written note amongst the bank statements and take-away flyers.


Emma's Day

In the early evening I often pop back to Champneys for a yoga class or in summer to sit in their beautiful gardens. I generally pop into see a friend on the way home as there’s a strong community where I live and dropping in one someone’s cottage unannounced is completely normal! I’m enjoying this lifestyle while I can as I hope to move back to Manhattan where life is the polar opposite to the Buckinghamshire countryside. I enjoy preparing supper from my Deliciously Ella or Honestly Healthy cookbooks before relaxing with a book or magazine. If I’m too tired to concentrate I watch TV, The Great British Bake Off is of course my current favourite!

At weekends after swimming I often take the tube into London with Dot where we walk in Regents Park and meet friends for lunch on Marylebone High Street. Cities are great sources of inspiration for me which I capture with my camera to work from when in my studio. Marylebone is dog friendly so she’s allowed in the shops. Her favourite afternoon is a snooze in Daunts bookshop whilst I browse, closely followed by Anthropologie. She quickly worked out they have a glass jar full of dog treats on the counter!

If I wasn’t an illustrator I think an interesting alternative career would be in publishing where I could be involved with helping other illustrators creatively.

My top 3 sources of online inspiration are:

Deliciously Ella– Ella’s great at inspiring me to try new recipes

The Frugality– Alexandra Stedman of The Frugality has wonderful fashion and style advice which she captures by beautiful photography. I love doodling in my sketchbook inspired by her Instagram posts.

Somewhere Slower– I’ve been following Courtney Adamo of Somewhere Slower for the past year. Her blog has documented her year long global adventure with her young family. Reading about the trip and seeing her stunning pictures which have documented their endless sunny days all over the world has been a joy and definitely brighten up the gloomy English weather.






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