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Student Stories - Emma Clements, BA Hons Illustration.

My name is Emma and I live in Sheffield, UK with my Husband, two children and little black cat. I have been deaf since I was three years old and a lip reader

I am a mixed media narrative illustrator, that uses lines in a lyrical way and textures to create a range of emotions, my goal is to specialise in picture books (for all ages). I started my illustration degree in November of 2019, I wanted to make a change to my life and make something more of my art. Now almost four years later I am at the end of this journey, and what a journey it has been!

Studying hasn’t always been easy, during the time we have faced a pandemic, the joys of homeschooling! One of my children has gotten a late diagnosis of autism and have had illnesses and family bereavement. I managed to stay self-motivated, often using hardships as a personal drive for my creative voice. During the time I was doing my degree I was part of AOI (Association of Illustrators) 2022 mentorship program. my mentor being Caroline Thomson of Arena Illustrations as my mentor. This was such an amazing experience, getting professional insight on a one-on-one basis meant I could finetune my creative practice. With the help of Caroline, I was able to fully embrace drawing as a diary practice and started writing. It was such a wonderful opportunity and really recommend anyone to make the most of chances like this. If that wasn’t enough, for a while I was one of the student representatives for accessibly for the student association in 2021, only stepping down to focus on my studies. As much as I wanted to help students and I enjoyed connecting with fellow students. I also found that I also discovered a lot about myself and my own access needs. It was a pleasure to get to know some of the staff and a little insight to what happens behind the scenes with OCA.

I love to play with art supplies, I like to lose myself in creating images and delving into the world of visual storytelling. I am inspired by people everyday lives, the beauty of the world around us and the simple joys that can be found in the moments.

For this reason, I love working in my sketchbook (I take it everywhere with me) it is how I discovered my creative voice, it is a safe place, test out ideas, sketch on locations, test colours, compositions and thumbnail. It helps me not getting to attach to the first areas and gives me justice in being able to explore, experiment and play.

My advice for anyone starting the degree is to embrace it all, even if something is not your taste or thing it still adds to your creative voice. When I started the degree, I was pretty sure I have my technique figured out and now it couldn’t be more different! My artistic style is nothing like I thought it would be… I only discovered that by “happy accidents”. I am a great believer in the danger of one story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), this is a personal message that appears within my work, I believe stories not only should heal, empower and normalise everyone. That diversity isn’t a tick box, diversity is everyday lives.

Which is a topic I explored within my final project. Tell us about your end of degree project/exhibition. Boxes is a project that explores how people may not identify with their boxes. I can use myself as an example, growing up deaf in a hearing world, I found it hard to tick which box applies to me. Labels are all around us right now, that it is easy to forget that not everyone knows which apply to them, or worse having to choose between parts of themselves to which applies more.

Boxes come with stereotypes, and as Adichie says “The problem with stereotypes, is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete”. This was intended to be a healing exhibition/community project and the end; I have turned all the artwork into a book. The artwork for the exhibition was the form of 3D paper cut in a wooden box frame, really playing on the idea of breaking out of the box, pieces were a narrative collection which at the end I invited the visitors to decorate their own box to be a part of the collection. Seeing the boxes other people created and the stories shared, was definitely the highlight. I felt my message was making a connection to my audience.

Questions asked by fellow students. What is your current favourite part of the creative process? E.g. do you really like thumbnailing, or are you loving seeing the finished product etc

I am going to give a very libra worthy answer, I like two different stages. One being when the idea is first born, the excitement getting it out of the head and yet, still so rough. Then the stage when it starts coming together, you can see the hints of the finished results.

During your Uni journey, when did you feel like your creative voice really started to emerge.

It was during the sketchbook unit all the way back on level one, I was working on this unit during the height of Covid-19 Pandemic. I found I couldn’t get out into the world as much to sketch, so I started to look within. I guess I made a connection with my creative voice, and it started to flow and grow from that point on. It was a very raw moment; it wasn’t planned, and I still get very emotional about it.

What are the materials you cannot live without? Honestly, at risk of sounding a little cliche, all I need is a pen and paper. I am always doodling and sketching with a biro, using any paper or surface around me. However, I do love art supplies… So, I cannot just say pen and paper!

I am obsessed with my Winsor and newton professional watercolours, it is well used and loved. I am a little greedy with art materials as I classed myself as mixed media artist and love building textures… So, I cannot live without them all! Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? I used to hate this question when came up in job interviews, now, for the first time I can answer this with a smile. I hope to have completed my Masters, made a bit of a name for myself so that I am comfortable as an illustrator, and I would like to have my own studio space. That is the dream, my own studio. I am a little tired of the nomad “art studio” under which I share with my family. How do you organise you time? Very early on, I had a tutor that gave me a decent break down I should spend on each unit. I then treated each exercise/assignment as if was doing a paid commission with a deadline and deliverables.

I did study around my family, health and disability, so that often meant knowing how to balance it that worked for me, at times it did mean going to bed at 2am and then up early the next morning for the school run. Equally I also learnt when I had to be kind to myself, take it easy and rest. How do you keep yourself motivated when something like a degree takes years to complete and there's no one looking over your shoulder telling you to get on with it?

Myself, the degree is something I wanted for me. Maybe it started as something to prove to myself, and nothing lights a fire stronger than a person with something to prove. But it became healing and feels empowering that I am doing this for me.

Plus seeing my creative practice fall into place, seeing my skills and knowledge grow, I wanted to see what it would bring. It wasn’t always easy, sometimes it was a case of forcing myself by sitting down and making a start, having limited time around life also meant I had pressure to make use of that time. I would also reward myself by reaching goals, nothing major sometimes was a takeaway curry and others would be sitting down for an evening watching Netflix. What would you say has been your biggest challenge during your time at OCA and how did you overcome it? Getting thoughts out of my head! Explaining myself in a direct and clear way. I am a visual/emotional person and find it hard to put things into words. So, getting used to explaining my thought processes was somewhat challenging for me. With the help of the tutors prompting more information with questions it was something I started to overcome.

And, once I started talking, I am now finding it hard to shut up!

I have come a long way in a short space of time, from a person who felt they had lost their voice. To all this growing confidence which enabled me to host an exhibition, do Instagram lives and move on to the next stage in my creative journey. I have a unique perspective and creative voice, that positions me into a place that helps people understand differences and I campaign disabilities and diversity in my work. As for my future I have applied for a Part-time Masters which I plan to do along-side building my illustration career. I have my eyes on a creative writing course.

While doing this I will be sharing my experiences on my social medias and blog. The future is bright and very exciting.


For more information on Emma’s Exhibition and thoughts on study there is this Vlog

Follow Emma on Socials @Emclemmie and her website

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Oct 20, 2023

It was a great exhibition and an amazing achievement!!! All the very best of luck in your career and please stay in touch!

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