By Emily House
April 25, 2022
I’m Emily House, the author and illustrator of Bailey & Blanket.
I was raised in a small fishing village on the east coast of Norfolk in England but have been living near Cape Town, in sunny South Africa for the past thirteen years. Cape Town is a beautiful place. It’s full of big, blue skies and is a nature lover’s paradise. Within five minutes of my door, I can either be on the beach or on a mountain trail, and I never grow bored of the spectacular scenery.
I work from home and draw all my illustrations directly on my iPad. I like this method of working because it combines the feeling of working traditionally in a sketchbook with the magical convenience of an undo button! It also means that I don’t have to work at a desk all the time, and so, like my cat, I tend to follow the sun around the house and change the places I work during the course of the day. When the weather is nice, I can work outside too!
The story of Bailey & Blanket was inspired my daughter’s relationship with the blanket she was given as a baby. She was so attached to it she took it everywhere for many years, and it was so wonderful to see how such a simple, inanimate object could inspire such imagination.
I start all my writing in a red notebook that my husband gave me. I love to scribble by hand to get the first ideas down, and then as it all comes together, I move to the iPad or computer to build on it and refine it.
When I start work on illustrations I begin with very basic mini sketches, plotting them out as a storyboard across the pages to see how they might work most effectively with the flow of the text. I like to do these with pencil and paper and not get too caught up in the details.
Once these have been decided, I move to sketching in more detail. As I build these sketches, things get tweaked, and the layout comes together more coherently. Quite often the characters I draw are subconsciously inspired by people I know. I keep getting told that the dad in this story looks very much like my brother-in-law!
This quick video demonstrates my illustration process:
It was important to me that the close relationship between Bailey and Blanket was communicated as much through the illustrations as the words, and I made the effort to ensure that each illustration was filled with feeling, texture, and warmth. I love including little extra details: for this book, I included a cat as a side character (because I love cats), which has its own silent running commentary as the book progresses!
Picture-book creation is an intense process involving multiple stages. Sometimes it just flows—and in the past I’ve written and illustrated a book in just a couple of weeks (although I wouldn’t recommend it!)—but more often than not, it takes many months to bring together. During this time, the cloud of creative block can descend, and it becomes even more of a challenge when there’s a deadline looming. It’s so tempting for me to sit at my iPad and try and thrash it out, but often this makes the situation worse. Recently I’ve found it most helpful to get outside in nature and go for a run or walk or ride my bike in the mountains, but sometimes just changing tack by working on another illustration like a fun personal project for an hour or so does the trick.
It’s a real privilege to be able to share my stories with the world, and it’s my hope that readers big and small get as much joy from reading my books as I do from creating them.