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26 April 2017

60 seconds with... Emma Skerratt

Psalm 119:105Emma is a designer, letterer, illustrator and maker based in Cheltenham. She recently illustrated the Baby Journal by Rachel Waddilove and has worked with Alliance member Bible Society on projects like the 2017 colouring calendar. Joanna Sopylo-Firrisa spent 60 seconds getting to know the creative.

How do you approach each Bible verse that you illustrate?
I always try to reflect meaning of the verse through the illustration. I usually start each illustration by thinking of relating words or themes, or singling out important words. Then I make an informal mood board on the style or feel I want the illustration to have, before starting on different sketched routes. Once I've got a design that the client or I am happy with, then it gets worked up to the final piece. In the Bible Society calendar I tried to make sure that the months and verses went well together, along with the prayer point at the bottom of the page. I would say there was an equal emphasis of the time of year and the verse that inspired the artwork.

How long does it take to work on each verse?
If the verse is particularly long, then that will take me longer to design as I've got to make sure the verse reads properly and that the emphasis and initial bit that hits you are the correct words.Also, colour pieces always take longer than black and white because it takes a few attempts to get the balance of colour right. 

How do you pick the verses for illustrations?
I'll either be reading my Bible and find one that inspires me to illustrate it, or I'll have made a list of ones that have always really stuck with me. I also like to ask family and friends what their favourites are.

What were some of their suggestions?
A lot of them loved verses from 1 John chapter 4 such as: "Perfect love casts out fear"' (1 John 4:18) – or: "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19). 

Preparing several different illustrations, like when you worked on the calendar for Bible Society, must be creatively draining?
Yes, especially if there is a tight deadline and I can't give myself enough of a break between each one. I tend to try work on one, then leave it for at least a day because when I come back to it I will notice things that could be made better. I also find that if I try to start too many new pieces of work in one day then my inspiration starts to wear too thin.

Do you get illustrator's blocks?
Yeah, I get them quite a lot and it's very frustrating when it happens. I feel as though some days being creative is so natural and others it's a real struggle to think of ideas. When that happens I usually try and get a change of scenery or go for a walk. There are occasions where I've pushed on through and have been able to push past the creative block, but most of the time I have to look around in new places for fresh inspiration. I also find praying helps in those situations!

Does illustrating Bible verses help you build your faith too?

A while back I set myself a challenge to draw a Bible verse a day for a year. I didn't get round to completing it sadly but I found it really helped in my faith because I was immersing myself in Bible verses daily. It's also really helpful because for each verse I've done I can visually picture it and therefore remember the verse a lot easier. I would hope that my illustrated verses may help others in a similar way too.

You work also on non-Christian projects. What are some of the things you've worked on in past year?
I've had a lot of exciting projects, one of which was illustrating a Baby Journal. It was my first published book project so was really exciting for me. I've also worked on projects from greetings cards to logo designs.

Do you see any difference between Christian and non-Christian commissions?
I've been working as a full-time illustrator for the past two years and have been blessed with lots of amazing projects. I always approach them the same whether its Bible verses or other types of artwork. I always like to have personal projects on the go at the same time as client work and so have been illustrating Bible verses as part of that for the last few years.

What relationship do you see between art and the Bible?
I like to see my illustration of Bible verses as a form of worship. If I am reading my Bible and read a passage that really affects me I'll want to illustrate it. I feel like visual imagery and art can really connect with certain people and translate the message of the Bible through it in a way that really touches people. 

Would you like to see more everyday Christian art around us, i.e. not stained glass in the churches but illustrations like yours?
I think that would be great, although I do think that stained glass windows are beautiful. It's always great to see Christian art done in all sorts of forms. I think it is so important to make sure the Bible is accessible to everyone and if that can be aided by using current art/ illustration trends to reach people then that's such a good reason to do it.

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