The Art of Memory and Landscape: An Interview With Illustrator Emma Butcher

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Booker-longlister author, Wyl Menmuir’s new story is short but definitely not sweet . Its darkly evocative themes conjure a claustrophobic mood that we knew would be a challenge to illustrate. But MA Illustration student Emma Butcher’s atmospheric and ambient illustrative style captured the mood of the piece and formed a visual narrative that adds yet more depth to ‘In Dark Places.’

I wanted to find out more about Emma Butcher’s creative process and to hear about her visual narrative  for ‘In Dark Places’, so went to see Emma in her studio at the Wood Lane campus of Falmouth University.

What attracted you to this brief? And what was the application process like?

I was interested in the subject matter and the synopsis Wyl gave, and it was a great opportunity. I made a short pitch for the project and showed some of my previous work. I come from a Fine Art background, so illustrating someone else's story and working from a text, was a first for me.

It was interesting to see the story develop, as I was simultaneously developing the illustrations. Wyl's writing is very evocative and descriptive, and on my initial reading I had clear imagery in my head and ideas for the first drawings I was going to make.  It was also a helpful exercise, to respond to a text and also to create a body of imagery in a short space of time.

The book team were particularly drawn to the eeriness of your work. Could you talk  a little about that?

I don’t feel it’s always eerie, but I do try and communicate a certain mood or atmosphere. I’m interested in sense of place, evoking a feeling of odd occurrences and creating ambiguity with sequential imagery, that all work together to entice a sense of narrative.

Emma Butcher Lua In Dark Places

Can you tell us a bit about your process and materials?

I've always loved using Quink ink and I combine it with gouache. I've been working at a much smaller scale recently, making work with a sequential narrative, so that’s allowed me to work quickly and to see images grouped together and I’m able to move them around in different combinations. I also use oil paints, pen and ink and photography.  I'm planning on taking the imagery into pinhole photography, animation and printmaking.

You’re also working on a graphic novel, LUA, which is set in the Regaleira Estate in Sintra, Portugal. Where did the idea for this book come from?

I lived in Cascais about five years ago and Sintra was one of the neighbouring towns. I hold Sintra very dear to my heart as it is one of the most beautiful places I‘ve ever been to. It has its own microclimate and a special atmosphere. I spent many days there, wandering around on my own. I made a lot of drawings and photographs. Naturally I began to make work from this once I started the MA. I wasn’t sure what it was going to turn into at first, but it’s become my main project.

So what’s next on your horizon?

I’d like to get LUA published and then continue to create other graphic novels and illustrated books, I’d also like to take the LUA imagery into animation.

Emma Butcher’s other work can be found at or through her Instagram feed. (emma__butcher). ‘In Dark Places’ by Wyl Menmuir will be published in September 2017. This publication is the result of a collaborative venture between National Trust Publishing and Falmouth University’s staff, students and writer in residence, Wyl Menmuir.