Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Meet vendor Emilia Illustrations. Learn more about her work and how she balances being a Black owned business.
How long have you been doing your artwork and when did you start your business?
I’ve been making artwork since I was a teenager, actually, since I took GCSE at school so I was 14 going on 15? I didn’t start deciding to do it as a business until I was about 18/19. Obviously sometimes uni projects can be a bit restrictive and sometimes you don’t have time to explore ideas that you want to. So I kind of just did my own stuff outside of that [uni]. I started designing Christmas cards when I was 19 and then sold them at a Christmas fair in High Barnet for a couple of years. That is when I decided to set up an Etsy account.
How do you balance going to uni and running a business?
To be honest for me I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to sell things. I just made them [the postcards] because I wanted to. It’s just a good way to start. Even if I don’t sell a lot now, at least I'm learning on the way for when I finish uni. Especially this year, my course is trying to support us in terms of our futures. They’re trying to guide us in the right direction in terms of what we want to do and help us out in that way.
What is the inspiration behind your artwork?
I like making printed work especially when I work digitally because I think it’s just more accessible for people. I like to make work that an ordinary person can appreciate and wants to buy. That’s my main purpose. Before it was just the world around me. So if I made Christmas cards it would be forests and stuff. Fun things, nothing too serious. But in the last work, I've wanted to make work a bit more meaningful to me. A bit more serious. Not in the sense to make it dreary and sad. It’s just so it has some meaning. That’s why I pushed my postcards. It relates to me, how I look and who I am. And that’s kind of the direction that I want to go into.
It’s quite a hot topic at the moment to celebrate yourself and your community so I think that’s a really good thing to spread. The more people that do it, the more mainstream it is, the more that everyone gets to learn about each other and have a wider community rather than just on your own.
The story behind the postcards
Those were made about three years ago. I've managed to re-surface them last year because at uni, they made this thing about decolonising the art education. I’m sure you’re aware a lot of art that you see is European. Sure it’s lovely but we’ve had enough of it, especially in the education world because we have a very international university so it doesn’t make sense to just teach European arts. I was really interested in that so I joined one of their launches, at Chelsea College of Art, and I submitted that piece of work with some writing on it. Then I spoke about why I made the work, and the new thoughts I had on that work.
At first I was just looking at the image of myself and understanding myself as more of an African. When I went back to it, I thought about it more on the level of how I've grown up as well and how I came to that point. So in terms of growing up in different environments, going from predominantly black areas to predominantly white areas, and also the influence of my family and working out who I am from that. And realising that those images were my way of figuring out who I am and appreciating who I am.
It’s been getting myself out there. I’ve noticed that I find it challenging to market myself. I’m still kind of working through it. I have my Instagram account but i’m not sure if i even have 200 followers yet. I can market myself on there, I’m working on this, this is great. But I suppose the key issue is that it’s not getting out to as many people as I like. If I go anywhere I just throw business cards - yeah look this is my Instagram!
However my biggest accomplishments have been getting the work done and getting it out there on social media. Publishing my website. Those are the main things.
Any advice for Black creatives interested in starting a business?
Don’t be shy. Do what you love. Celebrate it and just get yourself out there. The more confident you are, the more likely people will take you seriously and really engage with you.
Why join a subscription box?
I hadn’t heard about it before. But when you explained it, it sounded pretty cool so I was like, why not? It’s a good thing to really do, to celebrate Black business to bring us into the foreground of contemporary businesses. It’s also kind of having the potential to work together, with clients or other creatives. It opens the door for other people to not be shy about what they do. And to just keep doing it.