Emma Quay- by Leanne Barrett

Giving Voice, Then Keeping Quiet: the art of making children’s picture books…and letting them go.

Talk delivered at Creative Kids Tales Festival 2019

Emma Quay is the author and illustrator of ‘Nudie Rudie’ (2012) and ‘My Sunbeam Baby’ (2018). She told the audience that it takes her a long time to create book illustrations. In Sunbeam Baby she created 300 individual babies and they all got her time and attention during the creation process. On the page with the apple babies, Emma included; patterns from jam jars, pastry leaves and apple slice collars.

While Emma’s session was about the art of making picture books and illustration, much of her advice was equally relevant to writers.

Emma explained that becoming a creator takes time and while it may be years before you are published, it is the day’s not years that count. Illustrators need to draw every day. Never give up. Her call to action to the audience was, to invest the time to do your best work.


Emma talked about Listening to your own voice.  As a creator you need learn to listen to the right voices in your head. The challenge is not to get distracted by the inner critic or the chatter that can be found on social media. These voices can cloud and influence your work. When you quieten the chatter, your own voice can shine though.

To listen to your own voice you need to find moments in your day to let your mind wonder. Get out more: walk the dog and look at nature. Create while listening to music, watching tv or while on the train, just like Emma. Your own voice needs time to develop. Draw every day to loosen up and discover your style.

Letting Your Book Go:

Emma had some sage advice for when your book has been published and the critics start to comment. She said, ‘It’s up to others how they share your book…you have to let go.’

Letting Go of Ego:

Emma recommended, that one needs to accept guidance from your editors; it can only make your work better. You need a balance between arrogance and humility.

Emma’s Tips to Illustrators:

Add movement to static scene.

Look at your reference pictures then put them away, and then draw over and over again.

Don’t make animals too realistic, capture their essence.

Your characters need to stand out on the page. This can be done by adding white space and removing clutter.

If you draw small, blow it up afterwards and work on the larger image.

Look at your work upside down, what do you see?


Be mindful. Quieten the chatter.  Draw every day.