With work spanning illustrations on Japanese chocolate wrappers to quilts with whimsical characters in the new W Paris Opera hotel, East London-based designer and illustrator Emily Alston (AKA Emily Forgot) explores every facet of her craft. After recently reconnecting with her work at her latest showing, the first in a series—The Forgotten Hall of Fame—created for a night called “Form” at The Aviator Hotel by Tag, we caught up with the designer to talk about illustrating, inspiration and creating uniquely individual projects.
Firstly, why the name Emily Forgot?
When I needed to register a domain name while still in college, I didn’t want to use my surname as it felt a little boring. I quite like the idea of creating a character to work under. Being forgetful is definitely part of my personality but strangely when it comes to work and deadlines I’m very organized! People seem to remember it too, which is a bonus.
You have worked with some massive clients including Adidas, Harrods, MTV, Paul Smith, Selfridges, Wallpaper, Harper’s Bazaar, The Times and Bang & Olufsen. Tell us briefly about the journey from university through to your own business now.
It was a slow and very organic process, which in hindsight is the best way. Although I would have loved to work on the bigger jobs right at the start, I’m really confident with the amount of knowledge I have under my belt now, and I don’t think I would have been prepared (had it happened immediately). I like to take on more responsibility and direct projects.
You work across a number of mediums. Which is your favorite?
At the moment my heart is in 3D. I love making things that you can hold but haven’t pursued this as much as I would like until now. I’m obsessed with objects and the spaces that surround us, so I’m trying to explore more ways for this passion to filter into my commercial work. Set design and prop styling are areas that I would like to be involved in. Working on window displays (“Parade” for Selfridges) is also a nice way to make something more tangible and get away from the screen too.
Who or what inspires your work?
I think there’s too much stuff to mention! It always depends on the project I’m currently working on, so I’m always on the look out for inspiration in unexpected places. I suppose anything from 60s psychedelia, vintage Japanese graphic design and interiors, to record sleeves, folklore and knitting patterns! I don’t like to limit myself when it comes to inspiration. One thing that I always go back too is my collection of 1970s Graphis annuals though, they are great to browse through when I’m starting a new project.
What have been some of the most challenging collaborations you have been a part of?
It’s always a challenge to be out of your comfort zone but at the same time so important to put yourself in a position where it could all go wrong. It’s too easy when working within illustration to rely on old tricks but having your work in new contexts and exploring different fields too is what makes being creative exciting. I need to listen to my own advice a little more, I think! I can be a little too happy in my comfort zone. The window stuff definitely throws up more challenges and I have realized what a control freak I am. Having a great team to work on the production side is imperative.
What’s the hardest part about what you do?
I think it’s when you feel like you’ve solved something and are 100% happy with the outcome but the client doesn’t like it. Going back to square one when you were completely happy with what you produced can be really hard. But, at the end of the day, making your client happy is part of doing a job well and going back to the drawing board can throw up a better solution.
You’ve had quite a success with your blog. How did it come about?
It started off as place to store inspiration I found when I was working and just grew from there. I like the idea of building a collection of my finds and sharing them. It’s also helped me to get to grips with my own aesthetic and understand my sensibilities better. I also think it’s good to share inspirations and acknowledge what makes you tick…It feels liberating in a way.
You recently launched a new blog, Muse & Maker. What’s this all about?
This blog is just a development of my blogspot but has more of a focus on domestic ware, furniture and designed objects. I have more regular posts and a few Q&A sections lined up with some really exciting Makers. I knew I wanted to have more written content to my blog. I personally really enjoy reading interviews myself and am a very inquisitive person so I felt in order to get people on board I’d needed to have something more professional for them to agree to be part of. I’ve been really happy with the response so far; lots of people I really admire have got on board, which is great.
Muse & Maker also records the unusual miscellanea I come across day to day whilst researching new projects. I love how the internet can take you to weird and wonderful places. That said, I still try and venture out to find stuff in libraries and junk shops. That way the content is not going to be the same as the rest of the blog-o-sphere.
What advice would you give to other illustrators/artists/designers looking to get their stuff out there?
I think it’s really important to create your own opportunities; it’s unlikely they will just roll into your inbox at the start of your career. Speak to as many people as you can in the area you want to work and make as many connections as you can. I hate networking, but have found it a lot easier to talk to people about what I do. It’s really important when making email contact with industry folk that it’s suited to what you’re about. Don’t send mass emails off willy-nilly. The personal touch will always make more of an impact. I tend to ignore student emails that start “Dear Mrs. Forgot”.
I want to work on some new products and also some collaborative projects for the Muse & Maker shop in the future. I’m keen to use the shop to work on a product line that doesn’t necessarily have the same aesthetic as my Emily Forgot illustration. I’d like it to be a little more explorative, to make it a place when I can play with some new ways of working without any client expectations… We shall see! Apart from that I have a few commercial jobs in the pipeline that I have to keep under wraps for the moment!
Prints are available from the Emily Forgot online shop.