Interview: with Illustrator Emma Simmons

I first met Emma when I visited Sweets Workshop to see an exhibtion of drawings by Pam French. I fell in love with the store/gallery and all the goodies contained within. I couldn’t resisit buying one of Emma’s beautiful prints and discovered that she was having an exhibition of her work in a couple of weeks time. So of course I had to return, not only because I loved her work but the theme of her current exhibition “Sun Sets in the West” is none other than our beautiful Inner West. Big thanks to Emma (and John) for answering my many questions. For anyone who hasn’t yet seen Emma’s gorgeous work, pop into Sweets Workshop in Summer Hill and check out her exhibition before it ends on Wednesday 4th May.

How did you become an illustrator?
I became an illustrator on the side of graphic design. I had been designing publications for 12 years and opportunities arose along the way for me act on illustrative ideas I had for editorial articles. I enjoyed being able to find a way to communicate a message through a graphic or illustration.

How would you describe your illustrative style?
My work is collage based. I relish being away from the computer, making and collecting textures, shapes, colours and patterns. As a collector of fabrics, I find it hard to cut them up and shape them into something, for fear of making a big mistake and ruining the item. This has taken me back to the computer, which allows me to build my illustrations through scans, and photos of my fabrics, textures and the things that I create.

It can be so hard for artists / illustrators / designers to get notice? What advice would you give to young illustrator today?
The advice I would give is to keep producing work and keep a look out for opportunities. I am only now making illustration a priority, I found it hard to keep illustrating with a busy job. I would suggest entering competitions, and collaborative shows, to build up your work and make contacts.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration?
I get my inspiration largely from my surroundings, the places I pass, the textures I see in the day-to-day. I have a strong interest in the lighting affects on the landscape, often that will make me want to capture what’s in front of me.

What do you enjoy most about your career?
I enjoy the process of slowly building my illustrations from a pile of textures, fabric and a sketch. It’s really satisfying to produce something that conveys a feeling, a message or a scene that connects with the viewer.

What can visitors expect to see at your exhibition ‘The Sun Sets in the West’, at Sweets Workshop?
They can expect to see a collection of artworks capturing some of the Inner West’s colourful scenes in fabric, watercolour and pencil. Some of the suburbs I’ve included are Summer Hill, Petersham, Newtown, Enmore, Ashfield, Balmain and Marrickville. The Inner West retains a lot of charm by maintaining the quaint, the small, the decorative, the questionable colour choices, the gardens, the architecture and the shapes of it’s history, I guess I wanted to capture some of it before it changes.

About the gorgeous Sweets Workshop . . .

When did you open Sweets Workshop? Why did you choose Summer Hill?
We opened Sweets Workshop on the 17th July 2010. Summer Hill has a great village lifestyle, which we wanted to contribute to. You can get everything you need from the heart of the village, good coffee, gifts, fashion, fresh fruit, great food. We are situated in the Penalt building which was completed in 1939. It was the first building built with electricity in Summer Hill and it’s a heritage item. We loved the art deco ocean liner style of the building.

Tell me a little bit about your background . What led you to opening Sweets Workshop?
We spent years and many a weekend breakfast dreaming about the idea of having our very own shop and gallery. The idea of having a space that allowed us to be creative and filled with the things we love, while supporting fellow artists and designers appealed to us. It wasn’t until we took a long needed holiday, from our busy work schedules, that we realised how much we wanted to make it happen. We happened to see the space the day after we returned from holidays, we fell in love with both the shop and the art deco building that it is part of. Seeing the perfect space really launched the whole process, it took about 10 months to get to opening stage.

For those who may not have had the pleasure of visiting Sweets Workshop, what would be the best way to describe it?
Sweets Workshop is a retail shop, art gallery and graphic design/illustration studio. We exhibit and stock art, decorative objects, jewellery, giftware and independent publications with a strong focus on locally handmade items.   Sweets Workshop has a dedicated gallery space, the feature exhibitions focus on an artist or designer, object, artistic process or theme. They change regularly, every 3 to 4 weeks, to incorporate as many artists and designers as possible. Often some of the artwork will flow over into the shop space. This allows the shop to be constantly evolving. The retail shop sells, limited edition and open edition paintings, drawings, prints, digital and collage works created through various traditional and modern techniques. We stock decorative objects and giftware such tea cups, vases, tea light holders, decorations and other curios. We have a wide variety of handmade jewellery including pendants, earrings and brooches.  Sweets Workshop also has a soft spot for zines and other short run, self-published art and design publications.  As graphic designers we both use the space as a studio to undertake graphic design work and custom illustration commissions.

How does an artist get to have their work sold or exhibited in Sweets Workshop?
We are always on the look out for artists and designers who have a point of difference to feature in our shop. We enjoy the hunt for new people and are always happy to hear from people about their creations.We are open to ideas for new exhibitions to host. We wanted an art space that was comfortable and not intimidating to the viewer to enter or the artist to show. We wanted to give artists opportunities, and have a welcoming space to show their work, without the huge overheads of hiring a venue. We also hold a few collaborate exhibitions which allows artists and designers who don’t have a huge body of work to get their art out there. To get in touch about exhibition ideas, or show us your creations, email us at You can find out about our collaborative shows by checking our website In May we have our annual gocco exhibition, we will be putting a call out to artists shortly. In October we have our annual Food Fight exhibition and publication, which is held in celebration of Summer Hill Food Fair.

And of course I couldn’t resisit asking a couple of questions about the Inner West . . .

Best place for a caffeine hit in the inner west?
We couldn’t start our day without a coffee from Judy at Espresso Train, just on the corner of Lackey St in our deco building.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in the inner west?
We had dinner at Muse on Smith St, Summer Hill, to celebrate the exhibition opening of ‘The Sun Sets in the West’. Delicious tapas and good wine. We had been meaning to go for a while, and it was a great experience.

The inner west’s best kept secret?
Summer Hill, with it’s setting, the food and the shopping, it’s a charming weekend day trip.


Sweets Workshop
Shop 4, 58-60 Carlton Crescent
Summer Hill (Opposite Summer Hill Train Station)
T: 9798 5222

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1 Response to " Interview: with Illustrator Emma Simmons "

  1. Kylie says:

    The one I bought is on the right! Can’t wait to pick it up!

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