Kohl News: Introducing our Book Jacket Designer – Emily Chappell

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LESLEY DICKSON: In January we put out a call for illustrators to apply to design the book jacket for our very first novel. We received an overwhelming response; lots of retweets, new international following, and a heck of a lot of love from the creative community in the UK and beyond. Following a torturous weekend of sifting, deciding, changing our minds, debating, and sifting again (there was so much damn talent!) we finally narrowed it down to five finalists; Levi Bunyan, Emily Chappell, Joanna Lisowiec, Alexis Dirks and Catherine Chialton. Each illustrator/artist/graphic designer then submitted draft design ideas and featured in our illustrator interview series.

What impressed us most was that each finalist produced entirely different designs from one another and really exceeded our expectations in terms of standard and predictions in terms of style; however, there could only be one winner. And that winner was Emily Chappell. Emily’s design was complex, layered, intriguing but at the same time simple and sophisticated. We’re confident that the finished design will achieve the two key aims of any book jacket; firstly, to accurately and honestly represent the story to readers; and secondly, to capture the attention of readers on bookshelves, both physical and digital. Emily is a real asset to Kohl and we’re delighted to have her onboard. We cannot wait to show you guys the work-in-progress and get your opinions!

As you know, we like to get to know the people behind talent, so this week I caught up with Manchester-born, Glasgow-based, Emily, to have a general blether – find out a little about her career so far, her interests and how see feels about joining Team Kohl.

Lesley: Congratulations Emily and welcome to Team Kohl!

Emily: Glad to be involved with such a dynamic team. It’s a privilege to work on a book that very much appeals to my tastes and interests.

Belle & Sebastian Commission

Lesley: Your draft cover for our book, which we’ll be announcing next month, was really sophisticated and stood out as a real competitor from the moment we received it two days before the deadline closed, which also showed great time management on your part! Without giving too much away about the book, can you talk us through how you began tackling our brief?

Emily: The book is so rich in visual material that it wasn’t difficult to ascertain a starting point. There is powerful imagery connecting, (and often overpowering), people and characters with their landscape in the book. I experimented with ways to represent nature, instability and fragility, which are important to the text. Looking around me for references – the marble on work surfaces, patterns as you dig  deep into earth, the changing colours of a bruise after I fell off my bike, all inspired my choices along the way. I also knew I had to somehow make reference to folk art and maps, so I researched  both historic and outsider art maps. Maybe this in itself could lead to a further project.

Lesley: Fingers crossed! You’ve worked on some incredible projects and with some amazing clients, in particular, with my favourite band Belle and Sebastian. Can you tell us a little about the ‘Sleep the Clock Around’ project and working with such a high-profile client?

Emily: I was bouncing off the ceiling when I got that commission – as high as a kite. The folks at B&S had come up with the clever marketing idea of producing a range of baby clothing to suit their audience. I think you can get all sorts of gear out there now – mini Motorhead babygrows, The Jam, for the baby mods – anyway, I wanted to keep the design really clear and highlight the simple concept, particularly by not overly stylising the illustration. The retro element and cuteness factor were also important. I loved knowing that people were buying these at gigs.

Lesley: What’s apparent from your portfolio is that you’ve worked on a variety of projects; baby fashion as we’ve mentioned, community centre murals, theatrical posters, editorial, media branding, book illustrations and jackets – the list goes on! What’s been your favourite project to date?

Emily: It’s hard to choose because my favourite thing about what I do is the sheer eclecticism. However, I would have to say that I have a fondness for the theatre posters as they sparked a particular change in direction. Up to that point, I hadn’t even considered the children’s market. As well as further related commissions in the fields of literature and theatre, they sparked a burgeoning interest in visual storytelling. For instance, I’ve just finished working with an actress who has written a children’s story. We’ve developed it into a picture book, so we’ll see where that leads us…

RSAMD production of Aladdin

Lesley: One of my favourite pieces of your work is ‘Eden’ can you talk me through this kind of artwork? 

Emily: I like to draw a lot and come up with surreal ideas in my sketchbooks and on a large scale also. Real primitive stuff, with lots of free association. I have a view to turning a lot of these ideas into paintings, or even to inspire future commercial jobs. ‘Eden’ was drawn in 2009. I was playing around re-imagining scenes in simplified and sci-fi settings. I hadn’t realised until now that it is a recurring theme, which I hope to explore further at some point. There’s tons of scope in it. Themes of femininity, temptation, iconography… Such a simple pairing could be re-imagined in many different contexts.

Lesley: What or whom do you take inspiration from? (can be other illustrators, filmmakers, musicians – anything you like)

Emily: I like to sink into other worlds, so road movies or big cinematic productions really inspire me (like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). I like to listen to film scores when I’m working. It slows the world down a little. I get this feeling down at my allotment, too. Philip Pulman’s Northern Lights Trilogy also does the trick on the escapist front. As far as illustrators are concerned, Indian artists like Ganga Devi and Durga Bai, who paint in the kachni (line) style and are inspired by folktales and landscape. Then there’s Tove Jansson (The Moomins) and Quentin Blake for children’s books. For their illustrious careers, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alvin Lustig, Javier Mariscal, David Hockney, Louise Bourgeois… The list goes on.

'Eden'. Mixing biblical imagery with McDonald's chip packets!

Lesley: Let’s find out a little but more about you Emily. Originally from Manchester, you now reside in Glasgow. How did you end up here? 

Emily: Like most artists living in Glasgow, it was the initial appeal of the big school on the hill, The Glasgow School of Art. After graduating in 2006, I stayed put. It was the draw of new friendships, the surrounding landscape, a thriving creative community, and Glasgow’s black humour. I’m a real advocate for Glasgow. I’ve literally put down roots (the allotment).

Lesley: When you’re not creating beautiful illustrations for clients, how do you fill your days?

Emily: With the career I have, it’s very easy to continue learning. Often, interests and hobbies have been practical in nature to balance out against the ‘sit down’ job. I’m currently learning to be a beekeeper. It’s a tough old world for bees today – pesticides, killer mites and diseases. Taking care of the bees and the allotment keeps me grounded. Hopefully, I would be of some use if there was a war on, or suchlike. I’m also learning French, which has led to many new cultural discoveries. I hope to be competent enough to read French books some day, and to live over there for a while.

Lesley: What’s your favourite character from a book? Hero or villain?

Emily: I loved David Almond’s Skellig. He is neither hero or villain. I like that ambiguity. The character crosses the boundaries of both humanity and the animal world – is sometimes compassionate, and at other times, dark and unpredictable. I like characters that portray animal characteristics and are darkly funny, like in Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel. Saying that, for some light relief, I’m also a big fan of The Wind in the Willows – I like it when animals talk and have tea parties.

Lesley: Having read our first book, do you think our readers are in for a treat?

Emily: Most definitely. I feel that you truly inhabit the world within this book. The semi-mystical and fantastical elements really draw you in. The responsibilities and emotions of the characters are framed in these panoramas, and force you to consider whether darker forces are at play.

Lesley: Thanks Emily. We’re delighted to be working with you. Now we’ll let you get back to working on the best book cover ever!

To check out Emily’s work visit:  www.emilychappell.com and follow her on twitter @e_chappell

All images taken from www.emilychappell.com (authorised by Emily Chappell).



  1. [...] need your help to decide on the final cover. I’m sure you will agree that our illustrator, Emily Chappell, has created two gorgeous covers, which have slight variations in style; title font, colour, and [...]