Emily Isabella is an Illustrator and Painter who lives and works from her studio in the Hudson Valley, just north of NYC.
As a child, Emily wandered her family’s Wisconsin prairie, pressing Queen Anne’s Lace flowers against her cheeks, pretending they were powder brushes; her work reflects this idealism.
Aside from her product ranges, she takes on project-based collaborations with like minded companies. Her projects vary from book illustration to packaging design to textile design all the while maintaining her unique illustrative style that serves as a reminder to delight in the everyday.
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance painter and illustrator.
I’ve always known I wanted to run my own business. My entrepreneurial spirit has always been around; I've never been very good at working for other people. I come from a family of artists and going to art school was a natural choice. I studied Fibers, which was a broad major that encompassed textile design and all things related to fabric. All the textile work I was doing was very illustrative and by the time I realized I would love to also be an illustrator, it was too late in my college career to study it. I graduated in 2008 during the recession when there were no jobs to be had. This further sealed my dream of working for myself and I started my search for clients immediately after graduation. I had to figure out the illustration part on my own but my grandfather was an illustrator and my dad is an illustrator so I think it came pretty naturally to me. I used gouache in my textile design classes and that's what I had in my toolbox when I started painting. I don't think too much about things, instead I follow my curiosity and used my strengths to help guide me.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
My first client was a wallpaper company called Hygge & West. I emailed them my website which at the time was a bunch of experimental college work. I owe them a lot because they saw something in me and took a chance. They had just launched their brand and I was targeting up-and-coming companies as I thought it could be wise to learn and grow together. We’ve been working together for 10 years now! The process of gaining clients was slow and steady, one project always led to another.
Your Instagram bio says "I paint all day." We'd love to hear more about that. What does a day in the painting life of Emily Isabella look like?
It’s true. Lately, If I’m not painting at my desk I’m painting on site at the studio my husband and I are building. We’ve been very hands on with the process. My main task is to paint everything. I think the biggest thing I will ever paint was the exterior of our studio. It took the two of us about a month, we painted each board one at a time, a few coats, front and back. Aside from that, I travel with my paints and actually feel most inspired away from my studio so even on trips away, I’ll be painting observations in my sketchbook. In the last 5 years I could probably count on one or two hands the amount of days I didn’t paint something.
How do you set the mood, how long do you work for, what do you do when you get stuck?
Coffee, dancey music, I like to be alone with my work. It depends on how much I have going on but on an average day I work from 8-7. Walking outside helps to clear my head. I also find that closing my eyes for 20 minutes is very effective when I need to unscramble my thoughts.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Getting away from my desk and experiencing life is necessary to keep the ideas flowing.
It is amazing how many different types of people, companies, and museums you've collaborated with. Are there other dream clients or dream products for which you'd like to paint?
I’d love to design a ballet. It would be so fun to have my hand in it all from the big picture concept down to the ribbons on the costumes. I’d also love to work alongside a fashion designer and design prints specially for the garments, á la Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance creative so far?
Taxes, the worst.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I think it’s important to understand how to do it yourself before you hire out.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?
My dad is a freelance graphic designer and I was fortunate to have him as a sounding board when I first started. However, I was too stubborn to use a tax program (turbo tax, etc.) because I couldn't fathom the idea of spending money to pay my taxes. I ended up spending three tearful days trying to make sense of the tax system. It was awful.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
When it comes to pricing your work, a great book to reference is the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Of course, you'll have to make your own decisions about how you choose to value your work but this is a great starting place.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
Trips to new places, museums, flea markets and time with friends never fail to inspire me.
Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
I have lots of ideas for children’s books but I haven’t had time to make them a priority. Someday!