An illustrator and designer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Emma Eubanks has been gracing our community with dynamic work that bring bright colors, beauty, and levity when we need it most. With clients ranging from Target and the Fulton Brewing Company to the Children’s Theatre Company and All-City Cycles, she is surely one to watch. We were lucky enough to catch Eubanks for a quick convo about life, work, and creative collaboration.
BLNCDWORLD: Many illustrators pick up a pencil or brush at a fairly young age. Do you remember a specific moment where you realized art was going to be a driving force in your life and career?
EU: I don’t have any memory of realizing art was going to be the biggest part of my life – If you ask my mom, the moment I could physically hold a pencil, I was using one. I feel hugely fortunate to have never had to question where my passion lies, and even more lucky for the family and friends who’ve done nothing but encourage me to pursue it through College and into my career.
BLNCDWORLD: Are these specific works you’ve done in the past couple years that feel like benchmarks? What have been some of your proudest pieces?
EU: Being stuck at home and receiving unemployment at the beginning of the pandemic ended up being a huge turning point in my freelance career. I can’t really stress enough how the time and money made it possible for me to have space to explore my goals. The first I’m proud of was a series of around forty portraits I worked on over the course of two weeks. Each portrait was created in exchange for proof of a $15+ donation to local COVID relief efforts. It’s not a workload I could take on again, but at the time I desperately needed a sense of purpose and it was the perfect way to feel connected to the community that I missed. Another project from the same time was the Summer Care Package Club. Every month for 3 months, I provided an affordable “Care Package” to people who joined, which featured things like custom screen printed and tie-dyed or glow-in-the-dark t-shirts, candles, temporary tattoos, homemade candy, coasters, and anything else I’d ever wanted to try but had never found the time for. Each month had a different theme that was voted on by the members, and came in a custom box that I either shipped or hand delivered. I probably got more out of the project than anyone else, but it just gave me a chance to focus on something other than gloom, spread some joy, and feel a sense of connection with people I could no longer physically see.
BLNCDWORLD: Your work has a cool surrealist edge that is almost caricature-like in the humans you draw. Are there certain principals or monikers that ground the way you play with proportions in the bodies of the people you illustrate?
EU: I’m a fan of more is more- lots of tiny details, layers, and loud or clashing colors. Since there’s already so much information being thrown at the viewer, I try to keep the foundations fairly basic. I use a lot of circles and triangles for the human form- circles provide balance, but triangles add excitement, so I play with combinations until I settle on an overall shape that I like. Only the faintest traces of accurate anatomy are left in my style since I focus on capturing the way we feel rather than look. For example, I’ll make one foot disproportionately long to have it visually support the body’s weight, or make an arm three times longer than the other to exaggerate a stretch. Making features larger than life is the tool I use to express emotion.
BLNCDWORLD: As a former MCAD student, what was the biggest gain from a college art education? Are there any ways you’d like to see undergraduate visual programs evolve to better serve students?
EU: Definitely the access to the facilities and people. Art School is so independent that you really do get out of your time there what you put in, and having the discipline and time, and undeniably the privilege, to grind away at your craft is where a young artist sees real growth and advancement. While not all of that can be taught in a class, being exposed to new inspirations in the form of historical artists or your peers is invaluable. Having access to critiques and facilities was also huge for my progress, and I loved the years I spent obtaining my BFA, but I think that so much effort is placed on output in Undergrad that many students are left feeling unhealthy, burnt out, or completely neglected by the time graduation rolls around. Mental health comes second when you’re in school, and that is something that absolutely needs to change.
BLNCDWORLD: In addition to your gorgeous illustrative work, you’ve also painted gorgeous murals down Lake street in Minneapolis. What sort of unique challenges come with mural painting that differ from your usual body of work?
EU: Thank you! This mural project was really fun, and another moment where connecting with others felt more important than the actual painting itself. The unique challenges I ran into were also the aspects of the process I enjoyed the most! On an average day as a digital illustrator, I spend the majority of my time hunched over a tiny screen in a desk chair. There isn’t direct collaboration or immediate feedback, and there isn’t any permanence to any move I make since I can undo anything with the touch of button. I love my normal workflow, but there is something so invigorating about losing control- less control over the medium, and working with tons of other painters to get the designs up meant that each person was bringing their individual flair to the designs. This was during the Uprising, so to create work alongside people who were experiencing the same waves of grief and anger and love as me was cathartic in a way I wouldn’t have experienced on my own.
BLNCDWORLD: What is the biggest misconception about the work you do as an illustrator?
EU: I think the most common misconception experienced by illustrators is definitely that it’s always easy and always fun. It’s undoubtedly cushy work but doing it right takes lots of time, though, and intention. When I draw, it’s a reflection of every skill I’ve spent my entire life on, honoring the client’s wishes, and displaying who I am as an artist now. Trying to balance those while conveying an idea that feels truthful and poignant while also aesthetically pleasing can be a vulnerable process! A personal misconception is that because my work is heavily inspired by cartoons and children’s books, it’s surface level content. Using a style that appears childlike and bright has been a powerful tool for me to depict the world in the light I choose to cast it without shying away from the realities of life.
BLNCDWORLD: We love your collaboration with Clutch Brewing! How did that commission come about and what was the process like?
EU: And I love Clutch! My favorite jobs are the ones I work on with friends, and this has been one of the best. A good friend of mine actually works there and put me in contact with the owners about collaborating on the series! I’ve done creative work in the local brewing scene before, but this project really stands out because I had so much creative freedom. The process for this was pretty standard for work I create with a new client: First, I presented 2 different design directions- The one they picked related directly to the “Stellar” title of the series, and features an overarching outer space motif with details that change depending on the flavor. I referenced the aesthetic of old Star Trek set designs to pin down a warm and nostalgic vibe, which I though matched the colors of a Pomegranate Guava beer. The next can I designed had more of an 80s vibe, with a cooler palette and bright pops of color, to give each can its own distinct identity. Because each can in the series features a similar composition, I can spend more of my time focusing on creating different narratives for each can that provide some interest and meaning for the flavors within. It’s been a real joy to work on an extended project like this with a team that loves the process as much as I do!
BLNCDWORLD: Any advice for other aspiring visual artists?
EU: Leaning VERY hard into cultivating a strong visual identity has helped me the most, both in terms of continuing to enjoy churning out work and in cultivating a career. Exploration and play are hugely important, and it’s important to keep it moving and grow your skillset and techniques. Once you stumble on a stylistic choice that feels good, start working on making it intentional- fine tune and advance it from there. People can tell when you’re pulling the things that excite you into your work (whether it’s subject matter, palette, materials, the list goes on…), people will get a strong sense of who you are and how you see the world, which allows them to connect with what you’re making. You can do this without sacrificing creative freedom. From a business standpoint, having a recognizable brand allows people to easily think of you when they have a specific need, and you have a voice that shines through even when you’re doing work for clients. Lastly, make and keep and uplift the friends in your artist community because they’re the best support and resource you will ever have.
BLNCDWORLD: Whats on the horizon? What are you excited about?
EU: I’m back on the 9-to-5 design grind so balancing daily responsibilities with passion projects is a skill that I’ve had to relearn, but I’m excited to be more intentional with my free time and honor myself by saying yes only to work I care deeply about! Meanwhile, I’m soaking up the Minneapolis summer, and excited to spend the next few months in the sun surrounded by the people who inspire my art.
BLNCDWORLD: Lastly, we worked with you on a commission for our pride materials and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the final image! What was your inspiration for this gorgeous pride-centered work?
EU: This piece was inspired by the fact that it’s finally summer. It’s my absolute, hands down, indisputable, favorite time of year. People- out and about and interacting in nature and on the street- are reveling in the sunshine and in shared space. It’s a magical feeling to spend time with (or even just near) people outdoors, and I wanted to capture the electric, eclectic feeling of celebrating each other and ourselves. Coming into adulthood now, in a place as beautiful as the Twin Cities, is the cornerstone of all of my work and I try to capture the essence of my home in everything I create. Pop culture, dancing, and music feature heavily in my illustrations since those are the moments where I feel most connected to my friends and neighbors. I find it really beautiful that the elements of life that are the most important to me exist in loving found communities everywhere. To see and be seen by each other is a necessary, beautiful thing, and I tried to express that in this piece.