Emmeline Simpson is a Bristol based artist who produces artwork and gift products which celebrate the UK’s best loved cities. The inspiration for turning her hobby into a business came when she became a mum – she rediscovered her love of Bristol whilst pushing her young son around the city in his buggy. It was then that Emmeline realised there was a gap in the market for creating products which showcase artistic cityscapes.
Tell us about yourself
It all began 2008 when some friends in Bristol were getting married. What gift could I get them instead of vouchers that would really mean something? As I gazed at their view from where they lived one day, with the vibrant yellow of the Bristol ferry ‘Matilda’ and the coloured houses of Cliftonwood, I decided I would create a collage of this view as a gift for them. I had always had a passion for painting and drawing, now was a chance to put it to use for a purpose. Around the same time I was developing my work of Bristol as a hobby, having exhibited every year at the Totterdown arts trail. I was seeing that people really wanted to buy a picture that would bring back a memory, or that they had a personal connection with. People would come to me with lovely stories like: “I wanted that picture because we got engaged on the suspension bridge”, or “I live in one of those coloured houses”.
The opportunity to turn my hobby into a business came in 2009 when I pushed my first son Finlay around the streets of Bristol in his pram. Having worked away for some time, I was re-discovering Bristol again and I would spend time photographing the city. As I did so I also could see that the city was not being celebrated enough. Having lived here for ten years after moving from Surrey I saw Bristol as a vibrant city with a strong identity that people really connected with. I myself am extremely passionate about the city and feel very fortunate to be living here. Yet as I walked around and saw what was on offer in independent shops, the tourist office and the museum, I saw that there was a need for high quality souvenirs which celebrated the city. I could see from my experiences exhibiting at the arts trail, that people also wanted something more than a picture to display on their wall, perhaps there was a place for a functional objects inspired by Bristol?
So I began to consider what products I could create which would fill this need. I developed my work further and got my collage images made into greetings cards. Gradually local shops began to stock them and I set about developing the range further into other products. The range now includes mugs, tea towels, placemats, coasters and fridge magnets. I have also recently expanded to develop products inspired by the cities of Bath, Oxford, Cheltenham, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. My aim is quite simply that my work will be loved by those who live in these cities as well as those who are passing through, and that they will bring back happy memories to those who have moved on.
How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?
Digital technology is essential to the process involved in making my collages as whilst they begin as a collage drawn and assembled by hand, I usually take these collages and work on them in Photoshop to produce the finished artwork which is reproduced on placemats and coasters.
In terms of social media, Facebook has grown hugely since I started the business and having a Facebook page has really helped to grow the business and the brand. It’s been a lovely way for customers to interact with me, for example when someone posts a picture of some placemats that have made their way to New Zealand, or one lady in Australia who made a skirt from one of my tea towels. Instagram has become the social media platform where I feel most at home, especially being a visual person, and it’s been a great way of sharing my new artwork or products with my followers. I have really enjoyed been part of Igers Bristol especially as it’s all about posting photos of Bristol which inspires me to look at my city from new and different angles and get inspired by the photos of others – I try and go along to their ‘Instameet-ups’ when I can and this has really helped build the Instagram community and put faces to names. There is also a great community of fellow artists and small business on Instagram and being part of it makes you feel connected which is really important when you work on your own a lot of the time.
As someone who creates artwork inspired by UK cities, where are your favourite places and why?
Bath: I love walking to Victoria Park from the centre, and going past the Royal crescent, it reminds me of how inspired I was when I sat there drawing the scene a few years ago – the park itself is such a great place to take the kids.
Edinburgh: I love Victoria Street which leads down to the Grassmarket, it’s on my list as my next Edinburgh scene to draw!
Oxford: I love the meadows at the back of Christ Church which are so pretty in the summer. I have drawn the Christ Church quad but not that view as yet!
Emmeline is following…
@porthjess (Jessica Siggers): I always remember how she was one of my first supporters, and customers, and how she then asked me for business advice over a slice of cake. We have become firm friends over the last few years as I have seen her business grow and flourish and now I feel like I am the one coming to her for advice!
@poppytreffry: I had the pleasure of meeting her recently and I’ve always loved her work. I admire her for what she has achieved with her business, especially with so much of her work being hand made.
@lovegiveink: their Instagram is so pretty to look at (not to mention their fantastic business story).
@jennyhyde: Whose wisdom and honesty I admire.
Collage technique workshop: Saturday 8th April, @19alexandraroad.