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Behind the cover: Emily Flanagan

Meet the illustrator and maker whose delightful geometric illustrations exhibit her deep understanding of both colour and the monochromatic.

Always with a striking pop of neon, artist Emily Flanagan crafts thoughtful geometric designs that exude character, story and vibrancy. With her monochromatic designs and simple subject matters, Emily’s work emphasises her methodical line work and inventive use of composition.

Growing up in Stockport, Emily recollects the “Hazy memories” of when she first started to make art. Sat cross-legged in reception, her class were asked to produce a painting based on a poem. “My teacher pulled me aside after the class and I cried because I thought I was in trouble,” Emily coyly remembers. “But she told me she wanted to submit it to Stockport Art Gallery. I went down with my family to see it and I felt like a local celebrity. I never got that painting back.”

The Leeds Arts University graduate has since established a signature style of playful geometric shape and colour, creating big-eared characters that grace her designs with a carefree aura. “As an illustrator, you spend a lot of time searching around for your ‘signature style’,” muses Emily. “It’s true when they say you’ll never find it — it just finds you. For me, the more I scrambled around trying to find it, the further it got from me and my work began to feel forced and disingenuous.”

Emily credits her university tutor Matt for guiding and influencing her through the early stages of her practice: “He oozes with passion; I left every lesson with him feeling driven and practically spilling over with ideas and excitement.”

Settling comfortably in the world of bold geometric shapes, Emily’s intrepid use of neon highlights the simple yet striking elements of her designs. “Black and white really resonates with me,” expresses Emily. “I feel like it can tick any box for whatever emotion or story I’m trying to communicate.”

Since moving back home to Stockport, Emily has transitioned her practice towards plant pot designs. Inspired by her “Horticultural genius” of a mother, Emily decided to provide the many plants in her childhood home with pots emblazoned with her intelligent designs. “I like the idea of squeezing bright colours, bold shapes and stories into every last corner of the home. The practice of illustration is so versatile in what you can create that sometimes a page even has its limits.” 

Emily is also inspired by her “trusted trio” of fellow illustrators and makers: Poppy Almond, Charlotte Curnick and Natasha Kay-Sportelli. “If I’m ever stuck and needing external opinions, these three are my trusted trio.”

"Poppy is always someone I look to for inspiration. She is so bold and brave; I try to use this boldness in all aspects of my life,” Emily begins. “Charlotte Curnick is a master of shape, colour and texture. Everything she produces is so vibrant. Working alongside her pushes me to be more experimental. And Natasha Kay-Sportelli has this incredible knack for composition; she’s a photographer, curator and one of my best friends. Her writings and compositional skills are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before."

Emily’s hometown of Stockport, with its vibrant industrial history, has recently had new life breathed into it by the multi-faceted community of creatives that reside there now. Abandoned shop fronts and graffitied walls have been transformed by these artists who have given the now-colourful town a much-needed facelift.

“I don’t particularly remember Stockport being very creative or inspirational before I left to study at Leeds Arts University”, recalls Emily. “I remember it being very bleak and lacking creativity of any sort - but that could be down to my ignorance back then. When I moved back home from university and noticed that Stockport had really picked up. I could see the potential in everything. There’s so many small businesses and independent businesses here now that it feels like it’s own world. Myself and other artists have taken over Little Underbank with the community art project OpenSpaces and have voluntarily created murals on desolate buildings. It’s a buzzing town to live in nowadays.”

Emily has also left her footprint on Manchester’s staple Piccadilly Records, who recently commissioned her to create a mural on their shop’s walls. This project, along with her work to help rejuvenate Stockport, has left Emily with the ambition to splash more colour and creativity into our everyday lives: “I always look up at big, blank retail buildings and vacant walls in bars and just envision what I would do if given free rein.” 

The world is certainly in need of a little splash of Emily Flanagan’s bright and witty designs. Here’s to a future of seeing her vivid murals illuminating buildings and walls across cities. After all, we could do with a bit of colour.

Words by Meg Firth

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