Emma Ball is a well known name in the field of tea towels, although tea towels are just one of a whole range of goods she designs and sells, like my biscuit tin, but that Also doesn’t include her original paintings, framed and unframed. Her style is so easy to spot, very happy colours that you associate with a summer holiday with lots of puffins and seagulls. My ‘Sidmouth’ tea towel appears at the top of the page because it is associated with great memories of my family (blogged about on 2 June 2015). They are the sort of designs that just make you feel happy. When you see lots of tea towels (and other things) by one designer, you imagine that the business must be huge but I am beginning to learn that that isn’t necessarily the case.
I was delighted to hear from Emma, at this very strange time, and one of the questions that I was interested in was about how Coronavirus has affected her business: “We’ve had an increase on web sales of greeting cards during the Lockdown. In fact, web sales, at the moment, are what’s keeping our heads above water. As we don’t really sell our discounted cards to shops, it’s currently helping us clear out a lot of them! I think next year will be tough whilst we come out of this but good solid, practical products that are reasonably priced, and make people smile, should be OK”
My first question is always about how people describe themselves: “I see myself as more of an illustrator, as I’m always working to deadlines. I trained at Nottingham Trent University and have a BA in Graphic Design”. But did you always want to be an illustrator? “No I wanted to be a window dresser. The good thing is I get to do this now, at Trade Events”
So, how does your business work? “I set up my business in 2001, beginning with a range of limited edition prints. The company has grown since then with our range of quirky gifts, stationery, homewares, textiles and greetings cards. We are based near the centre of Nottingham. I’m the only in-house artist and I oversee all the designing and products. I have a side-kick in the studio called Sharon who works with my art work, creating patterns and products for me from my illustrations. We also licence artwork from other artists. Caroline Cleave, Abigail Mill and Eric Heyman are the three that we have developed tea towels with. We mainly go to Trade Events and sell to retailers worldwide, both with shops and some online retailers. We also have our own website, as most shops only sell a selection of the wider range we do. This means someone can buy a tea towel for a friend that lives in Suffolk when, perhaps, they live in Cornwall”
Where does the inspiration for your work come from? “Anything and everything. I generally have an idea whilst laying in bed, which then gets developed and turns into something totally different to what I originally thought up. I love painting seagulls, oh how I love to do that, but also other birdies too”
How many tea towels have you designed? “Gosh, I genuinely have lost count as I also design lots of bespoke ones for the customers we supply too! I haven’t got a favourite. It would be too hard to chose, I love them all”
What does an illustrator, as prolific as Emma Ball, do in their spare time? “The simple answer is knit: hats, jumpers, socks, cowls….. it helps me cope with stress”. And maybe that’s where the inspiration for ‘Sheep in Sweaters’ comes from?
Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to be in In Conversation With… and thank you for the images of tea towels. I know in Lockdown, working from home, it has been difficult to access some pictures (good job I had some of my own!!). For Readers with a liking for Emma Ball designs her website is full of online ideas, especially the cards which are on sale. Enjoy a browse at http://www.emmaball.co.uk