Painter Emma Brownjohn finds beauty in fleeting moments

Charming and nostalgic, Emma Brownjohn’s paintings demonstrate a deft use of colour and harmonious composition. She talks to us about the murals she’s painted around the world, illustrating children’s books, and the abstract paintings she plans to create in the future.

Q: Hi Emma, were you creative as a child, or did you discover your talent later in life?

A: I have always painted and drawn ever since I can remember. I remember sitting at the kitchen table while mum was ironing and being excited by delicious new sets of felt-tip pens set out in a rainbow of colours.

Q: Are there any other creatives in your family?

A: My brother is a 3D artist, two of my cousins are also artists, one who teaches art therapy and the other who designs video games, and my grandmother was an artist in her own right.

Q: You grew up in Dorset, do you think your childhood in the scenic county had any bearing on your work?

A: I suppose it has had some bearing on my work as the glory of nature’s colours and the changing of the seasons are key to my colour palette and subject matter.

Q: Where did you study?

A: I went to Camberwell College of Arts and obtained a first-class BA Hons Degree in Fine Art Illustration.  A key moment was winning a travel bursary for designing a series of British stamps.

I used it to travel to Indonesia before it had become a true tourist destination and it lit a fire inside me to travel far and wide and to document and paint the amazing colours and experiences.

Brownjohn on a trip to Indonesia

Q: Tell us about your average day – what time do you get up, do you have any daily rituals?

A: Strong coffee x3, get up 10am-ish but, if I’ve been working late the night before, I sleep in. Sometimes I work all night.

After that, I take Gypsy my dog for a walk and then begin working, and keep going non-stop for about 7 hours.

Q: When is your most productive time of the day?

A: First thing or when I have had a break from looking at the painting for some hours. A fresh perspective is always useful.

Q: Do you work from a studio?

A: Right now I am between studios, so I’m working from home in the current circumstances. My view is of neighbours waving as they walk past.

Q: Do you listen to music whilst you work?

A: Yes, I always listen to music. Radio 6 is best or Spotify, and I am going to start listening to audiobooks more often.

Brownjohn in her studio with her dog, Gypsy

Q: What are the current themes to your work?

A: Colour play, seasons changing, and interaction. I’m currently working on a series of large abstract paintings. 

Q: What are your favourite materials to use?

A: Lots of different materials, collage paper, stencils, oil pastels, acrylics, oils, etc. It depends on what piece I am working on.

Q: What piece of equipment can’t you do without?

A: A wall.

Brownjohn working on Brighton beach

Q: Who are the artists that inspire you most?

A: Mark Rothko, David Hockney, Raoul Dufy, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Q: What was the last art exhibition you went to see? 

A: My own! However, I only like my work in retrospect so it was just satisfactory.

Q: Are there any contemporary artists whose work you follow?

A: Jason Craighead. Igor Moritz , Tom Hammick and more.

Q: How would you describe the life of an artist in less than five words.

A: Feast or famine.

‘I’ve really loved rediscovering the murals I’d painted on buildings around the world that are still there 20 years later.’

Emma brownjohn

Q: What have been your career highlights so far?

A: There are many. I’ve really loved rediscovering the murals I’d painted on buildings around the world that are still there 20 years later. I’ve also written and illustrated a series of three children‘s books called ‘Yes I Can help save the planet’.

Another highlight has to be when buyers who have bought paintings from me in the past, live with them for years and come back for more and more.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

A: Painting and selling large abstracts.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

A: ‘The world doesn’t owe you any favours’ – my Mum!

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