Ema Gaspar returns with a cathartic new book, created in response to the current shift in the world

The Portugal-based illustrator has spent the last year understanding herself and her practice more clearly, resultantly creating her new book, Closet.

16 March 2021


In late 2019, we came across the work of Portugal-based illustrator Ema Gaspar and were completely besotted with the detail and rawness of her portfolio. Quite unlike anything we’d seen before, her oddly charming characters and intricate chain-like embellishments were a huge hit with us over at It’s Nice That. And we’re more than excited to finally share some updates.

Since we last spoke, Ema has been part of a host of different collaborations; more recently, this involves working with the band Ian Sweet, as well as Daniela Andrade, Nieves, The New York Times, Grape and Office Kiko. She’s also held an exhibition and artist’s residency in Japan, so it’s safe to say that the year has been a busy one, let alone a complete whirlwind. “This year has been a mix of dealing with a lot of personal projects and being grateful for all the invitations for projects I’ve been receiving,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I’ve been in a battle to give space to myself to feel both of those things at the same time. In one way celebrating and at the same time recovering from something bad. Discovering that emotions are not binary.”

Alongside this, Ema’s process and artistic ethos has seen a slight shift in attitude. “Before, I never made sketches and now I do,” she adds, noting how she still doesn’t own a sketchbook. “I don’t feel the need to be drawing every day.” Instead, her sketching only occurs when she’s finalising an image. What’s more is that she’s steered away from the tendency to work in a more fragmented manner – the type that’s patchy but aesthetically pleasing – and decided to build more realised, narrative-driven pieces. She’s also started to use a reduced colour palette, changing from the punchy and varied hues that she’s used to employing. “I’m using few colours because I don’t feel so energetic with the state of things. Maybe the way I use colours represents my inner energy.”


Ema Gaspar: Closet (Copyright © Ema Gaspar, 2021)

This all becomes evident as you observe Ema’s recent offering, a book called Closet, printed by Txt Books. Within Closet, the team at Txt Books – an artist-run independent publishing initiative based in Brooklyn – reached out to Ema and invited her to create a book with utmost freedom. She could create anything she put her mind towards, which Ema says is a blessing. “I can’t thank them enough and it has been so nice to work with them,” she says, proceeding to detail the book as one that navigated around a Tarot card reading from her friend. The Tower card kept popping up, which represents a sudden change in a life caused through chaos and destruction that “leads to rebuilding everything anew,” she adds, “which made sense at the time”. In this regard, Ema started the book with the intention to look inwards, “opening the closet” and respecting that this might be her path forwards. This was also before the pandemic in 2019. “Like opening a closet filled with people and things you are faced with, it creates a weird mix of fears, thoughts, characters, toys and good memories. It turns into a fantasy world, a circular movement when you create characters to personify your thoughts. Then your thoughts turn into a fantasy world where characters that you’ve never met before live.”

Closet, in this sense, was derived as a remedial quest to find out more about her past and present emotions. Within, there’s a collection of drawings all created under the theme of change and discovery – much like what her Tarot card had predicted. Ema opened up this closet and respectively allowed herself to become vulnerable, turning a close eye towards the things in life that have hurt her and what she must do to overcome these obstacles. So what might at first seem like a compilation of cute, twiddly and friendly illustrations, are in fact a very intimate quest into learning more about one’s self. Replete with pastel pinks, reds and yellows, and printed on Risograph, Ema also asked Nhozagri (who creates plushies) and Sally House (who creates toys) to contribute to the book. An apt and fitting collaboration no less.

A favourite spread of the illustrator’s is a piece looking at the stickers she’d bought in Japan, which she says is “something like a portal from a video game where a girl comes to help another character with her struggles.” The image on the right is based on a picture she took in Japan, which she then distorted to become synonymous with a “blissful memory”. This is just a small example of the cathartic power that Closet beholds for the illustrator – which, combined with two pages worth of personal text, explicitly shows how she’s been feeling over these troubling times. “What’s important to me is that my work creates emotions to people even if they’re unknown to them,” she concludes. “That couldn’t make me feel happier. It’s a privilege to transport people to a different feeling world, and that’s what I’ve been doing during the lockdowns.”

GalleryEma Gaspar: Closet (Copyright © Ema Gaspar, 2021)

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Ema Gaspar: Closet (Copyright © Ema Gaspar, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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