Emma Roulette, a full-time illustrator and teacher based in Barcelona, had a somewhat unusual introduction to the creative world. Yes, like most creatives she’s “been drawing or keeping a sketchbook since as early as I can remember,” but it was while pursuing a career as an arachnologist – that’s the study of spiders and related animals, by the way –that she first got paid to draw.
She tells us: “When I was at the University of Florida, I was convinced that I was going to become an arachnologist! I was studying biology and had worked in different entomology labs studying spiders, bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths. I also worked for a while at the Florida Museum of Natural History where I prepared butterfly and moth specimens for research. One of the lab managers there asked me to work on a scientific illustration project, which turned out to be my first paid illustration work ever. I had to dissect and illustrate the genitalia of some moths in the genus Philodoria. The moths were really tiny, only a few millimetres in length, so the dissection process was very painstaking and tedious. It sounds cool at first, but after a while, I wanted to do something else. So I moved to Madrid to teach English.”
It was on a trip to Barcelona two years ago that she “met so many profoundly creative people in the span of just a couple days,” an experience which had a significant impact on her. “I felt like I had something to contribute to this world, and that it was actually possible and realistic for me to do it,” she recalls on the decision to officially embark into the world of illustration.
Today, Emma works on drawings and comics, working in pen before adding colour and texture in Photoshop. Her works feature plants and architecture as central motifs, often drawn from a distance or with a panoramic perspective. There’s a technical quality to Emma’s illustrations which are packed full of detail despite their relatively simple use of line. For example, in a series titled Blue (inspired by the work of Liam Cobb), Emma created a series of architectural illustrations: “I wanted to do something abstract and impersonal and play with angles and repetition,” she explains. Calming thanks to their monochromatic palette, these works display Emma’s ability to build tone and emotion, even in drawings without any people.
In another recent work, the illustrator produced a comic for the CCOO (Workers Commission) in Barcelona. “They were doing an anthology of comics to raise money to build a school in Kenya,” she recalls. “The theme of the anthology was ‘north vs. south’ so I decided to do something about immigration.” Having seen a video previously of a man named Sani Ladan speaking about his experiences of migrating from Cameroon to Spain, Emma loosely based her project on his narrative.
Simultaneously, the work incorporates the events of The Tragedy of Tarajal. “This was when, in 2014, a wave of between 200 to 300 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to swim past the border between Morocco and Ceuta, Spain. The Spanish Civil Guard fired rubber bullets at the swimmers in an attempt to force them to turn back. 14 of them drowned and 23 were sent back to Morocco after being detained once on Spanish soil,” Emma explains. Throughout her illustrations, Emma chose not to focus on specific characters or emotions, but instead build scenes which suggest how the viewer should feel. “I never showed the main character’s face because I wanted him to seamlessly merge with a larger mass of people to represent the anonymity of the millions of refugees during the present crisis,” she continues.
No matter what the project, Emma’s work is defined by her insatiable appetite for progression. “I like illustration because I like to draw,” she tells us. “I’m struggling to find a more exciting way to put this, but I simply enjoy experimenting and figuring out how to represent different things with lines. I like solving problems of colour and composition.” On where she hopes her work will go next, she says: “In the future, I do want to work more with ambiguity to create more complex emotions or a sense of alienation within my drawings. I’d love to work with animation, music, performance… Illustration is just the one that I’m doing right now, but who knows, maybe things will radically change in the next year!”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.