Q+A with Frog & the Tadpoles

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Emily Thomas is a freelance illustrator based on the Isle of Man. Emily graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in 2019 with a 2:1 in BA(Hons) Illustration. She started the brand, Frog & the Tadpoles, in May 2020 with the purpose of bringing joy and spreading positivity throughout the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. 

The brand itself is surrounding the adventures of a certain frog father, Frog, and his young tadpoles. Throughout the illustrations you will also meet many other friendly characters. You can find prints of Emily's illustrations on her store, and Emily says she is working hard to branch out with different products and designs.

We recently discovered Emily's work via the Post Millish project spearheaded by Ciara Kilgallon and featuring local artists creating happy and uplifting messages to spread positivity. It started as a response to the challenges of lockdown but is set to continue on, and we're not complaining! Who doesn't love a little happy mail? 

We caught up with Emily with a little Q+A.

Q. How did your love for illustration begin?

Is it too predictable to say my childhood? My siblings and myself were raised on some amazing children's books, animated films and imagination. I had a knack for inventing the stories to these books based on the pictures (much to my mother’s annoyance when she was trying to teach me to read! Countless times I was told "Read what's there, Emily, not what the picture's doing.") Summer holidays on the Isle of Man were also huge inspirations for me and we often spent those rainy days drawing. We created whole worlds and drew characters to fill it. Although, it wasn’t until my final year of A Level when I seriously considered illustration as my future. I had been studying Graphic Design, and my teacher suggested I apply for an illustration course too, as my design had always been heavily art based. Blessed that she did! Otherwise I might not be sitting here now!

Q. Which illustrators inspire you the most?

Oh, there are so many to choose from! Barbra Firth, Paul Bransom, Sang Miao, Teagan White, Stephan Schmitz, Anita Jeram, Beatrix Potter; to name only a few. There are some truly inspiring illustrators out there, and I think we’re so lucky to live in the age we do (for art content!) There are so many amazing artists who use social media to showcase their art work, it's a perfect place to surround yourself with inspiring people and their work. Everyone should take some time  on social media to explore some of the art related hashtags out there!

Q. What inspired your brand ‘Frog and the Tadpoles’?

The simple idea that we can never have too much positivity in the world. 2020 has been a harsh year for all of us, and I wanted to grasp the positivity of the animal world, because what are they worrying about? Frog’s don’t know what Coronavirus is. Frog’s don’t have to worry about house prices, or slow moving traffic, or tax codes. I wanted to create a world that was a step back from all the stress the world had to offer. Frog is the very definition of laid back; all I want is to create something that could bring a smile and even a few minutes peace to someone’s day.

Q. Your illustrations depict the adventures of friendly animals whose personalities are charming and loveable. Your illustrations could easily lend themselves to a children’s storybook. How did this come to be your signature style?

Truthfully? Frog is the product of an afternoon spent trying to design a Father’s Day card! Which I didn’t even end up using (sorry Dad!) Although, I had developed the style a little at university; during a riso printing project in which I drew a series of frogs doing iconic yoga poses. From there, the style developed as Frog did. Each time I drew him and his family, they became more real somehow. I've always been absolutely obsessed with cute things, and was constantly adding little cutesy details to my work through university. I spent a large portion of my childhood living in Singapore too, so I always think some of the 'cute'ness originated from there; where brands like 'Hello Kitty' and 'Rilakkuma' were huge. I was forever collecting cute pencils, notebooks and other stationary.  

My style also has been highly influenced by the brushes I use while drawing digitally. I use an iPad, and draw on Procreate, so I was able to get textured brushes that I believe really give my illustrations their ‘children’s book’ feel.

Q. You mention on your website that you started ‘Frog and the Tadpoles’ in May as a response to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. In what ways do you feel art has importance in times like these?

I think it’s more important that most people realize, or ever give art credit for.  Art can be used as a form of positive escapism. To bring comfort, and awareness to what really matters in the end. Which is, fundamentally, your own personal happiness and the happiness of the people in your life. It’s at the heart of Frog and the Tadpoles. The whole idea was to create postcards and greetings to send to people who you hadn’t seen or couldn’t be with due to the pandemic. It feels like luck that Frog has developed so far already and his friends, family and world can hopefully survive the pandemic too.

Q. Tell us about your involvement with the Post Millish project.

Post Millish is a project run to spread positivity and hope throughout the Isle of Man and beyond! Local artists have donated work to be printed as postcards and distributed to bring a smile to an overwhelming world. When I first saw the Post MIllish Project, I leapt at the chance. It was exactly what Frog was created for anyway. It’s such a positive project, that boasts some incredibly talented illustrators. I feel absolutely honored to have been a part of it, and feel that I was able to make my mark during this pandemic because of it. I alway love how spirited this island’s community is about supporting local, getting together and spreading positivity. It makes me so proud of this little space we share.

Q. You graduated with a 2:1 at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design with a BA in Illustration. What was your experience like on your course? What was most useful to learn from the course?

I thoroughly enjoyed studying illustration, especially in a city like Dundee (We could boast the Beano, the V&A, jute and of course the cake!) I learnt a lot throughout my three years , created many happy memories and was luckily able to delve into all sorts of projects and styles. Projects were short, and it was a lot of hard work but was good fun and definitely taught me how to be good at quick fire editorial illustration and working with big brands on projects. I think the most important thing was to be versatile, and confident in whatever you were drawing. 

I was lucky enough to work on so many projects and try so many different things. Printmaking, ceramics, working with textiles, paints, wood. Everything and anything. I built a set design. I did a project with Barcadi, where I created a social media campaign about vegetarian vampires living in Cuba who only drank Bacardi rum. I made a children’s book about a monochrome mermaid. The variety was endless. 

For my degree show piece; I created a 34 page comic about the effects of over-fishing, and the importance of sustainable fishing. It was quite a dark piece and felt a world away from the positive vibes of ‘Frog and the Tadpoles’- although still an incredibly important message. I am still proud of the piece.

Q. What challenges did you face during your studies and how did you overcome them?

Oh dear! Extended periods of lack of inspiration was definitely one of the worst. Especially if you had quick projects to do but couldn’t think of anything. Or, alternatively, whatever you DID think of didn’t go to plan. I think I became quite good at accepting when things didn’t go to plan. Sometimes you’d get half way through a project and suddenly decide to change everything.

Actually that was exactly what happened with my degree show comic. I remember I drew so much in that final month that I physically bruised my drawing arm! That’s what you get for changing styles entirely when you’re already half way through a 34 page comic!

But it did teach me to go with the flow. Running with things is part of the course. And it’s important to learn early on that you just need to take it in your stride and work to turn it into something you could be proud of anyway. Things don’t always go to plan; and that’s okay. You’ll always get somewhere in the end; even if that 'somewhere' isn’t where you originally planned to end up!

Q. What’s next for you?

Drawing, drawing and more drawing! I want to create! I’m not entirely sure, exactly, but I have big plans for Frog and his family.

I’ve just opened my online story for ‘Frog and the Tadpoles’, which I’m super excited about. I’m selling postcards, stickers and some other stationary. So, I hope that I can continue to develop that, creating more products and illustrations. A children’s book is definitely on the cards too! It would make me beyond happy to one day see Frog and his fellow friends on the pages of a book. I hope that I can continue to grow their world, adding and developing characters, stories and spreading the frog love!

You can find Frog & the Tadpoles shop here: www.shopfrogandthetadpoles.com

Or alternatively, check out Emily's website, which showcases more of her work: www.frogandthetadpoles.com

You can follow Emily on social media:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/frogandthetadpoles/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/frogandthetadpoles/?hl=en

Twitter https://twitter.com/frogtadpoles


A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government