I first came across the lovely Emma from Emma Apple Art on Instagram (surprise surprise), and instantly was in awe of her emotive illustrations – I’ve never been good at drawing anything except stick figure human beings, and I even struggle with that hah – and I was also really inspired by Emma’s experience of being a self-published author/illustrator. Emma published her latest children’s book ‘How Does Allah Look?’ recently and I was super happy to see it go to #1 on the Amazon Best Selling Islamic Children’s list.
A little while ago, Emma and I did a gift swap in which I received ‘How Does Allah Look?’ from this amazing sister – as a mum of 3 boys I’m always looking for Islamic faith related books, so I promptly handed the book to Mun (aka designated bedtime story reader, he loves it, while I always fall asleep while reading the kids books so they end up yelling PLEASSEEE WAKE UPPP….every single time) who happily reads it to our boys over and over.
I’m very excited to share the inspiring story and experiences of Emma in this week’s Spotlight feature interview 🙂
Where are you located?:
I’m originally from New Zealand but live in my beautiful second home just outside Chicago.
In one sentence, describe your motivation in life:
To be the best me I can be and to benefit others along the way.
Tell us the story of yourself and your business, and how you got started:
The story of myself? How long do you have? Lol! I’ll try to be brief. I grew up all over New Zealand, we moved a lot and lived in a lot of beautiful places. I always had a fascination for the world around me and, although my family is agnostic, for religion. As a teenager I converted to Islam after trying out several other religions. I met my husband around the same time and eventually we eloped and lived happily ever after.
I’ve always been an artist but had no real direction until in my early 20’s. I taught myself to design websites and logos and, after having my second child in 2007, a friend of a friend gave me a break and I started working professionally as a designer. I eventually shifted my focus away from web design to logo and print design, and finally decided to pursue my first love, illustration and writing.
I illustrated a book called Hind’s Hands in 2012 and went on to write and illustrate my own books How Big Is Allah? and How Does Allah Look? in 2014 and 2015 respectively. They have done very well alhamdolillah. I’ve continued to design logos for people, I love condensing peoples visions into a representative image that way, however my books are my primary focus at this point.
What is one of your favourite products of your business and why?
It’s so hard to choose just one! I’m proud of many of the logos I’ve designed, most especially when the people I’ve designed them for are proud of them. I’m also proud of both of my books, for different reasons. I suppose I could choose the cover of my first book How Big Is Allah? I love the illustration and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. It’s so hard to choose just one though.
What has been the highlight or ‘I can’t believe this!’ moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
As a designer, it’s been the people that I admire, coming to me and trusting me with their logos. I’m always surprised by that. As an author-illustrator, it has to be seeing both my books go to #1 on the Amazon Best Selling Islamic Children’s list, a small achievement in such a small niche, but exciting nonetheless.
How does your faith affect your approach to your business?
It has helped me specify my direction and intention as an illustrator. Ultimately that intention is what led me to children’s books, a direction that I had not considered, and one that happened to be my calling. My books are written for Muslim kids, because I’m raising Muslim kids, and there is just so little out there for them. Alhamdolillah that’s changing, but we have a long way to go.
What/where/who inspires you?
What doesn’t inspire me? I’m a star gazer, we have 2 telescopes and although we live too close to the city to see much, we do get some glorious views of Jupiter and Saturn and their moons (we can see other planets too – Venus and Mars – but the two big ones are my favorites), I absolutely love clouds, my family makes fun of how often I say “Wow, look at the clouds!”.
I adore trees and walking through the forest, although we live just outside Chicago (about 15mins from downtown), we’re fortunate to live even closer to a big block of natural forest with lots of trails and parks and lakes, and so we spend many summer days just enjoying walking through the forest, listening to the birds and spotting bugs.
I am a huge stone fanatic, I have fossils, amethyst, NZ greenstone and other stones and minerals on my table to inspire me. Of course, the obvious answers but true nonetheless, my family and my faith. My books are all inspired by my kids and their experiences with life.
How do you handle the inevitable creative block, where you feel like you are the most uncreative person alive and you’re never going to succeed??
I’m fortunate to be a creative in many ways, so if I’m not drawing, I can write, if I’m not writing, I can paint. If I’m feeling wholly uncreative, I find the best thing to do is to put it down and walk away. I haven’t had a proper creative block for a long time, I just have too many things going in different directions. I watched a documentary about comics recently and one of the artists said something along the lines of that she can’t afford to wait for inspiration to come flying around, she has to shoot it down.
What 2 pieces of advice, based on your own experience, would you give to a fellow entrepreneur starting out?
Find your niche, you have to know your audience, and who you’re trying to reach and you have to be there, as a real person, earning their trust.
Keep going, it’s not easy, you have to stay humble in the face of success and you have to stay true to your vision in the face of inevitable criticism. I’ve had my work utterly ripped to pieces, it’s important to learn to handle that. At the same time, I heard an author say in a talk recently, I think it was Richard Peck, “listen to your letters”, take criticism and feedback seriously without letting it break you, it can be an important catalyst for necessary growth.
Favourite Social Media or Marketing Platform?
Instagram! I’m a primarily visual person, I’m a major introvert but I like social media too, Instagram just seems to marry those two perfectly for me. It’s social without being intensely so, and it’s totally visual. I’ve found interaction with my readers and also with people I admire, to be really organic there as well.
If you could travel to one place anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I’d have to choose Mecca. The spiritual pull is strong. My first choice would probably be Yemen though, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place with a rich history and an incredible landscape. It’s my husband’s home and my children’s heritage on their father’s side, unfortunately it’s suffering under a civil war and blockade right now, my heart is there though. I’m working on a story about Yemen right now, that’s another motivation for wanting to see it for myself. Some day inshaAllah.
Where would you love to see your business in 5 years time?
I’d love to have at least 5 more books published and to have the topics I write about providing some variety on Muslim bookshelves. I’d love to see my current top secret projects at the top of their market inshaAllah! More of the same, but better and with greater reach inshaAllah!
Where to find Emma:
Facebook: Emma Apple Art