Meet Our Author: Emily Zach
Congrats on your new book, The Art of Beatrix Potter! Can you tell us about the book a bit?
Thank you! It’s exciting that the release of this book coincides with Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday, and to celebrate, we wanted to offer a new way to look at her work. There are four main areas where Potter felt most inspired: London and the coast of England, Scotland, the Lake District, and Wales. For each region, I curated illustrations from her little books with concept sketches, en plein air watercolors, studies, and still lifes, as well as her famous picture letters, and photographs. It’s fascinating to see how the twenty-three little books were almost always a reflection of these real places that she loved, and her were characters frequently based on animals and people that she knew. Viewing her work in context of where it originated, instead of following a strictly chronological organization, not only allows for new and interesting themes to emerge, but it makes key connections between her creative process and her sense of place. Most importantly, we get a picture of Beatrix Potter not only as the artist and author we know and love but also as a visionary. Throughout her life, she was a scientist, mycologist, natural historian, geologist, botanist, farmer, entrepreneur, feminist, preservationist, and more. I am excited for readers to come away with a new appreciation for the extraordinary person who created Peter Rabbit, but who was also much more.
Since this book is on such an amazing illustrator, with so many essays, etc. can you tell our readers a bit about what your role was in this book?
I was thrilled to be the book’s main author, researcher, and curator. I selected the art while organizing the book, and then wrote the preface, the essays opening each section, and the captions throughout. To expand further on Potter’s life and work, I also worked with my editor to bring in experts for additional essays. The introduction is by Linda Lear, author of the definitive biography of Potter (Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008); the foreword is by Stephen Heller, an esteemed professor in illustration history and graphic design; and Eleanor Taylor, the illustrator of the new Peter Rabbit stories authored by Emma Thompson (The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, Warne, 2012), wrote the afterword.
Can you tell us about your own creative process and what gets you inspired?
I’m at my happiest in an art museum or gallery, in a bookstore, or a paper goods store (I’m obsessed). Usually I’m with my husband, Tyler, on these excursions—he’s the most knowledgeable person on contemporary art and artists that I’ve ever met, and it’s usually through our conversations that I find a spark—sometimes it’s a surprising connection, the recognition of a fresh trend, or the discovery a new artist or designer. Many of those sparks are ideas that I’d like to turn into future essays or books or collaborations.
What inspired you to work on such a gigantic project?
One of my favorite things about working on books is the chance to research and become an expert on a new topic. Starting this project, I didn’t know much more about Beatrix Potter than stories I’d been read as child, and maybe that PBS live action/animated Potter series! But more I read about her, the more I wanted to know—and to find a way to show her impressive body of work from a fresh perspective.
What influence do you think Beatrix Potter has had in your life?
Beatrix Potter was curious about almost everything in the natural world. She would observe, and meticulously sketch what she saw—but she also had an uncanny ability to capture personality, even in the most ordinary fungus or daffodil-filled meadow, in a proud farm dog or mud-covered pig. There is something very mindful about this, and working on this project was a wonderful reminder to really look at and appreciate the world around us, and to find the life there.
Any new projects in the works for you?
Yes! Nothing I can discuss in specific terms, but I have a few exciting proposals in the works with my editor. I’d especially like to tackle a book comparing my favorite modern artist with a contemporary counterpart. Stay tuned!