When is an Illustration not an Illustration?

As I enter my final degree year the daily navigation of my creative identity still feels an uphill hike in foggy terrain. I began this journey as a ‘mature’ student seeking a doorway into illustrating childhood dreamscapes of fairy tales and escapist imaginings.


Owl Boy; A4 Woodcut

Rachel Goodyear; Company 2020
42cm x 60 cm,  pencil and watercolour on paper, http://www.rachelgoodyear.com/a-drawings-paper/2021-upload/pages/Company.html

William Blake;  Behemoth and Leviathan from The Book of Job www.william-blake.org


The question that bounces from project to project within my creative practice is whether what I am producing is an illustration, or a piece of contemporary art. This leads me to ponder the difference between the two disciplines. Is it one of objectivity vs subjectivity? Representational vs abstraction? The transference of the written word into visual language? Surely all these things are accessible within both contemporary art practice and the work of an illustrator? In considering this I have been hugely inspired by the drawings of the very accomplished artist Rachel Goodyear, which to me provide the bridge between all these apparent opposites.

When I first chose a fine art degree over an illustration degree my reasoning was that I wanted to represent my own voice, be it written or subconscious, rather than that of someone else in a pre-ordained brief.  However, I have come to realise that my voice has yet to reach the goal of being entirely authentic as it is coloured by feedback, expectations, guidelines and deadlines.

Using the written word as an inspiration does not limit the horizon for my own visual representation of it, rather it gives it a bounce board to leap off. A wonderful example of this can be seen in the work of the great visionary William Blake, it is his own artistic voice, his own vision, inspired by the words he has read and the imagery they have formed in his mind.




24TH FEB 2024

We are born with a bright flame within us.  This flame is fuelled by the energy of all those who came before us, and all the living beings and creatures that share our air through this lifetime.  It glows with the golden light of spirit and truth.

At times this flame is just a tiny flicker, dampened down by those who seek to corrupt it or draw too much of its energy, or the overflow from the waters of life.

Other times it is an all-encompassing burning tower, overwhelming us with its passion and need to conquer.

In the cycle of femininity, there are three pinnacles of flame when this burning energy rises, at times overpowers, but also imbibes us with its passion and force.   The first is when we enter adolescence.

The female within the Lovers tarot card offers us a landscape of bodily lust and first love, and within the Rider Waite imagery we see the burning sun lighting up the sky, the Angel’s halo dancing with flames, and the tree that stands behind the male archetype fruiting with glowing torches.

Our young bodies burn with the awakening of our need to physically connect, create new life, and evolve into womanhood and all its glory.

The second pinnacle of the flame takes us to the archetype of the Empress.

The Empress brings us to the epitome of fertility, motherhood, and creating and nurturing life.  It is a softer fire with more of a caressing nature, but no less fierce.

It is that immeasurable ache when you hold new life in your arms.

That fierce burning need to protect that life at all costs.

The all-consuming fire of rage when you perceive that life to be threatened.

Thirdly comes the burning away of all these layers of self to come back to the essence.   Menopause literally means ‘to stop the moon,’ it heralds the end of the fertile cycle, and it does not discard it easily.  Stepping from one state of being to another requires letting go of labels and identities that we once felt defined us to come back to the true essence of that flicker of light outside our conscious and material presence.

The heated skin, nights of never finding relief from the burning of our bodies, and explosions of hot fury eventually give way to a quietening; a feeling of true peace in who we are within the collective cycle of those who came before and those who will follow.

A return to that golden light of spirit and truth.

We therefore complete the circle as the High Priestess.  She not only holds the power of the moon’s energy but understands it.  She takes her place within its cycle, from the glorious possibilities heralded by the show of the new moon, through the expanding manifestation of these possibilities in the waxing phase, to reach the heady power of the full moon flame, and finally to the softening glow of gratitude and wisdom reached in the waxing crescent.

She sits with the knowledge of the collective unconscious and bears its testimony.

She holds the golden light of spirit and truth.




I would like to invite all those who identify as feminine and may resonate with any of these ideas, to join me in a collective creative focus during the FULL MOON of 24TH FEBRUARY.

I am asking you to take a few moments to meditate, in whatever form that works for you.  Candle gazing, focusing on breath, listening to soothing sounds or music; whichever way you can take yourself outside of everyday trials, responsibilities, and the physical body.  I would like you to try to connect or resonate with other female energies you have known or share space with.  Then, when you are ready, please take a piece of paper and writing implement and allow yourself to write automatically.  No preplanned ideas, no conscious thought, just whatever words or phrases, imagery, or mark-making that your hand makes until you can feel your conscious thought returning to direct the pen – that is the place to stop.

If you are comfortable to do so, I would be very grateful if you could write your age, location, and perhaps your first name on the paper and send me a photograph or scanned image of the results.  I would like to use this to inform new artworks for a forthcoming exhibition in collaboration with The Art Station who are a collective group of creatives who have kindly invited me to share their space for a short time.

With gratitude, love, and light to all participants.



Instagram @ emmalene.maguire.art

Email @ [email protected]


This weekend I braved the coronation traffic and sneaked in a visit to Tate Modern.  My reason for going was to see the Hilma af Klint/Piet Mondrian retrospective (more about that later), but on my way through the gallery I was pulled by curiosity into Vivan Sundaram’s installation Memorial.

“Vivan Sundaram’s installation acts as memorial, monument and tomb for an unknown victim” Tate Modern

A photograph of an unknown victim of the 1992/3 Bombay riots as published in the Times of India newspaper following the demolition of a 16th Century Muslim mosque by Hindu nationalists who claimed it was built on the birthplace of their deity Rama.

Layers of the found object, physical seperation from the actual experience of the riot, and the distance between that and reality is reflected in teh distance placed between the viewer and the image by physical interventions adn barriers.

I was particularly affected by the different uses of nails in the work.  Inverted nails with their spikes pointing threateningly towards me as I approached the image reminded me of my Western inability to get close to, or fully relate with, these events and to tread carefully within the protected memories of those who had.

The nailed border around other images made me feel I was witnessing mourners at the scene, encircling the victim and forming a barrier of respect and sorrow.

This resonated with my own current project adding layers to childhood photographic memories through distortion and additional elements for the viewer to navigate.  Knowing that in doing so they can never fully see the truth of the experience.



I knew I wanted a drawing element to my degree show to work alongside the photographic element.  In thinking about this side of my practice, I have considered the hierarchies of my drawing.  What is most important to me in the work?  Is it the line, the tone, the details, the materials, the subject matter, or just the concept?

Returning again to artists such as Rachel Goodyear, I begin to understand the importance of stepping back from filling in every detail and taking time to make decisions on the next marks based on the overall atmosphere and narrative I am aiming to bring forward.

The concept behind the drawings I am currently working on is one of the lost voice of the inner child due to aging and trauma response and also the lost authenticity of the child due to unacknowledged neurodiversity.  Initially, I was going to have full drawings, including coloured animals to represent the outer masking of the inner persona.  However, upon sketching out the ideas, it quickly became clear that the animals would detract and add too much noise to the important point of the work.

Following this I began the drawings by working on the bit I was most worried about (with a view to it being easier to start over if it all went wrong) and began with the greyscale skin tones with a view to filling in all the other details later.  However, after seeing the skin tones in place against the minimalist sketched clothing, there is a part of me that wonders if I want to give much more substance to the rest of it.   What does it add?  What is the relevance of the clothing in the grand scheme of the narrative?

Portrait artist Alice Neel’s 1965 work James Hunter (Black Draftee) is a brilliant example of listening to the work and knowing when to lay down your paintbrush.   The painting was not physically finished, but Neel signed it and displayed it.  For her, the emotional story of the piece was complete.   The sitter, James Hunter, had just been drafted to the Vietnam War when he sat for the portrait, and his melancholy demeanor at the news is perfectly captured.    He never returned to sit for the remainder of the painting.


Accompanying my partner around a busy local antiques fair I was lucky enough to spy an art dealer stall tucked away on an upstairs floor.  Fully intending to just have a browse I stumbled across a gorgeous sepia etching depicting a harvest scene by the artist Henry Rayner.   I must admit this was not a name I had heard before but there was something so eloquent and atmospheric in the linework of the scene, telling a whole story with just a few well-considered marks, that I was immediately intrigued.  When the gallery owner told me the artist’s history I fell in love with the work even more!

Henry Rayner was born in Australia and traveled to Britain in 1924 where he attended the Royal Academy.  In 1940 his studio was bombed, causing an injury to his arm that left him unable to paint.  However, after undergoing surgery he found he was still able to hold an etching needle which led to his first exhibition of etchings in 1945.  His work included etched portraits of famous figures such as King George VI (bought by Queen Mary) and Winston Churchill (acquired by The British Museum).

I am so inspired by this chap who suffered such an ordeal but refused to allow it to stop him from creating his art.  He adapted and expanded on another discipline and made such beautiful work from it.

All too often I don’t take enough time to look into the story of the artist when I see a work I like, choosing instead to look at other work they have done.   This is something I will definitely do more in the future.

Henry Rayner kindly provided inspiration for my own degree print project, using antique music papers and etching to create a simple line image to join old and new printing marks in a harmonious dance.



I was lucky enough to be included in a local exhibition with the theme ’emergence’. The word for me conjured up ideas of growth from childhood into womanhood – a current theme within my practice.

The work I produced for this open call came from using the elemental energy of fumage, the concept of light and shadows, the idea of emerging from the darkness of a difficult childhood space, and the rebirth of my youthful wonder as I start to reclaim myself in adulthood.

When I was selected my initial thought was to buy a standard low-cost frame from a local home store and make the work fit. However, after sitting with the work for a while and giving this more consideration I began to think about the narrative I was giving to the work and myself as a professional artist by doing so.

By choosing the easiest option in framing am I not saying that my work does not deserve my care and attention now the initial energy of inspiration has been executed? Is this not a direct metaphor for my own lack of confidence as an artist and the feeling of being an amateur in the professional world? An artist who is not quite invested in her own vision?

Framing and presenting the finished art is a secondary work all of its own. Choosing sizes, space, colours within a framework adds its own layer and story to the image. It changes the viewer’s experience and as such deserves equal regard to the initial concept.

I am new to this idea and still figuring out the best way to present things, I suspect it is an infinite learning curve, however, I took some time and spent a little more on the framing for this exhibition and am pleased with the results – although not yet brave enough to add a higher price label to the work, that I will leave for another day.