what’s in your toolbox: emily cox


I have to start this post with a huge “hooray!” because today we are featuring the amazing fiber artist/illustrator Emily Marie Cox. Emily is an absolute doll to interview, which is no surprise if you are familiar with her wonderful artwork. Emily’s colorful, childlike, and enchanting world of wonder spills into every piece she creates. In addition to assembling delightfully curious sculptures out of broken baby dolls and bits of frayed fabric, Emily builds whimiscal props and sets that bring storybooks come to life. She also developed joyful patterns for wallpaper design house Hygge & West! Not only does Emily not suppress her inner child, but she celebrates and parades her around. Her artistic style can soften even the most jaded curmudgeon, and that alone is reason enough to celebrate. So throw your confetti in the air for EMILY MARIE COX!

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox Miss Emily Marie Cox?

Emily Marie Cox: My most used tools are my pencils.  I have a certain brand that I call my “magic pencils”.  There is something about the graphite that makes me really happy and they have this great earthy smell that I love.  My grandfather, who is a graphic designer and illustrator bought a ton of them in the 50’s for his own use but then passed them down to my parents, who are both artists.  They seem to be discontinued but we still have a small amount left that I treasure and now use. They comfort me, probably because they remind me of my family. Besides that, my kneaded eraser is my best friend.   I have been using a simple uni-ball vision pen when I do my ink work and gouache is my main painting medium, but I prefer the Holbein brand.  I invested in a pair of Gingher fabric scissors a while ago and would never turn back.  They are a dream. I also keep some googley eyed, vegetable shaped sidewalk chalk on hand, ya know, for that special project.



Emily Marie Cox: I go through sketchbooks like water so I have started to bind my own.  I use a spiral binder, SircleBind WB-210, kraft paper for the outer covers and simple white computer paper on the inside.  It’s a rather affordable operation and nice alternative if you are a sketchbook monster like me.


I use a Bamboo Wacom Tablet when I use the computer.  I hold the stylus as I would hold a pencil and maneuver in that way. It feels much more natural than clicking a mouse all day and it makes the transition from my drawing board to the computer more fluid.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel____________.”

CLICK HERE for the rest of Emily’s interview after the jump, including her favorite inspirational books and music (with her current “mixtape” list) and what superhero power she’d choose to have!

3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Emily Marie Cox: I collect vintage children’s books for their aesthetic quality and graphic appeal.  My reference books right now include the Handbook of Plant and Floral Ornament from Early Herbals, The Circus, 1870-1950, Beyond the Easel: Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, and Roussel. I have been really into watching Disney shorts from the 30’s and 50’s such as The Little House or The Cookie Carnival . Their colors and ingenuity really appeal to me.

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Time management is often one of the biggest obstacles for creative minds. Do you have an agenda book and do you make “to-do lists”?

Emily Marie Cox: Since I am a freelancer, and essentially my own boss, I keep myself accountable by sitting down each morning before I start my work and creating a to-do list for the day.  I always have multiple projects I work on throughout the day and many times I even do a scheduled, hour -by-hour  to-do list.  I find that this method works better on the days where I am not necessarily creating but doing more of my editing and technical work.  Either way, I write my lists inside my sketchbook and delight in making a check mark after I finish each task. I write my lists and notes in my sketchbook wherever I find space.   It’s sort of backwardly organized but it helps me to know that my whole life is in one place.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero(or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Emily Marie Cox: I wish I could instantly have every single language embedded into my brain.  How amazing would that be?!  There is so much to gain from other cultures and although I love how language adds local flavor, I feel like it can be such a barrier sometimes.  I guess if I could speak every language, I would also need the ability to teleport where ever I want.  Can I have two magical powers???

6. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?

Emily Marie Cox: If I am having a creative block, it usually means I need a change of scenery.  Because I love what I do, I tend to let my work consume me and I forget that I can improve productivity by going out and about more often.

7. Design*Sponge: In addition to being an illustrator, wallpaper designer, prop stylist/creator, bookmaker to name a few, what would you like to conquer next?

Emily Marie Cox: Wow. There is so much I want to do.  I just finished my first children’s book dummy and the author and I are working on getting it published.  After that, I would love to do another book with illustrations that merge my sculptural work into my two-dimensional illustrations.

I want to make more films using handmade props and puppets of sorts.  I want to experiment with casting ceramics. I want to become more proficient at designing and making my own clothing.  I want to have a garden and make my own jams, blah blah blah….the list goes on and on!

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Emily Marie Cox: The Picture Collection at the New York Public Library is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I am addicted to drawing people so just taking a long ride on the subway opens up a world of possibilities for me. [editor’s note: see a portion of the Picture Collection online here!]

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsman, who would it be, and why?

I would love to be able to peek inside Alexander Calder’s toolbox or maybe even his brain when he was creating his miniature working circus. I was lucky enough to see an exhibition about it at the Whitney Museum a couple of years ago.  It blew my mind.  I was so obsessed, I went back three more times…

10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it be?

Emily Marie Cox: Anything by Mew…but Beach is my favorite song of theirs right now.

Love is like a – Dolly Parton

I’d Like To Teach The World To – New Seekers

If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out- Cat Stevens

Le Champs-Elysees – Joe Dassin

This Must Be The Place – Talking Heads

Most of the time I listen to vintage French music on Internet radio- chanteurs.org or when I am in need of other human interaction, I listen to NPR programs.

Nicole

We could be long lost twins… this is like looking at my own handwriting! Creepy!

Stacey

Where is Emily’s desk from? I can only see a portion of it in the first photo, but I love the table legs!

Shannon L.

This was a great interview! Emily Marie Cox is so inspiring. Binding your own sketchbooks is a fantastic idea!
Fabulous interview this week Ginny! I’m really enjoying this new addition to d*s!

estelle

This is by far, my favorite series on DS. Love the little peak into an artist’s daily life and space. Big thanks for sharing.

christiana

YAY, go Emily! You are so extraordinarily talented, and it is a true joy to work with you. Such a treat to see where you work!

sydney

i see the cute cat makes an appearance in most of the pictures. cats have a funny way of knowing where all the action takes place and what is important to you at the moment- – right down to the paragraph you are trying to reading. lol.

also, where can one find that desk?

mllep

What a sweet little tiger there! I love looking at people’s sketchbooks and book collections – thanks!

Minnie

What a lovely and inspirational interview! I adore how she melds her love for vintage into her work.

Richenda

I want to echo the comments above. i absolutely *LOVE* this series. It’s always the highlight of my blog reading week!

kz.

love it! But I want to know what brand of pencils she uses – even if it’s discontinued!

Emily

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! Too nice!

Stacey and Sydney- There are two desks shown. The walnut desk is made by furniture designer Paul Isabella (www.paulisabella.com). The white desk is from Ikea (Vika Oleby).

kz.- The pencils are Damascus Drawing. *Sigh.*

chelsea

i love that the kitty is in all the pictures, she looks like she gets involved a lot! an important part of any girl’s tool box.

Jamila Tazewell

super inspiring!!!!!!!! Reading this makes me want to break out the sketchbooks again- and make my own!!!!! so smart. ps. I’m a SCAD Fibers gal too, class of 2001! what a magical 4 years…

lauren

Okay, I NEEEEED to know what color is on your walls! That blue is exactly what I’ve been looking for in my office!

Victoria

Dear Design Sponge.
Thankyou again for another lovely interview with a lovely lady in a lovely studio! They just keep on inspiring me and fuelling me to follow in their footsteps.
Yours sincerely, Bella

Patricia

Glad to see another vintage book collector! Noticed “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” — loved that as a girl. Great interview!

Leslie

Love this…so great. Making her own sketchbooks what a great idea. Wonderful I wanna go scribble right now.

Karen E.

A bit of a tangent, here. I just started reading to my 4-month-old from a copy of The House at Pooh Corner. It is inscribed inside as a gift from my grandparents to my mother as a little girl, in 1948. I just love the illustrations and the beautiful writing. Inspires me to go get more vintage children’s books!

modernfigurative

I wish I were more dedicated to one sketchbook. I start a sketch book, and find another that calls to me, abandon the first half way. So now I have so many, pick one up use it, forget which one I am using currently. To do and shopping lists in them are useless! I have tried putting them all away but one..Anyway.. Emily your work is beautiful! I really love your 3d too!
DS I really enjoy this series.
bobbie

CassiMO

Wow. I’ve never heard of the Bamboo Wacom tablet. I want one. Thanks for sharing these cool goods. :)

Nicole S.

Such a wonderful interview. It is so fascinating to enter the world of your creative process. Super inspiring! Thanks Emily!!

Kathy

What’s not to love about Emily! It’s a joy to see into the life of a playful and dedicated artist. Knowing her family, it has to come naturally.

jennifer "jp"

Great interview and photos Emily! I can’t wait till this book of yours is published! and please give me a heads up when you do prints of your illustrations so I can purchase them :)

Jenny

I agree: that blue paint is fabulous. If you’d be willing to share, it’d be greatly appreciated.

Farmgirl Susan

What a wonderful person! Love the studio (especially that darling little narrow chest of drawers), love Emily’s artwork, love the cat, really love this series!

*tossing my confetti in the air* : )

clare cannady

please help me to find material with the name rebecca on the material. I thought I may find something with rebecca of sonny brook farm on the material.

MickD

Coming to this quite late but couldn’t help but notice how
under-represented male designers, and similar, seem to be. Why
that?

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