Which books inspire Emilia Simcox in her stage and graphic design?

Erskineville-based designer and scenic artist Emelia Simcox reads fiction and non-fiction for pleasure. She also devours art and reference books to inspire colour, form and texture in her work.

In 2016, she painted three shows for the Sydney Theatre Company—Hamlet Prince of Skidmark (‘really funny and theatrical’), A Flea in Her Ear (‘over the top and gorgeous’) and Speed the Plough (‘I was lead Scenic on this and it was great fun!’)

In 2017, she’s enjoyed designing costumes for Newtown High School of the Performing Arts’ sell-out season of South Pacific, painting traditional theatrical scenery at Scenografic Studio for The Australian Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland, completing mural commissions, and promoting her unique fabric and wallpaper collections—developed using traditional theatrical scenic painting techniques and digital technology.

Early in her career, she painted frames for theatre in Drury Lane in London’s West End. She also cut her teeth as a baby on the finger wharves of Woolloomooloo where her parents designed and painted sets. There’s a wonderful image of this (including her cot!) taken when her parents were freelancing under their surnames MARTIN/SIMCOX for the Danny La Rue show.

I interviewed Emelia this month for a project I’m working on about opera and theatre design in Australia. I also asked her what she’s been reading …

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

I’m two chapters into Purity and the main characters are a mother and a daughter. I have an intense relationship with my mother so I’m enjoying it. I read The Corrections years ago when it came out and I loved it. I find Franzen’s work very easy to read. The Corrections was almost like a Pedro Almodóvar film: No-one’s perfect, everyone’s flawed—and there’s a beauty in that. Purity has this quality too, which I find fascinating.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row is the next book for my book club—and I’m looking forward to it. Other books we’ve read since I joined the club this year include Kate Tempest’s, The Bricks that Built the Houses and The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.

Gauguin and the Nabis: Prophets of Modernism by Arthur Elldridge

As a hangover from designing the costumes for South Pacific for Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, I found this beautiful book, Gauguin and the Nabis, which contains a lot of Gauguin artworks I hadn’t seen before. It includes other artists of that era (France in the 1890s) like Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis. It often happens that one project I’ve worked on will lead me onto something fresh. In this case, I’ve been finding it interesting to look at form over line work; to think about colour and form, and how light hits form, rather than focusing on graphic outlines.

World Textiles: A Visual Guide to Traditional Techniques by John Gillow and Bryan Sentence

While I was designing Bloody Mary’s skirt for South Pacific (pictured) I was looking at a lot of Caribbean fabric design. I’ve always loved these designs because I once lived in Brixton and there was a lot of this beautiful fabric around—so I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering it. The World Textiles book was also very useful as I worked to conceptualise the skirt.

Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef, and Coastal Waters of Queensland by Tom C. Marshall, with colour illustrations by George Coates

I do get a lot of my inspiration from art reference books. I’ve also got this amazing book on beautiful tropical fish, which I’m loving right now because of the exquisite colours and the designs. I think: Who invented this book? How does it happen? The fish pictured in the colour plates translate to so many design ideas!

Leon Bakst: The Theatre Art by Alexander Schouvaloff

I’m always flicking through this book about Leon Bakst. Bakst was a Russian painter, and scenery and costume designer. He worked with the Ballets Russes, and Najinsky, and he’s an amazing inspiration. If you look at his work, you’ll see he’s trying to show the character and the gesture of the movement as well as supplying a reference for the makers. When you’re designing costumes, all of these things are important.

Google searches can be fine to some extent, and particularly in the early stages of a design, because they can lead you in a different direction. So you’ll think: I need to find out about that. I need to read about it in more detail [in a book] and understand it. It gives you the opportunity to research something you wouldn’t have thought of. It’s a whole new world opening up.

Contact Emilia Simcox at www.simcoxdesigns.com and www.emeliasimcox.com.au
Illustration: Emilia Simcox

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