Pratt BFA Communications Design Thesis

Emma Waller Illustration

A Circus Like No Other:

an exploration in needlepunch
mixed media illustration for children’s books

Character Design
Children’s Books
Concept Art
Fiber Art
Fine Art
Visual Narrative

My thesis is a twofold project focused on continuing my exploration of circus aesthetics and refining my needlepunch skills by illustrating a circus-themed children’s book using both the mediums of digital illustration and needlepunch. I am extremely interested in the camp of the circus and clowning, the history behind the circus as a queer and outcast refuge community, and the excitement of the experience of the three-ring circus. In addition, after school, I am interested in pursuing a career in designing for kids and children’s book illustration and want my thesis work to reflect those post-grad goals. I intend to create a children’s book of collected nursery rhymes rewritten to fit within a circus setting. The rhymes will be transformed from their original existence to both have a different story and connecting narration.

I intend to research the nursery rhymes that I grew up on, such as Jack rhymes and Mother Goose rhymes and conglomerate them into a collection narrated by one main character: the Ringleader Goose. I will do additional research about different circus acts to decide how the rhymes line up with existing visuals and acts. When rewriting the rhymes, I will take into consideration the controversial history of the circus and address it in at least one section of the story. To keep away the idea of animal cruelty present in much of the history of the circus, there will be no human characters other than the clowns.

My goal is to create three needlepunch rugs that I will incorporate into full-spread illustrations for use in a children’s book. I find that the medium of needlepunch is an exciting cross-section between fine art, illustration, and craft; it has the potential to exist in a very physical and tactile way as much as it can exist as an illustration. I am interested in the multi-use of the medium and also believe that it will offer something new to a children’s book that has not been seen much before. The tactile craft of needlepunch is one that has been around for a long time but has been recently modernized by illustrators such as myself, just as the circus has. I believe that by using a traditional craft to illustrate traditional rhymes in a “vintage” aesthetic like the circus, I can elevate all three into a more contemporary existence.