Norwich illustrator is inspired by animal antics

Her drawings are adorned on everything from fashion and greetings cards to a new book. Emma Harrowing talks to Norfolk illustrator Gemma Correll – otherwise known as 'Pug Girl'.

Two pugs named Mr Norman Pickles and Bella sit by the feet of Norfolk illustrator Gemma Correll as she studiously draws another cat using an ink fine-tip pen.

The scene is reminiscent of the many pug and cat designs the 28-year-old artist has drawn for greetings cards, badges and T-shirts. One has a picture of a pug and a cat underneath a piece of mistletoe, the cat looking at the pug through the corner of his eye and says: 'Don't even think about it.'

Mr Pickles motions for attention and on being ignored seems to sigh as Gemma draws yet another cat illustration.

'I guess I am known for my pug illustrations now, but I have been drawing cats for as long as I can remember,' says Gemma.

'Of course Mr Pickles and Bella are the inspiration for my designs. I fell in love with pugs when I went on holiday to America with my boyfriend. Pugs are popular there and I just fell in love with the breed and started drawing pugs soon after that.'

She bought Mr Norman Pickles two years ago and the pampered pooch has become a bit of a celebrity as he features on Gemma's 'Pugs not Drugs' iconic design that was printed on tote bags and is now on T-shirts as well as a greetings card collection called Pickle Parade stocked in national card chain Paperchase.

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Six months ago Bella joined the clan and now Gemma is beginning to introduce black pugs into her designs.

'I think pugs will always be my design statement,' she says. 'The situations I come up with for my drawings come from listening into people's conversations and people watching. I find it easy to be comical when I am drawing – I'm not that funny in real life!'

Gemma is now a full-time illustrator, dividing her time between different projects in the UK, Europe, Canada and America.

When talking about her international success Gemma is modest about being an editorial illustrator for the New York Times and The Guardian, having her designs printed on T-shirts for an American website and for fashion retailer Urban Outfitters, having her illustrations printed on cards for Hallmark and recently a collection for Paperchase.

'I have agents in the UK and America and Canada so a lot of my work is sold overseas,' says Gemma. 'It's great as I get to travel quite a lot.

'I also create large-scale murals for art exhibitions and projects the most recent was in Berlin where I was given four white walls in a room as a canvas. I was up and down the ladder all day drawing to fill the space in time for the exhibition. It was a little daunting at first and a lot of hard work but it was well worthwhile.'

It is quite an achievement for the Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) graduate who 'just set up a website and doodled'.

'I graduated in 2006 and set up my own website while I was there,' says Gemma. 'At that time it was rare for someone to have a website – these days everyone has one!

'I used the website as a place where I put all my drawings of pugs and cats, I even created an online illustrated diary. I looked at it as a personal project so that I had a record of all the drawings I had done. People and companies approached me to do illustrations for their publication after they had seen my work online.'

In fact the only time Gemma has actively sent her designs to a company on spec was to American website Threadless while she was still at NUCA.

To Gemma's surprise the website printed T-shirts with one of her designs – an illustration of a non-meat eating dinosaur turning up to a barbeque attended by meat-eaters with the strapline: 'Who invited the herbivore?'

'This was the first time I had been paid for doing something that I love,' says Gemma. 'It was so exciting, especially as I was still at college.'

Interest in her designs went quiet after Gemma graduated, so drawing became more of a hobby and she decided to train to become a teaching assistant in a bid to form a successful career.

'When I was working I kept drawing and posting new designs on my website and I also took my designs to fairs such as Clutter City in Norwich. I believe this is how I was eventually noticed,' says Gemma.

'All too often I see people wanting to design, but they let their paid jobs get in the way by coming up with excuses that they are too tired after working all day.

'Putting aside some time in the evenings and weekends enabled me to keep doing what I wanted to do – and it paid off in the long run.'

One of the many companies to approach Gemma about featuring her designs on a product was publishing house Octopus Books. It wanted to do a book featuring her illustrations. It was the opportunity that she had wished for.

'I have always liked the idea of people posting pictures of what they are wearing each day online, but I don't like having my picture taken so I drew what I was wearing instead,' says Gemma. 'I had developed a collection of these drawings and so when the publisher approached me about doing a book 'What I Wore Today' was born.'

The book is written in a diary-style format, enabling readers to 'doodle yourself into a style icon' with space to create your own drawings of what you are wearing on any given day of the year.

'When I was little I made comic books for my friends at school,' says Gemma. 'I drew my friends, fairies and even my Cabbage Patch dolls in a bid to make my friends laugh. Having actual books with my designs in seems a little strange – but it is great!'

Gemma describes her work as 'childlike' with simple lines and designs that are 'not overworked'. She draws straight onto the page without tracing or drawing a pencil line first and any mistakes, of which she says she makes many, are sometimes incorporated into the design.

It is this organic approach to illustration that has caught the eye of many and looks set to capture the imaginations of many more. Gemma is currently in talks with a publisher about featuring her illustrations in a series of children's books and she hints at the prospect of having her pug designs collated together in a pug cartoon book.

'I'm also designing a collection of booties for a baby fashion collection and I have just designed a new T-shirt which will be sold in America,' says Gemma.

For now Gemma is concentrating on promoting her book and hopes to make a guest appearance at The Book Hive in Norwich, where she also plans to run a creative workshop where people can come a draw and get inspiration to be creative.

Never one to solely concentrate on one project at a time, Gemma is also flying to Portland in Oregon, America, in October to do an exhibition and she is currently working on a new range of badges for a client.

As she talks she also mentions that she is flying out to Frankfurt next week for another exhibition.

Bored with the conversation Mr Pickles suddenly springs onto her lap and gives her a cheeky smile. It's a look that will probably be seen on a future Gemma Correll illustration as drawings of pugs become her passion.

She laughs: 'Just call me Pug Girl!'

Gemma Correll's book 'What I Wore Today' is published by Spruce �9.99 and is available from Octopus Books

To see more of Gemma's designs visit her website at or click on the photo gallery link at the top right of this page.