ANNA MARIA -- As Emerson Quillin sifted through dozens of his drawings at his studio and store at 317-C Pine Ave. in Anna Maria, the renowned illustrator-cartoonist demonstrated the wit that makes his work famous.
“I like to draw standing up,” said Quillin without breaking a grin. “Unless I’m sitting down.”
Quillin moved to Anna Maria Island almost four years ago, and more recently moved his studio and store to the Child’s bungalows on Pine Avenue. He likes his new store, the island weather and, even more, likes living in an area that is “not like anywhere in the United States.”
“I’m happy,” he said while prepping his store for a Friday night event on Pine Avenue. “I like it here.”
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Anna Maria seems to be the perfect fit for an artist who makes his living drawing the lighter side of everyday people. One of Quillin’s most popular designs could have been taken from one of Anna Maria’s locals had it not been created before he moved to the area. It is a sketch of a woman relaxing on a beach chair, sipping a cocktail, and reads “I’m in a meeting.”
“This is how life should be and not such rush, rush,” said Quillin in a matter-of-fact kind of way. “That’s the feeling I get here.”
Quillin’s artistic career began in the basement of his home in Indiana where his mom operated a beauty shop. His practiced drawing the women from the shop’s magazines, and then began recreating the remarks and mannerisms of the beauty shop patrons.
He honed his craft daily, and 40 years later, his style has become very recognizable.
“I was wanting to be good,” he said, while relaxing on the front porch of his studio. “I wanted to practice. That’s all it takes is practice. You can do anything.”
After graduating from Bloomfield High School in Indiana, Quillin studied printmaking and commercial art at Indiana State University, specializing in screen printing. He later received his master’s degree in textile design at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Quillin became the creative director for Champion Products in Rochester, N.Y., at the time the world’s largest apparel manufacturer. Later he became the creative director at Velva Sheen Manufacturing. While at Velva Sheen, he developed his famous “Quillin Script” seen on many of his products.
For 25 years, Quillin drew a cartoon for the Cincinnati Post called “Listen Honey,” and throughout his career, most of Quillin’s characters have been women from those early beauty shop days. They are either sipping a martini, glass of wine or cup of coffee while reflecting on life’s experiences.
Susan Stephen of Anna Maria owns several of his designs from his nightwear collection and adores his cocktail napkins. She was a fan of Quillin’s work long before she met him.
“It’s fun stuff,” she said. “It just appeals to women over 20.”
Quillin sells his cartoons on just about anything that can be printed on. Design Design sells his paper products, Tumbleweed Pottery sells his ceramic wares, American Art Stamp sells his stamps and Twisted Threads sells his apparel. His work can be found in Bealls’ department stores and Crowder Brothers, and Dillard’s has been selling a set of cups bearing his artwork for the past eight years.
Emerson Street, a company Quillin helped to start, markets his printed wares in gift shops and at resorts. It’s a multifaceted industry Quillin keeps one step ahead of.
“I’m always thinking about what I can put my graphic on,” he said. “You don’t want to be a one record wonder.”
His wife, Claire, admires her husband for what he has accomplished. She met him in 1982 and they have been married 25 years.
She said life with Quillin has been anything but dull.
“He’s got a great sense of humor,” said Claire. “He says something sometimes and you wonder where he got that. I still get a chuckle from his work even after all these years.”
Although Quillin draws mostly women, he does draw men, and his dogs and cats have also become extremely popular. Claire said he has so many characters that his art always touches someone, somewhere. She recalled Quillin’s drawing of a woman thawing an owl she never thought would sell. It sold within days of being offered.
“He’s really talented,” she said. “He’s got so many ideas; it’s hard to keep up.”
Quillin described his style as “controlled whimsical.” He draws with a permanent marker in a continuous line drawing “that works,” he said.
“I don’t erase,” said Quillin. “If it’s not right, I do it again.”
His drawings are quick, fluid and effortless, and the script easily understood. The ideas just come out of his head, said Quillin.
“It’s just like playing the piano,” he said. “If you’ve done it long enough, the melody works.”
For more information about Emerson Quillin, visit www.emersonshumor.com.