Leah-Ellen Heming has been scaling an astonishing peak in her career over this last year and she doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Her activities in the last few months have spanned across what seems like an all- encompassing spectrum of the arts, making one question whether there can be many other artists as broad in their scope.
The main bulk of the year was taken up with art- directing the story books for the 52- episode second series of the popular Cbeebies programme “Driver Dan’s Story Train”, whilst juggling many other projects on the side. The experience taught her a great deal about TV and animation. Leah is also now working on illustrations for the final episode in the series.
Hardly a side project, but a major feat of drawing and colouring carried out alongside, Leah also art directed and created all the concept design and paintings for a part of the upcoming film “A Liar’s Autobiography”. Carried out by 25 different animation companies and due to be released in September 2012, the feature length animated film tells the story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and isbased on his autobiography by the same name. Working with A for Animation, Leah designed around 150 characters as well as 20 backgrounds to fit along with the famous song “Sit on my face”:
“It was a very fun and naughty project to work on, not least because Jane Davies, the director, and I had were two women trying to come up with ideas for male gay sex- positions. We had to phone around and ask for advice”
The result is quite a risqué but silly 3 minute musical number that has already been described by critics as “hilarious and of questionable taste”, much in the Monty Python tradition.
In the middle of these full- time projects and when exhibitions are calling, Leah manages to fit in new work for her fine art portfolio, producing painted and collaged canvases. The canvases are mock- 50’s style adverts, book covers and posters. She combines the imagery and characters with hand- drawn typography to produce witty and satirical comments about the environment she lives in. She finds several outlets to show off these sought- after pieces throughout the year, including the Jamaica Street Open Studios, The Art Box pop up shop and, most recently, with the launch of Bristol Contemporary Art.
As if all this were not enough, Leah’s latest project is taking her in a completely new direction, as she teams up with Comic Book artist Tom Plant and film- maker Chris Lawrence to create afilm due to be released in mid 2012 and an accompanying exhibition.
Leah’s mastery underpins every project that she takes on in any trade of the art world. She is a joy for everyone she works with and her sense of humour, drawing, composition and colour talents are her toolbox.
To see more about Leah, visit the following links:
Q. What transferrable skills do you need to be an artist these days?
Across every creative discipline there are common threads such as basic creativity, ideas and concepts and technical ability such as drawing and painting in my case. It also helps to have some business knowledge as being a fine artist requires a lot of self-promotion, networking and as dull and ‘un-bohemian’ as it sounds, financial planning.
Q. What are your plans for your fine art and where do you hope it will lead you?
I am hoping to build up a large body of work under different themes that interest me. I am currently working on a series of narrative paintings (books covers and posters). I am also planning on doing a few more political based pieces as I feel that it is important for artists to use the medium as a tool for expression and comment.
Ultimately, I want to make people smile, think (a little) and amuse myself in the process.
Q. What are the benefits of producing your fine art pieces and how do your life philosophies come through?
I feel that it is important for artists to use the medium of art as a tool for expression and comment. I do not get the opportunity to make comment in my commercial work, so for me, my art is a very important part of expressing my observations of the world that surrounds us as well as experimenting and pushing the boundaries with the mediums that I use.
Paradoxically I have chosen the advertisement, a commercial art form and tool used to subvert and manipulate to express my ideas.
Q. How important is your fine art practice to you and which fine artists do you most admire?
Having a fine art practice is indispensable for keeping my creativity fresh and challenged. Ultimately the work and experimenting that I do in my fine art practice feeds back in a positive way into my commercial work.
Q. You had quite an academic fine art education when you lived in Belgium, what made you steer away from that and choose illustration as a degree?
The school I went to in Belgium focused strongly on drawing and painting ability as well as an in depth study of history of art. When I moved to the UK to study higher education, I chose an illustration degree as I wanted to maintain the practice of traditional academic art as well as learn some valuable self-marketing tools – neither of which I felt I could obtain on a British fine art degree.
Q. You started your career in illustration and then branched out into other art disciplines. Why were you disenchanted with the illustration industry and what opportunities have you found in other areas?
Unfortunately the discipline of illustration has changed tremendously since its height in the 1970’s. It used to be a lucrative and respected career. First it was challenged by the competition of photography in the 1980’s and then with the encroachment of globalisation the willingness for companies to pay for bespoke illustration declined as profits were at the forefront of their agenda. Then came the supermarkets who pushed publishers to sell their books off to them at record lows, knocking off the recommended retail price and making it almost impossible to generate any profit and pay decent wages.
There are still a lot of respectable companies who value their creative workers but with the market forces as they are, it is financially very difficult for young illustrators to forge a career in the discipline as the pay is so poor. This results with disillusionment and a lot of illustrators suffering from a feeling of lack of respect for their trade. This forces many talented illustrators switch creative careers.
There is however a new resurgence in the interest in illustration and variety of mediums to which it is applied so I think there will be a new golden age of illustration on the horizon.
Working in Jamaica Street Studios opened my eyes to the world of Fine Art, which is a booming industry at the moment. Also, it was curating an illustration exhibition that initially got me a job in the world of animation.
Q. How important do you think it is these days to cross over into different disciplines with your artwork?
In my case, because of the economic situation, I looked to other disciplines.
I always had a passion for animation and fine art and have been lucky enough to enter both worlds. The cross- over has been fantastic as I can bring elements of my illustration skill into my animation work and my fine art and vice-versa. I think this allows me to bring fresh outlooks to each discipline I work in and helps me get new exciting work opportunities.
Q. Your parents have been designer/ artists all their lives, how do you think the art world has changed since they were first getting started?
Although there are a lot more creative opportunities these days there is also a lot more competition coupled with a society of a greater myriad of ‘specialisations’. It seems very hard for our generation to switch between different types of creative jobs, as the job market wants people to be much more focused and specialised in a single discipline. My Dad was trained as a packaging designer, but was offered a job after graduating as an animator and worked for a while as cardboard engineer. But ironically people move around from job to job more now than our parent’s generation who had more options.