Miss Led discusses her flourishing career as a fashion illustrator
Miss Led really does have an extraordinary talent. From packaging to portraiture to fashion illustration to murals, she works tirelessly to create feminine and bold artwork, featuring striking portraiture and fluid line work.
Born in South Wales, Joanna Henly aka Miss Led has lived far from home in the East End of London for the last 15 years, where her career has continued to take in a wide range of creative activities, including teaching, running workshops and launching her very own fashion label.
She put down her pencil just long enough to talk to us about her career success to date.
First, tell me a little bit about yourself and what encouraged you to become an illustrator?
I travelled a lot when I was growing up, and drawing became an unmoving constant. It grew to be very important to me and formed part of my identity, which helped a lot as the new kid at any school. I was lucky that my parents helped to nurture my love of drawing and the rest is history.
What formal or informal training have you had?
I’ve done the long line of academia, with a break after finishing a Fine Art degree. I then studied and taught Public and Community Art, which was a really significant time for me as it not only allowed me to be more subjective with art, but encouraged a rise in my own confidence and allowed me to reassess my own ambitions through working with others.
Your illustrations often focus on the female form, where does your inspiration come from?
Women feature more in my work than men do, but not exclusively. I see a lot of visual layers to the female form. For me, there is so much more romance and strength in them. I’m inspired by those captured by Helmet Newton, and dressed by McQueen. I guess I aim to create role models; those with self-assuredness and conviction, yet sensual and magnanimous. Hewlett was a huge inspiration. My friend gave me a copy of Deadline in the early 90s and I thought Tank Girl was the best thing ever. On a more general scale though, time, space, light and a sense of calm are all hugely important to me when it comes to generating ideas and sourcing inspiration.
I’m always keen to adapt…many artists believe that you should stay within one style, but I really disagree with that.
How would you describe your evolving visual style?
I work in a few styles now. I’m always keen to adapt these in relation to the specific audience when it comes to working on projects. Many artists believe that you should stay within one style, but I really disagree with that. I have a different approach to work when it comes to time and budget also.
What is a typical like for you – if there is one! – and how do you usually approach your work?
There is no typical day, but any kind of routine is good for me. Sometimes, if I have the time, I try to do some journal writing. So a bit of a brain dump to clear the cobwebs and then a walk to the studio. I’m happier if I get even the smallest fraction of practical work completed in a day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I need to be more disciplined with that, although I recently did a five month practical job and all of my other stuff just had to wait, as it was a huge client and I needed to focus solely on that at the time.
Can you tell us a little more about the materials you tend to use?
Creating something from nothing is always going to be as equally engaging and wonderful to me… you know you’re working on something exciting when it’s the first thing that you want to see the next day. I’m still just hugely enchanted by it.
I try to use as many as possible. For my mixed media workshops – that I’ve been running for the past two years – I demonstrate working with anything from acrylic inks to brush pens to masking fluid to stencils. With my large scale wall works, I use aerosols and acrylics. And for my original works and commissions, I use dipping ink and water colour paint. My most common and trusty process though, is working on my drawing board in front of my studio window with graphite on paper, which I generally scan in and then collage or manipulate using my Cintiq. I don’t tend to use Illustrator as I really like Photoshop.
What would you say is the best thing about being an illustrator?
Being able to create artwork most of my working hours. Creating something from nothing is always going to be as equally engaging and wonderful to me as well. You know you’re working on something exciting when it’s the first thing that you want to see the next day. I’m still just hugely enchanted by it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Are there any personal favourites amongst your work?
Project wise, my most favourite is the D&Me Interiors project. I had a crazy short timeframe for the work, which spanned a huge space – four floors! My client loved my work as she had seen the ‘Alice in Dreamland’ wall piece that I had created for Meg Matthews, and just trusted me. I think it was a creative and exciting couple of weeks, as I was planning and working on it as it all happened. It almost killed me, but was well worth it!
Taking a trip outside of my usual setting, working with new people and meeting a ton of creative people is really engaging and important.
Have you been fortunate enough to win any competitions or awards?
Around the time that I was seriously trying to become an illustrator, I took part in a live street art event as I didn’t have an agent but felt as though I needed to get noticed. The live draw happened at Illustrate – the biggest illustration event in 2007 – and it was curated by Designers Block and Debut Art. I left with the trophy, beating 15 male contenders across a wall space of more than 260 square feet in three hours. I went on to do a mini tournament in Barcelona the following year and won again. I was also shortlisted for Best of British Illustration in 2012, where my large scale ‘Fallen Angel’ canvas toured the UK for the best part of the year. And, I was awarded first prize in the Padstow Carnival Poster Competition at Padstow Primary School, aged eight-and-a-half!
You’ve touched briefly on your client work already, but you’ve had some pretty big commissions in recent years, including Ted Baker and BraUn. Are there any that you particularly enjoyed or had more fun with?
I really loved working with the guys at BraUn. We had worked together since last summer. What I appreciated most about that project was that the German team really steered me into a new way of working, which doesn’t always work out with client led projects. My work is predominantly line based, but developed into a more vector-like outcome with just a fraction of line accenting. I created three female characters as packaging illustration work, for gift sets launching this April.
I’ll keep my eyes peeled for that then! I also have to ask you about the 2014 Eye Candy Festival. I know that you were invited back again…
When I started out, I did treat each and every job as though it could easily as have been my last, and I put so much of myself into every one of them.
Yeah, I was invited to take part in the Eye Candy Festival again just a few months ago, which was pretty fun. Taking a trip outside of my usual setting, working with new people and meeting a ton of creative people is engaging and important. I got to meet Fafi and run an illustration talk / masterclass which was full! The year before came with so many weather issues that I had less than half the time to complete what I wanted to do.
Who or what would your dream client or brief be?
I’ve definitely fulfilled a few dream jobs already, like painting a window at Selfridges, exhibiting in the Saatchi Gallery, having a successful solo show and painting live in front of thousands. I feel extremely blessed. When I started out, I did treat each and every job as though it could easily as have been my last, and I put so much of myself into every one of them. I’ve been so close to a few large scale projects that would have been my dream jobs still, for sure. New dream jobs though, include getting to create artwork or surface design / murals for any of the big department stores. Publishing my own book is something of a dream too, and I can’t wait for that to happen.
What was the last exhibition you went to?
I actually had my own exhibition just last month. It was my first solo show – so a bit of a milestone. I filled theprintspace, which is a huge gallery on Kingsland Road, Hoxton. It was a ridiculous challenge, as I had just three weeks to plan, shoot models and create work, leaving me only three days of painting seven panels of approximately 1×1.5 meters each! I had the gallery walls to embellish with large scale elements that related to all of the works too. I wanted to create role models – literally, larger than life, wonderful and inspiring women. It was important that I had a connection with them on some level too, so I asked women in the creative community to be involved. Some I knew more than others, but they were all extremely successful, talented and busy women, so I was happy to have them work on the project. The final outcomes were large mixed media paintings. Again, another project that almost killed me! And, I’m still working on the film for this as we speak.
And what are you focusing on right now?
I just had an amazing 25-page feature in Illustrators Quarterly, which is an international publication that charts illustration of all eras – not just contemporary – so it was a huge honor to be included. My artwork was also printed on the front cover of Der Spiegel just a couple of weeks ago, and i’m currently wrapping up a video off the back of my solo show.
Do you have many other projects in the pipeline? Is there anything that you can tell us about?
I’ve got my biggest workshop yet coming up next month in Seville, Spain. I’m also working on a series of short tutorial videos with some very exciting companies / brands, which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping to have more time for shows as well. I’ve got some great ideas for the next one, and I also think I know which gallery I’d like to work with. So, more public events and more collaborations then. The rest… well, I’m keeping them under my hat for now!
Finally, where do you hope to be in 5-10 years time?
In my villa’s pool, overlooking my studio whilst sipping earl grey martinis!