Emma Leonard is definitely in my top 5 most favourite illustrators…ever! I’ve followed her work for years, fawning over her well stocked Etsy store and often buying her prints for friends. I was lucky enough to briefly meet her earlier in 2013 while she was helping set up this exhibition – but despite a tonne of emails and a social media romance, it wasn’t until November that I finally got to hang out with her.
Big, deep, fan-girl sigh.
As I’d anticipated, Emma is a super friendly, funny and easy going person. I was greeted by her big smile and affectionate snuffles from Buffalo the dog on arriving at her sweet little Yarraville cottage she shares with her fiance and we immediately assumed rapid fire chatter which lasted the 2.5 hours I was there.
Emma grew up in Geelong and on graduating high school headed straight to Melbourne to study in Visual Arts and Design at ACU. While she wasn’t entirely certain on what career path she was headed down, it seemed like a good option to tastess some creative options and build a portfolio. But drawing and making wasn’t her only passion and at the end of 2002 she pulled out of the course after landing a full time acting role in the kids show “Wicked Science“.
Between the 2 seasons of the show she squeezed in a Certificate in Applied Design which essentially was a pre cursor to go into Graphic Design. But it didn’t really all feel right so she was still adrift and with the wrap of Wicked Science wrapped she was really at a loose end.
The uncertainty around securing another acting role made planning a head difficult so she supplimented her occasional work with a fulltime fashion retail job on Chapel Streeet. Over the 4 years with the store her level of responsiblity grew but her fulfillment from the position didn’t. The final straw came when she was told off for having a bad attitude which shocked her. She simply wasn’t a “bad attitude” type of person!
That was on a Friday and on the following Monday she quit and declared to her partner; Johnny that she was going to be an illustrator!
In 2009 at 25 years old she locked herself away and worked intently on creating a folio. She opened her Etsy store to start selling prints and in 2010 enrolled in Illustration at NMIT. Over the 2 year course she worked part time in retail (a different store!) and began to answer the growing demand of her online orders, work for friends and a mad aim to enter and submit for anything and everything!
Early into her second year she received a DREAM email from the top art agency; Jacky Winter Group requesting her to come and in and visit them with her portoflio the next day. They subsequently (and un surprisingly) loved her work and she was signed on to trial with them right then and there.
Gaining representation (and from such a respected agency!) was a massive privotal point in her career. Despite missing lots of classes she was able to juggle uni work with the steady work that began to flow in. Six months after signing with Jacky Winter she was able to give up her retail job and concentrate on the commercial work she had for brands such as Rebecca Taylor, the Hyatt Group, Covergirl NYC, MTV, Mitsubishi and Random House amongst others.
In 2012 she graduated then began an Advanced Diploma in Creative Product Development….before realising that the juggle was rediculous and commitments too many! With her personal work so different from her commercial projects she instead decided to work toward a solo show and booked a space at the No Vacancy Gallery in Federation Square. Jobs and life pushed back pretty hard in 2012 and it wasn’t until just 6 weeks out that she turned down work, locked herself away and knuckled down to produce her collection for “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” which showed in September 2012.
To me, Emma Leonard is an example of what can happen when you recognise your passion as a legitimate talent and whole heartedly commit to bringing it to life! It’s tough going for sure and straying off the beaten job track takes a dose of bravery – but the small (and big) victories are so so much more satisfying.
I simply can’t wait to watch her star rise!!
WHO: Emma Leonard, Johnny Farrugia and Buffalo.
I am a full time freelance illustrator, Johnny runs a wholesale fashion agency which specializes in street wear, called Little Beard Agency, and is also a part owner of Blackbyrd clothing and Buffalo is a blue staffy who divides his time between napping, barking at pigeons and dragging Johnny and I around the streets of Yarraville.
WHAT: We live and work in a little two bedroom Victorian house. The front half of the house is beautiful, with high ceilings and great old floorboards which more than make up for the tiny kitchen and outdoor toilet! We have set up the second bedroom as a studio and it’s probably my favorite room in the house, which is lucky because I spend an awful lot of my day in there. I love working from home because as much as I enjoy company, I really focus much better on my own and love the flexibility of setting my hours, which is important on the days when you get a brief at 6pm and it is due the very next morning!
Our backyard is pretty much a concrete slab and it is very difficult to grow anything, but our front porch gets the perfect amount of shade so my plants have much more luck out there and most days Johnny, Buffalo and I will have a little break on the front step in the sunshine, which is unbelievably nice.
WHERE: Our home is in a little side street of Yarraville, just set back from the main street. I love our neighbourhood because it is so close the city but feels like it’s own little village with a really lovely community spirit. The West side of town sometimes gets a bit of bad rap, but I can’t recommend it enough. As well as having some super delicious cafes and bakeries (Candied is my absolute favorite, best doughnuts in town!) and a couple of really great shops (Curious Grace and Sedonia especially), there is also the most beautiful restored cinema and in summer, part of the street is blocked off for a Pop-up Park complete with astro turf, umbrellas and deck chairs!
DESCRIPTION: Before moving to Yarraville, we lived in a tiny apartment over the other side of town in St Kilda East, which was great for a while, but eventually we just felt like a change and really wanted some more space. Around the same time, Johnny’s brother bought a place in Yarraville so it seemed like the perfect time to try something different and we have rented here ever since. Fortunately, he makes for a very lenient landlord, so we are allowed to hang artwork with real nails (such a luxury for us renters!), let Buffalo run amok and even paint a mural on the wall (which I will definitely get around to one of these days!).
Our home probably doesn’t sound like much when I describe it and it is a very old building, so it’s pretty easy to find fault when the view out the window is of a brick wall, the bathroom is really more of laundry and the kitchen walls are made of stucco that are warping at the edges, but we have lived here for almost four years now and are still so happy here. I just wish our lovely elderly neighbors didn’t keep so many homing pigeons…
All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM EMMA:
Take command of your own creative career. Set up your site, start selling your prints online, be active on social media as you simply never know who is watching and what opportunities await.