One of the fun things about going to crafty, artisan markets is that you get to meet all sorts of interesting creative people. On my recent visit to Finders Keepers markets, I was drawn to the delicate, ethereal work of Emma Leonard under the label Belafonte. Today’s HOT Chat is with the lovely Emma – thanks!

Emma, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to work as an illustrator? What’s the story behind your store name Belafonte?

I have always drawn for as long as I can remember but it always just sat on the back burner until about 18 months ago. I was working in retail and I was really bored and frustrated, so out of the blue I quit my job, locked myself away for a couple of months, created a folio then began studying illustration full time. It was a big adjustment to return to study after a five year hiatus, but it was absolutely the right decision for me. I’m learning so much and I love that I have no idea what’s going to come next.

Belafonte’ came about because when I was starting I was very afraid of embarrassing myself, or that no one would like my work so I thought it best to keep my name under wraps until I was sure this whole ‘illustration’ thing could work. It comes from one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, The Life Aquatic, where there is a massive cross section of this ship named ‘the Belafonte’ and you can see all the activity under the surface.

On your blog you describe yourself as ‘I draw girls. And sometimes triangles’. What is it that attracts you to draw girls and…erm….triangles?

I’m not really sure why I draw girls. People always ask and I can never really explain it, I just can’t help it. I can draw other things but I always come back to them.

But I can explain the triangles! It’s because I find it really relaxing to draw something without thinking about it too much, it’s just three lines but when you put them all together it turns out different every time. And the four year old in me secretly loves to colour them in…

Are your figures real people that you have model for you?

I use a combination of different references from anywhere I can find them! Sometimes I use sketches from life drawing classes as a basis for an illustration, particularly the figure, but  I can’t wait for the day when I can hire people to model for me!

Have you always drawn with pen, ink and watercolours? Why do you choose to use these materials?

I guess I started out with watercolour and ink because I really enjoyed they spontaneity and fluidity of the mediums. I could mix my colours then just see what happens on the page! Now I seem to be moving a little bit more towards pencil and gouache, still transparent media, but a more planned and considered with lots of pattern and repeating geometric shapes combined with the portraiture of my previous work.

What websites, magazines, books, people or places do you turn to for art inspiration?

Magazines- Lula, King Brown, Uppercase, Russh, Frankie (beautiful photography and illustration on nice paper)

Books-  ‘The Age of Feminine Drawing’, ‘Lifestyle Illustration of the 60’s’, ‘Street Sketchbook Journeys’ and heaps of illustrated children’s books

People- Miss Van, Tina Berning, Audrey Kawasaki and Abbey McCulloch (my favourite artists and no surprise that they all paint women!)

Places- the Melbourne Museum, Until Never Gallery, Outre Gallery

What advice would you give to people wanting to start work as an illustrator?

Get drawing and painting. When I decided illustration was what I wanted I took two months to just draw and paint everyday. Then I put it out there on the net, mainly through Etsy and my blog, and I have been so amazed by all the opportunities that have come my way from those two avenues alone! Also, I think it helps if you can identify a niche or market for your work then get amongst it. With the huge craft and handmade movement happening at the moment, I have found selling my work at markets to be quite successful in finding both clients and a following for my work.

What are your next plans for your illustrations?

First and foremost, I have to finish my course!  But I have so many ideas floating around in my head. I would really like to move into doing some larger scale pieces and temporary installation work and, when I get some time, I plan on developing my oil ands acrylic painting skills.

Finally, what are your tips for HOT places you like in Melbourne?

Metropolis Bookshop (3/252 Swanston Street, Melbourne + 61 3 9663 2015) the most amazing book store in Melbourne, I pretty much want everything in their art and design section

Mamasita (1/11 Collins Street, Melbourne +61 3 9650 3821) my favourite place to eat in Melbourne, especially the corn and the fish tacos, if only the wait for a table wasn’t so long!

Outre Gallery (249 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne +61 3 9642 5455)  They sell prints of my absolute favourite artist of all time, Miss Van, but there are so many talented artists hanging on their walls that I can easily lose an hour in there.