Interview: Holly Leonardson

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Holly Leonardson is a visual artist and studio jeweller currently residing on the Sunshine Coast in her home state of Queensland. Working with a mix of found objects, craft and precious materials, her collages, quilts and handmade adornments are guided by playful material-led process and experimentation.

Interviewed by Sarah Thomson


Sarah Thomson: Your work spans a huge range of forms including jewellery, collage, quilts, greeting cards, zines, embroidery, and even temporary tattoos! What draws you to all these different forms?

Holly Leonardson: Probably just my restless need to try my hand at everything! I really enjoy craft-based methods of making, as I find the process of methodically snipping, pasting, filing and stitching somewhat meditative.

ST: You use the traditional materials of ‘craft’ in a self-referential way (eg. exploring imagery of children crafting within a crafted collage). What do you see as the relationship between art and craft?

HL: The art/craft debate is interesting and tricky to pick apart, and at this point I try not to question it too much within my own practice as I wouldn’t get much done! I enjoy incorporating images of children’s craft because that time is the purest of creative self expression and I hope that carefree feeling can be carried across the work.

ST: There is strong sense of play and experimentation in your practice that is reminiscent of the carefree way that we play with art materials as children.The kind of imagery used in your work also seems quite nostalgic of childhood. Are you inspired by the way that children play and make?

HL: Definitely! I love how easily they can become absorbed in make-believe worlds and how they can be either completely focused or quite laidback when making something and it just turns out to be this perfect, uncontrived result. I am always wanting to achieve this outcome and consistently experimenting has kept me excited about making.

ST: Your piece Neighbourhood: A House Surrounded by Flowers (2017) uses digitally printed cotton made from computer-based collage techniques. Could you tell us a bit more about how you melded the handmade and digital for this quilt?

HL: This was the first digital collage I have ever made and I was really unsure how it would translate into a tangible object. Generally I prefer a more analogue approach to making and find it hard to work on a large scale, but making the collage on the computer meant that I could scan and scale up the found images to take up a much larger space. I had been collecting old colouring books from op-shops that kids had begun to fill in, as I love the colours they choose (whether it is what they want to use or all they have on hand) and their scribbly technique. As I was treating this quilt as one big experiment for a show focused on using discarded objects, I decided to scan these pages and manipulate them to form a larger collage on a background of a needlepoint image taken from the cover of an unwanted craft book. To soften the flat, digitally printed surface (which I found to be quite harsh), I coloured in parts of the image with found embroidery thread and sequins. Making this quilt was fun and taught me a few things, and I hope to continue using some of these approaches in the future.

ST: You are currently working on the second issue of your zine Weird Craft. Can you tell us a little more about the focus of this issue and how you find your source material?

HL: Weird Craft is a lo-fi printed collection of found images and photographs of all the odd, lumpy, wobbly, crappy, naive, tacky, bad and so-bad-it’s-good handmade crafts that I come across in books, or spot and often collect from op-shops or elsewhere. The focus of this issue is kids craft and art activities particularly found in books from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, which I source from charity shops and the local tip shop. This includes classroom scenes with art supplies and hanging paintings, a scowling puppet made from crepe streamers and paper plates, a crocodile decorated with patty cases and sculptures made of stapled cardboard.

ST: You mention sourcing the card for your zine covers from small local newsagents. It seems like your practice has a sustainability focus in terms of using recycled materials, sourcing materials locally, using up materials you have lying around your studio, and having a slowed-down, handmade approach to making. Is this a conscious philosophy of yours?

HL: While I do aim to be sustainable with a slow, handmade approach to making and prefer to support local as much as possible, many of these choices are also simply a reflection of my personal circumstances. As I live in a very small regional town, sourcing my cover paper from the newsagency within walking distance is simply easier and faster than a 40 minute drive to Officeworks. I also really enjoy small newsagencies, as their craft section generally has a slow turn over and you can find some interesting things hiding away (as was the case with the daggy-but-cool blue ‘leather-effect’ paper I found).

ST: On your own account you made an Instagram story that mentioned the that you work full time and study (and also want to have a life). How do you balance making work with other commitments in your life?

HL: I try to balance these things but sometimes it is very hard to find motivation to concentrate on making something (or studying) after work when the afternoon sun is shining and you’d much rather be pottering around in the garden, swimming at the beach or cooking a nice meal to share with your partner. I think it is ok to put creative work on hold while recharging, but making art is a huge part of who I am so I can’t completely ignore it for too long.

ST: You mentioned that you have an upcoming exhibition. What are you making for it and how can we find out more?

HL: I have been invited to exhibit some collages in a group show that is focused on ideas behind soft toys. I’m excited because it is right up my alley and I can’t wait to see everyone elses work. I’ll definitely be talking about it more in the next month as I am not sure how much I can share just yet.


See more of Holly's work at http://www.hollyleonardson.net/

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