In Amber Leia Jones’ work is a key appreciation for the fleeting, understated moments of everyday life – the ones that would usually go completely unnoticed. Predominantly this is shown in Amber’s approach to illustrating nature, but also through the characters she finds by people-watching, observing others “as if they are all characters in one big narrative,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I am strongly influenced by the small moments, such as a couple sharing lunch in the park, a circle of friends making a fire at the beach, or the daily routine of walking your dog,” she continues. “There is a subtle beauty in these moments, which make us human.”
Amber has always had a heightened awareness of the world around her. She grew up in a small village in rural West Berkshire and describes herself as “a very sentimental person”. As a child, she was the type to always make “an effort to document my life” through diaries, journals, scrapbooks and later, sketchbooks. First becoming interested in illustration after visiting GOSH comics in London, it was the low-budget, small press zines that piqued her attention, opening her eyes “to a new way of combining storytelling and art,” she explains. “I found myself relating to the naive style and it moulded how my style has developed today.”
At first, Amber explored this during an art foundation before enrolling on Falmouth University’s illustration course, from which she’s just graduated. Over the past three years the world around her has continually been a muse, encouraging her illustration style to move “from a bold, bright naivety and affection for coloured pencils to a more soft and simplistic approach,” she says. The pandemic has also emphasised this effect “as I spent lockdown in Falmouth living a very slow-paced life,” explains Amber, “allowing more time for me to look and reflect, finding appreciation in the familiarity of my surroundings.”
Amber’s portfolio sings with this sentiment, leading the illustrator to describe her work as “a direct response to my environment, documenting people and place.” Within this the illustrator doesn’t just interpret the surface level environment she sees either, instead, she zooms in to replicate the “atmosphere and emotions behind the little moments I observe,” she describes. Amber’s approach to this is refreshingly subtle, purposefully paralleling her focus on understated moments, through her use of white space, delicate line work and “hazy, soft” smudges of colour.
Amber feeds her imagination by spending a lot of time outside. On any given day she’s likely to be found “going on walks, sitting in parks,” and of course, “indulging in people watching.” Pieces begin on these solo trips with a sketchbook and mixed tin of pastels and pencils by her side. “I always try to draw from life as there is a rewarding challenge in capturing a fleeting moment as it happens; it gives a more loose and dynamic energy to the drawing,” she adds.
More recently, the illustrator has been working with chalk pastels which allow her to not only work fast, but “utilise the material to contribute to the atmosphere of the piece.” She’ll then use cotton buds to smudge an even deeper “dreamlike and ethereal quality”, even drawing atop a scrap of cotton or on old pillowcases “to create more organic mark making, as the pastel stains the fabric.” She describes how she finds “capturing my environment in stains on fabric and smudges on paper is often more intuitive and rewarding than just taking a photo. A key example of this is the illustrator’s zine, More Green, Slowly, in which she curated months of reportage as the seasons changed earlier this year. “I drew as a form of optimism,” Amber adds, “looking for the light in the small moments, such as a sliver of sunlight on the grass or watching flower buds appear. I wanted to create something uplifting and to spend time focussing on these small moments that kept us going in dark times.”
These aesthetic attributes draw the viewer to appreciate a simple moment Amber’s noticed and believed worth sharing. They’re also purposefully loose in the illustrator’s visual communication, “aiming to replicate the dreamlike feeling of a distant memory you can’t quite recall,” she describes. As a result, there is a dual quality of realism and escapism in her illustrations, creating artworks that allow “the viewer to escape to a more peaceful, soft world.”
Amber Leia Jones: Pendennis on Cotton (Copyright © Amber Leia Jones, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019, was made deputy editor and in November 2021, she became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.