“I’m still working out what my practice is,” explains London-based illustrator Leo Macdonald Oulds. “I struggle with the idea that perhaps illustrators are supposed to work within one style, so for now I’m just going to keep playing with materials.” Originally from Manchester, Leo’s work flits between styles but is always a response to something that interests him, filled with energy and made in an impulsive way.
It’s the way illustration allows him to respond to his surroundings that drives Leo’s interest in the medium. “Drawing is exciting for me because it’s so spontaneous, it’s a direct expression of your experience, a way of interpreting the world filtered through personal feeling,” he tells us. “When a drawing is finished it leaves more questions than answers; satisfaction doesn’t last long. I guess the process is the exciting part, I love the exploration of constructing a drawing and watching it emerge.”
Although now clearly resolute in his chosen medium – Leo recently completed a BA in illustration from Camberwell and will be attending the Royal Drawing School in September – photography was actually his first love. At the age of 19, however, he became severely anaemic and for a couple of years was unable to go out and shoot. “It was frustrating because mentally I was fine but physically I had no energy,” he recalls. To pass the time during hospital visits, Leo started drawing. “I used drawing as a means of escape, and quickly became obsessed with it. I dropped out of my university course and started an art foundation the year after,” he continues.
Today, his practice is largely rooted in observational drawing, communicating simply through direct mark-making. Although not something that comes naturally to him, Leo always tried to work in a way which is bold and quick, in order to produce an authentic reaction to a moment. “I focus on trying to evoke the feeling and atmosphere of a place, or a person’s presence,” he adds. As a result, his works are imbued with vitality, each drawing showing so much with so little. Blank white space on a page denotes to the sun hitting a patch of grass, for example, whereas a sweeping stoke across the page in felt tip forms the bannister at the top of one of Kew Garden’s views, instantly creating a recognisable scene.
Recently he completed two trips to Morocco to make a publication about the emerging skate scene in Rabat and the experience of Moroccan millennials after the rise in social media and the Arab Spring. Looking forward, however, his focus is on experimentation and pushing his visual language, which his time at the Royal Drawing School will allow him to do. “I’ve been exploring a symbolist vocabulary, trying to communicate a strong sense of feeling with economical means. Felt tip ink drawing has been good for me because it forces you to commit and put down pure colour.” While this technique has been working for him recently, Leo isn’t one to settle as he concludes: “I wouldn’t say I have a signature visual language yet, I don’t think about that much, something like that comes with time, you can’t force it… I think my work could definitely get looser and messier, it’s exciting times.”
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