How Leonie Bos changed her illustration style, and why it brought her new creative energy

Previously well known for her clean-cut architectural pieces, the illustrator is finding new freedom in anthropomorphic abstraction.

21 February 2024

For nearly a decade, the illustrator Leonie Bos honed a very specific niche: geometric drawings of buildings. Inspired by her father who was an architectural draughtsman, Leonie found great satisfaction in the accuracy and preciseness of her clean lines and material shapes, and it served her well, gaining her many a commission. Though around two years ago, Leonie found herself experiencing a certain creative restlessness; after years of geometry she was craving some “spontaneity and flowyness”, and so she turned her hand to another ubiquitous feature of everyday life: people.

As might be expected, this change in subject matter brought with it a change in method and materials. After spending many years using tools like Photoshop and Procreate and utilising their many visual effects, one of the most common questions Leonie received was whether her work was digital or analogue. “Only recently the hand-rendered appearance of my digital work began to feel a bit like a parlour trick,” says Leonie. “I figured, at least, I had to be able to achieve the same result with actual paint on paper, or whatever technique I tried to simulate.” So she turned to the physical materials she used in art school, and discovered a special affinity for acrylic markers, which she now always has on her person – “to actually feel and smell my tools, it instantly re-energised me!”, she says.


Leonie Bos: Restin (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)

This new-found spontaneity shines in Leonie’s personal series, Streetlook. Here, Leonie works from snapshots of people she’s spotted on the street, but rather than focusing on identifying features, like faces, Leonie zones in on their style, finding particular expression in the layering of accessories, like cross-body bags, jackets and chunky scarfs. Fast-paced and energetic, through the drawings Leonie aims to demonstrate friction between abstraction and representation. “The fact that I prefer to depict them anonymously doesn’t mean I’m not personally invested. Faces or hands are just so dominant, they immediately give away the image,” she says.

Outside of her practice, the transition toward drawing people was also instigated by events in the illustrator’s personal life; namely, seeing loved ones suffer from mental illness. “Before, my approach was always quite down-to-earth and rational, which fits in well with an architectural theme,” Leonie says. “With everything happening in my personal life, and, well, the world catching fire, the reappearance of the human figure in my work feels quite timely.”

For Leonie, the illustrations Embrace and Portrait of Puberty, show how including figures in her work has allowed her to reach new emotional heights that would have been impossible in architectural drawings. The former shows two figures wrapped in a warm hug, while the latter shows a figure pulling, in what seems an anxious or awkward manner, the strings of their hoodie, likely to obscure and draw attention away from their face. While Leonie feels emotionally engaged while making the pieces, she enjoys how their element of abstraction leaves the narrative left elusive, and open to interpretation – ready for anyone to inject with their own feelings and memories.

Overall, Leonie believes this pretty seismic shift in her practice was inevitable – the sum of many professional and personal parts. While she tells the students on the illustration course she teaches to find their “niche”, she’s keen to impress that it can be broad, or specific, but to ensure that it’s never “static”. It’s important to make space for the forks and unexpected developments in your creative journey, just like the one that has brought Leonie a much needed boost of joy and inspiration.


Leonie Bos: Reading (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Portrait Of Puberty (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Streetlook/EyesInBack (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Streetlook/YellowScarf (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Streetlook/WhiteFanny (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Streetlook/WhiteFanny (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Sketches (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Full Of Life Junky (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)


Leonie Bos: Streetlook/FluffyScrunchy (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2024)


Leonie Bos: Common Ground (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)

Hero Header

Leonie Bos: Embrace (Copyright © Leonie Bos, 2023)

Share Article

About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.