Artist and typographer Leona Fietz works full time from her Brisbane studio, and teaches hand lettering courses at Work-Shop Australia. Leona graciously opened her space up to us and shared her thoughts about art, life, and what it is that makes and defines an artist.
This article was originally published on the Work-Shop blog.
How did you initially get started with hand lettering?
I followed letterers like Jessica Hische through university and Typography was my favourite class by far, I always tried to include manipulated type into my assignments. I loved magazines like Wooden Toy and Monster Children and the artwork for Deus Ex Machina, aka artists Timba Smits, David Carson, Carby Tuckwell. I moved to Brisbane to complete my final subjects and intern at a letterpress studio, then worked in a couple of full time in-house design roles. I only lasted less than six months at each and decided that it wasn’t for me; I needed to make the time and space to pursue my own practice. So I quit, set myself up with a pile of lettering books I’d seen my idols reading or recommended and practiced relentlessly. I wasn’t very good for a long time but I gave myself weekly tasks, tried out different tools and slowly built a folio of self initiated work.
There’s a sense of nostalgia in your work. Where and who do you look to for inspiration?
I’m constantly making notes from conversations, lyrics or interviews and taking photos of signs when I visit a new place. I often look to history for visual reference – some of the styles and typefaces in my books go back to the 16th century. I love the work of Martina Flor, Erik Marinovich, Gemma O’Brien, Kate Moross, Geogira Hill, The Beautiful Losers (Margaret Kilgallen and Stephen Powers in particular) & Wayne White.
What is your favourite design/piece you’ve produced so far?
Most recently I had a lot of fun making the piece from my solo show titled “More Likely…”
What does your typical working day look like?
I walk down to get a coffee at about 7:30am. I like the mental process of picking out an outfit for the day and feeling like I’m going to work, even if I’m returning home. I spend most mornings doing concept sketches, I find I have the most clarity first thing. I’ll reply to some emails and then move onto more time consuming task to fill the middle of the day like vectoring a logo or problem solving a drafts. After 4pm I do a bit of personal work or workshop preparation – fewer distractions after COB. I like to work in sprints; rotating through different stages of a few projects to stay focused. For example, recently I spent all day drawing iterations of a mural artwork that I started sketches for weeks before. When I was happy with the draft, I switched to an idea I scribbled down earlier that day with ink and brush. I made dinner while I waited for the ink to dry – put them in a pile and did some more versions. The next day I inked the mural draft, scanned it and started editing.
Do you listen to music, podcasts, anything at all when you are working?
I switch between music and podcasts – I listen to music during more problem solving tasks and then I’ll switch to a podcast when I’m executing / past the tricky stage. At the moment I’m rotating through Savage Lovecast, Design Matters with Debbie Millman and On Being.
What do you love about what you do?
It can say so much! I find it stimulating thinking about how to make type speak in more than one way. I heard typography described as art and function on a podcast the other day, that made so much sense to me. It sits in the middle of design and art and can go either way on the scale – it can be completely functional and still have a hand drawn element or purely decorative and borderline illegible.
There are constraints of the alphabet but limitless styles and methods to approach it. And depending on what tool, style or reference you use can impact and add to the meaning. Finding that balance between style, concept and meaning is the challenge I really enjoy.
Besides drawing, what takes up your time?
Work life balance is something I struggle with. Freelance is a lifestyle and that’s why I love it – total control. But I don’t have someone telling me when to clock in and out, when to have lunch. On my bad days I don’t know when to break; but when I do it’s riding my bike, giggling at people singing their hearts out to karaoke over vietnamese on a Friday night, eating frozen yogurt, visiting gardens, plant shops and antique stores.
Can anyone be an artist or artistic? Is it too late to start?
Of course! anyone can be a artist – busy you hands! it’s as simple as putting in the hours and watching yourself improve as a reward.
Who is a good local artist we should know about?
Jess Webb @thevelvetinsides – she takes beautiful film photographs.
Are you exhibiting somewhere soon? Where can we see your work?
I’ll be painting a wall at First Coat, you can see my work along with a heap of other artists finished on the weekend of May the 28th.
Whenever I’ve been able I have visited the exhibits of some amazing artists and I never realised how enormous their body of work is. They had drawn, and painted, and sculpted, they have done almost everything in any style before they developed their own. The reason I like your art is because it has a style which I haven’t seen before. I guess the question from this is about the artistic approach and what it is that compels an artist to continually grow?
The creative process is addictive, that feeling when it all finally comes together and you know how you’re going to pull it off. You always want your next work to be your personal best, so you push yourself. I think seeing peers constantly growing is motivating too – we’re all in it together and for similar reasons, kicking goals along side each other, cheering each other along. But at the same time – no one will do the work (you want to see) but you! Seems simple but it’s the most effective form of self-motivation for me.
Photos by Mercy Bass