The relentless passion of Simona De Leo

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Despite having to find her way into a competitive industry, Simona kept going. Despite breaking three fingers in her dominant hand, Simona kept going. Despite not having a publisher, Simona kept going and made a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish her book. We now know there's nothing that can stop or slow down her strong will.

"Never give up" and "find your own identity" are the two pro tips she has for creatives just starting out. And we can tell she followed them herself to perfection, developing her own, beautiful style after years of professional practice.

By the way, Simona has just opened a shop for her prints on her own website. You might want to head there to support the lady. For this Member Spotlight, we are getting to know a relentless spirit with the dream of becoming a published artist. And we truly wish her all the best.


How did you get into the industry?

Getting into this industry is very challenging, and I think it’s something that happens gradually. I spend a lot of time on the internet searching for opportunities and potential clients. I think networking is the most important thing, especially at the beginning. It’s important to get your work out there and show it off. It’s like planting a seed and watching the plant grow over time. 

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m originally from Puglia, in southern Italy, but I've been based in London since 2014 and I work mostly from home. I love London, because it has so many things to offer in terms of opportunities and inspiration. Sadly, it’s a bit too expensive to share a studio sometimes, but I enjoy having the freedom to work from home — in my pyjamas now and then! 


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

That’s a really good question, and I’m not sure how to answer it! For as long as I can remember I’ve had a pencil in my hand. I grew up in a family of artists, I remember playing and painting with my mum’s oil colours when I was in primary school. I started studying painting in high school, and I like painting a lot, so if I hadn’t started illustration I’d probably have kept going with fine art

Can you explain your creative process?

When I have a brief I usually start by doing some research on the topic and this is the step I like the most, because every time I learn something new! Then I start sketching ideas. I use Pinterest a lot to create moodboards, but I try not to look at other illustrators, so that I’m not influenced by what they’ve already done. I prefer taking inspiration from films, painting, architecture or nature; it depends on the topic.


How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

Technology has played a big part. It wasn’t really intentional, but lately my work has become all digital. I broke 3 fingers of my dominant hand 2 years ago, and I was able to start drawing sooner than expected only thanks to digital software such as Photoshop.

My hand was shaking a lot after the operation, so I wasn’t feeling comfortable using ink and watercolours like I used to. Digital techniques gave me that confidence to start again, as I didn’t feel the pressure of making mistakes.

Let’s say that in the bad luck of the accident I had the good luck to find a new style, which I have developed since then and I finally feel is mine! However, I like to enrich the digital technique with my textures and the patterns that I started making again with watercolour. Mixing digital and traditional techniques gives a warmer and more vintage feeling to my illustrations


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Inspiration and motivation are very important, and sometimes hard to keep alive and balanced with day-to-day life. 

I try to cultivate my hobbies, which are my main inspirations after all. I love listening to live jazz and dancing Swing, so when I’m feeling uninspired that’s the first thing I do: go to some tiny music venue in London with my sketchbook and my dancing shoes. 
It’s very important to keep your personal projects alive — the ones you are really passionate about.


What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

As I just mentioned in the previous question, personal projects are very important. It’s no accident that my proudest achievement is a personal project of mine that involves all of my passions and hobbies. I self-published through a successful Kickstarter campaign a non-fiction picture book about animals and musical instruments. It’s called “My alphabet of animals and musical instruments”, where for each letter of the alphabet there is an animal playing a musical instrument starting with the same letter. 

My aim was to introduce animals and instruments that are not so well known; for example, you will find the jerboa playing the janggu and the manatee playing the mijwiz. [editorial note: don't worry, dear reader, we've had to Google these too]

It was also my first Kickstarter campaign, and I’m so proud of and happy about its success: I raised double the amount of my set goal, and I was able to sell my book all over the world. An indescribable feeling! I’d love to work on picture books again with a publisher, and that’s my main future goal.


How do you recharge away from the office?

I haven’t had much experience with office life. I’ve mostly worked as a freelancer from home, but when I need to recharge from that I go for long walks or change my environment — work from a café or team up with friends who are also working from home, arranging alternative co-working spaces together.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

The advice I would give to others, which I’m also always giving to myself, is don’t give up. This industry can be very challenging and competitive, and it could be overwhelming comparing yourself with all the creatives out there. Always be true to yourself, don’t follow the trends but create your own identity and keep going even if you receive rejections or don’t get instant commissions.


What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

My hope is that we can get more consideration and our work can get fair compensation. Too many times I receive emails seeking or see adverts offering free or underpaid jobs. This is a job like any other, I don’t see why one wouldn't ask for a free haircut and yet it’s still considered acceptable to ask for a free logo or illustration. Things are starting to change, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement! 

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I would probably promote more the personal identity of an artist and its uniqueness rather than going with the trend of the moment. Social media have given a big boost to the creative industry, but sometimes I feel they’ve flattened creativity a bit, with many artists following the same style.


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