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Embroidery & Illustration | Adele Leyris

last updated 16 January 2020

Bright Artist Adele Leyris specialises in bold and colourful artwork, and often mixes media by using embroidery to her illustrations. Last year, she ran a workshop at the London Illustration Fair called ‘Embroidered Tattoos’ which introduced people to this unusual technique.

We caught up with Adele to ask her more about it and find out what inspires her…


Tell us about how you use embroidery in your artwork – what’s your process?

As an illustrator, I’m always looking at how to make my drawings more interesting and impactful. I sometimes use embroidery to highlight something important in the illustration or create interesting textures. Surprisingly, the method for paper embroidery and watercolour is very similar. A lot of thought/preparations has to go into the original drawing before actually getting your hands dirty. Once the paper illustration is completed, I start sketching the embroidery pattern that I want to apply, then it’s hole-poking time! A lot of delicacy is involved here because you don’t want to rip the paper. Once the design is settled, it’s time to introduce thread. The possibilities are endless here as you can play with colours, thickness of lines and different stitches to create different effects.


How did you discover this technique and how did it change your approach to illustration?

I’ve always worked with thread alongside my illustration; embroidery, sewing, crochet, knitting… One day I just decided to blend the two! I initially started on canvas, blending my painting and thread work and to my great surprise I realised that you could actually create embroidery on paper too! Obviously,it is a little more technical and there are lot of requirements (thickness of paper, type of stitch…) but the results were really interesting and I explored further. I love the idea that we’re bringing craft work into an illustration. We’re moving closer and closer to a fully digitalised world, but I know that most humans still have a love for real, tangible experiences.


Where did you get the idea for the Embroidered Tattoo Workshop?

I am very passionate about both tattooing and embroidery, but society looks at tattooing as cool and embroidery as old-fashioned. But weirdly, they have a lot in common; there’s a lot of expertise involved, they are both delicate and intricate work that requires patience and a steady hand, both are forms of embellishment and are often used to express something personal or meaningful to us, and of course both use a needle! The similarities are surprising, so I created the workshop in the hope that people would see embroidery in a new light.


Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?

I either look into my old botanical books and engravings, or I go straight to Nature, which is an endless source of inspiration. My little treat is to go to the Flower Market on Columbia Road in London and pick a couple of flowers to draw.


How do your surroundings impact your creative work?

I have loads of plants on my desk and terrace. I believe that over the years I have learnt not only how to keep them alive but also what make them happy. Seeing them grow and evolve depending on the time of year is fascinating. There is so much we don’t understand about plants.


How do you work through a creative block?

For me a creative block happens when I’m trying too hard. I’ll flip through Pinterest or old projects for inspiration, but sometimes this just adds to the confusion and in some cases becomes a block as I’m overwhelmed with information. This may sound surprising, but what usually works for me is letting go of everything and doing something completely different. Part of my brain will actually carry on being attentive to the project and I might find that great idea while cycling through a park or while watching a movie.


Why is being part of an agency important to you?

Sometimes an agency knows you more than you do, and will guide you towards projects that you hadn’t thought of or didn’t think would suit you. They have the bigger picture which is so hard to achieve by yourself, and also the confidence that you so desperately need at times.


Why is it important for artists to have a creative community?

Being independent can be a very lonely life. Not only is it beneficial to bounce ideas off other creative minds, but a creative community also keeps you sane! Mental health in this domain is often under-estimated and talking about it is key.

To work with Adele, please contact Helen Biles.

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