In celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee, we commissioned charming illustrator and artist Kerry Lemon to create a quintessentially British installation with a twist for our store windows.
We invited her in to share her inspirations and tell us how she will be celebrating the Jubilee this weekend. During the interview, her simple, direct turn of phrase and humble, quirky humour belied the exquisite intricacy of detail in her drawings, illustrating why she was the perfect partner for our royal tribute.
Kerry’s easy, open manner brimmed with all the irreverent dynamism that shines through in the fresh, bold lines of her work. Sitting down she smiled, settled into her chair and cupped her hands around a mug of tea.
Having initially drawn inspiration from The Wallace Collection, and the graphics and colours of London photography volume This Is London, we commissioned Kerry for her inimitable style and ability to capture the essence of all things British; from churches and cathedrals to seaside scenes and flowers. Her drawings of roses in particular brought an added element of fantasy to the concept.
Using the staged photography style of high society and royal court photographer Cecil Beaton as a key reference, we devised a ‘pinhole theatre’ concept, and thought this was the perfect fit for collaboration with Kerry.
Kerry: “I think the creative brief and my own illustration style met so naturally, the colour scheme of soft pink and sepia tones was lovely. I thought the vintage-inspired blend of sepias and pinks was really pretty.”
Q: What was it about Smythson that made you want to work with us?
“It was definitely the craftsmanship that attracted me to Smythson, the exquisite attention to detail in the design and play with texture of your products. As soon as I read the proposal, I thought ‘This is amazing, I have to do this!’ It’s such a cool project, because it enables me to use my drawings on a massive scale which is so exciting. I also unashamedly love the Royals, so the fact that I was able to draw crowns and Buckingham Palace is just dreamy!
“It was a really fun project to work on, everyone knew exactly what they wanted and it was a very clear brief – they’d done mood boards, which I love! And then I could go off and play with my ideas.”
Kerry’s illustrations for our windows
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself
“I’m an illustrator and an artist, most of my work is editorial – I draw pictures for magazines, book covers and album sleeves. I originally studied Fine Art, which involved lots of installations in large spaces. I used to find a space I liked which could be the corner of a room or a ceiling, out of which I would create something sculptural.” Kerry beamed and flung her arms wide to illustrate her point, “I’m 4”10, so I like working on a big scale!
“My background in installation art has been really helpful, because I’m not intimidated by scale and it makes me think quite differently to other illustrators. After finishing my degree, I received a Queen Elizabeth’s Scholarship, QEST, to which artists and craftspeople can apply to further their studies. I was given a grant and I then went on to study illustration at Cambridge. I then set up my illustration business, with a three year business plan like proper geek!”
Q: How did you start working on window installations?
“My first commission came about when I was approached by Electrum Gallery on South Molton Street, who asked me to hand-paint their window. I said no initially because I thought “Oh crikey, no way, that sounds too scary”, but I was eventually persuaded and I loved it. I loved the interplay with people when they came past to see how I was getting on, it opened up the process in a really refreshing way and I thought ‘I want more of this!’. I’m inspired by the notion of taking something as simple as a sketch and launching it into extraordinary new dimensions by recreating it on a huge, interactive scale.”
Q: You’ve worked for institutions such as The Times, Liberty and The National Trust. What do you think it is about your drawings that appeal to British brands like us?
“My illustrations are relatively traditional, but also a bit quirky! They’re clearly hand-drawn rather than computer-based, so there’s a real craftsmanship involved which I think resonates with a brand like Smythson. I draw everything by hand, I love drawing – I’m obsessed with it!”
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
“I try and take Fridays out of the studio to go and draw. I love to draw in museums, the British Museum is amazing and the V&A is great to draw in. In every collection, there’ll be something that really inspires me, for example I recently went to see Howard Hodgkin’s collection of Indian Paintings at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and I cannot stop thinking about the colours. There was a really beautiful hot pink and a mint shade which I loved, and the compositions and level of endless detail was amazing, you could even borrow magnifying glasses!
“I try and go on drawing trips every year, this time I’m going to the Orkneys and Iceland, last year I went to Wales and Finland. All I want to do is draw! I come back with sketch books full of colour. Finland was really green – it’s amazing, and the colours of the houses were a particular kind of rusty red that I would never normally use.”
Q: What would be your dream commission? If you could draw absolutely anything, what would it be?
“Drawing Buckingham Palace was one, so thank you Smythson! I love to work with architecture, nature and animals. When left to my own devices, I could draw anything. At the minute, I’m obsessed with flowers and using a lot of gold and copper leaf and gloss paint.
“I get commissions to draw all sorts – typewriters one week, shoes the next – that’s why having my personal sketch books and scrapbooks to flick through matters so much, it means I can play with composition and themes for inspiration and ideas.”
Q: Tell us about where you work.
“My studio is at home in Virginia Water in Surrey and it’s really peaceful, there are birds, it’s green, it’s lovely.
“There are banners hanging from the ceiling and the walls are covered in quite crackers stuff! For example, today I went to do some brass rubbings in the crypt of St Martin’s- in- the- Fields that’ll go up in the studio. I drew a crazy knight in different colours – I liked the pattern of his chainmail, I’m really attracted to patterns.”
Q: And finally, how will you be celebrating the Jubilee?
“If I could celebrate in any way, I think a giant house party with girlfriends would be my choice, as I’m such a fan of dressing up! We’d make our own crowns and tiaras with lots of red, white and blue fabric and safety pins for ridiculously festive, patriotic gowns. There would also be gallons of tea, cakes, scones and pink lemonade!”
Images of Kerry Lemon: © Clare Kelly: www.cargocollective.com/clarecatherinekelly