Illustrator Leo Greenfield brings a slower more impressionistic approach to documenting street style
How did you come to do what you do?
I came to documenting street style through drawing as a way of taking notes on designs and trends I found interesting in the world around me. While at university I studied for a time in Japan and became fascinated by the contemporary fashion trends there. At that point I wanted to become a designer and would draw these ideas or memories of looks in my notebook as a kind of diary. It was a way of considering ideas for fashion, for collections I wanted to make or simply a way of thinking about how I wanted to dress myself. Since then, and having gone on to art school, the project has become more about a type of anthropology, where fashion is used a starting point in making a drawing and creating social portraits of people and communities.
For you what makes a good subject to draw?
A good subject for me is a real subject, something from daily life that has a sense of elegance to it. I think of my work as a diary, made from things I have experienced first-hand in my environment, community or personal circle.
Is there a common thread to the people you decide to draw?
The people I draw always have a sense of individuality to them and move through the world with a sense of self-confidence.
Do you work from a photograph or sketch a person quickly? Are people happy to be patient while you draw them?
My process relies on my memory. All my drawings are made from an impression I have of the people that pass me by on the street or at an event. I want my drawings to be very different to photography, to be about the mood of the impression or character, embodying the figure with an atmosphere of the day and place rather than a quick snapshot. I try to draw quickly but it always takes longer than expected. I make multiple versions and draft images until I feel they capture the idea or impression I have in my imagination or memory.
How long does the process usually take?
It varies from drawing to drawing. Some days I can make a lot of drawings quite quickly (say about an hour or so), but other days I might work on one image for a much longer time. I think about the images over and over for days; the images seem to come out of my imagination after some time. Recently I have been working on developing prints of my drawings; I'm very interested in linocuts and the process which is long and mediative, and which I very much enjoy.
I also have friends and others sit for portraits and this is a different process. It takes time and I make numerous sketches and work towards creating a portrait through developing a series of images. I like to think of this process of being like a journalist interviewing someone - my work connects a lot to journalism and documentation.
Is it purely an observational process then? Or would you strike up a conversation and find out more about them?
The impressionistic drawings I post on my website are all about observation and documentation. I think they tap into the curiosity we have about each other and the way we look at each other in the public space. The mystery is what makes the drawings intriguing, the remoteness emphasize their elegance. They are impressions we can fill with our own ideas and imagination. For me the drawings are reminders, like a diary of my daily life, but I love it at exhibitions or when peers see the works they tell me the back story they imagine. I want the drawings to start a conversation, weather with that person or with people seeing them in another setting.
Is there a particular illustrator or artist / artistic style that's informed your own approach to illustration?
I am currently very interested in the drawings of French Impressionists, such as Degas, Renoir and Post Impressionists such as Édouard Vuillard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but my taste is always changing and I'm always searching for new research. Living in London, I have also been fascinated by the work of British Post Impressionist Gwen John and more contemporary printmaking and expressive drawing by Louise Bourgeois and Georg Baselitz.
What's been the biggest creative challenge so far?
Recently a major challenge was drawing the Haute Couture from the salons in Paris. This was a dream project and when I finally had access to the houses of Chanel, Valentino and Jean Paul Gaultier I really felt the pressure was on. I found the weight of the history of Haute Couture on me, and the experience of seeing the collections in the flesh so impressive I found it hard to know where to start. It's this editing process that I find so difficult, choosing what to draw and pushing the image that is always a challenge.
I am off to do a residence with a community-based project in Philadelphia, USA. I am very interested in traveling far afield and extending my drawing practice so I see this as an exciting opportunity. I will be having a solo exhibition in Melbourne in December hosted by Lucy Feagins editor of the Design Files thedesignfiles.net.
All drawings are ink, pencil and watercolour on fine papers
2014 - 2015
Drawings Leo Greenfield
Portrait Claire Pathé
Interview Fernanda Sela