We talked to Camberwell College of Arts alumna Mercedes Leon about her collaboration with M&S and her experiences after graduation. Mercedes is a Spanish artist and designer now based in Leeds. She studied Fine Arts in Madrid before graduating from an MA Visual Arts: Illustration at Camberwell.
CCA: Please tell us more about your work (in general)
ML: In my work, humour and improvisation play a key role; It´s my way to approach the subject, trying to do something new, to deliver a different point of view. I like simplicity, our mental representation of reality, the beauty of imperfection, a clean layout and a direct message –my work is not much about detail, but rather about the concept and the aesthetics.
When I start working on something I usually don’t know how it’s going to be, but it comes as you work on it. Most of the time I mix my handwriting within the illustration, because I feel drawing is thinking in paper.
I’ve specialized in illustration after a few years –as a Fine Art student, I’ve done drawing, painting, photography, painting, sculpture and printmaking. I decided to specialise in illustration because you can communicate a clear message, it´s commercial, it shows my strengths and what I enjoyed most: drawing and writing.
CCA: Please tell us about your collaboration with M&S?
ML: Well, that has been a really lucky strike! It all started with FIA (Fashion Innovation Agency, from LCF), they brought their portfolio of artists and they choose me. When I knew I was going to be the one to do it, I was both surprised and excited.
I went to meet the design team and to know more about the brief. I met them at the new M&S Studio @ Fashion Street. It’s a really nice space in a trendy area, so it was a pleasure to work there with them. The first day I was well shaky, but they were just normal, very nice people that gave me such a fun and open brief.
All I had to do was to explore the concept ‘Summer’, to generate ideas in order to do a mini range of four tee shirts. As in any design process that’s in response to a client’s brief I presented a bunch of ideas, we selected a few, and then worked out the final designs.
We’ve also been shooting a bit of video and photos to promote it through social media and Instagram.
CCA: What was your inspiration for it?
ML: As I mentioned the brief was really open, so I started thinking on my own experience of summer. Expressions, idioms and overheads, memories of the swimming pool, travelling, museums, the holidays I dream with –all the things I enjoy about the season. Also, the printed tees of the 90’s, street writings, Hockney, Dali and Mariscal could be the main influences in terms of inspiration.
CCA: Please tell us about your experience at Camberwell? – What did you like the most?
ML: What I liked most about Camberwell were my mates. I met really talented people from around the world, and our group was really diverse in terms of backgrounds and styles. I learnt a lot from them.
I’d say you learn retrospectively, as everything in life the only way to improve is by doing it. Probably the most challenging bit is that you’re faced to such a competitive industry with little practical knowledge and limited resources, and feels a bit lonely. You have to be your own community manager, your agent and your accountant, your teacher and your coach, and develop your strategic planning and marketing skills. Despite attending talks and hearing stories of success, it’s also difficult to know which doors to knock and how –it’s something that you learn with the time, rather than with tutorials.
CCA: How was life just after graduation?
ML: I was desperate. I had been doing collaborations, but nothing that I could make a decent living of. I was trying to decide whether to stay in London or to go back to my home country.
Luckily, I got a commission for doing the illustrations of a business book, thanks to the Graduate Show [LM1] we did at the end of the course. I managed to sell a few prints too. Also, I was awarded in a design competition I took part in August, in which the prize was a 3-month freelance paid placement. So at the end it started working for me. Since then I’ve been collaborating in different paid and unpaid projects and commissions. Now I’m working as in-house illustrator doing greeting cards, stationery and wrap, while I keep doing other projects as freelance.
CCA: Any word of advice for current and future students?
ML: I still remember how annoyed I was each time I heard ‘be patient, work hard’ a mantra that creative people give to each other. Although I must say it’s true. My words would be, in order of importance: work hard, build your presence online, network abundantly, go out from time to time but be essentially workaholic and do not compare yourself too much with others. It can be really depressing if taken too seriously. Take inspiration from different sources, anything that interests you. Become yourself, learn and copy from the best ones, and let the world know you are there. Even if you have nothing to say, that’s something worth saying. Get the stuff out of your chest because in failure and fear you are not alone, although it seems so.
Knock many doors and drop many CVs –success is also a matter of statistics, so if you try 100 times you have lots of chances to get one. And you’ll learn along the way.
If you would like to see more of Mercedes work and get in touch with her please visit the links below.