Introducing Simona De Leo, with a passion for jazz and swing dance.

Simona De Leo is an illustrator based in London. She works with both digital and classic watercolour techniques, and likes to combine the two and develop a unique and fresh style. Her main inspirations are floral motifs and capturing the essence of music. Her passion for jazz and swing dance give a touch of vintage flavour to her colour palette and subjects.

With a BA degree in Comics and Illustration from Italy (Bologna) and an MA degree in illustration from Kingston University, Simona is an excellent visual communicator and is able to condense feeling and emotions in just a few lines of drawing.

Please enjoy Simona's responses to our regular Q&A, she really brings to life here how she feels about art, how she arrived at this point in her career, and there's some work featured below to 'make your eyes happy' indeed!

When did you start illustrating?

In 2009, after high school, when I started a BA in Comics and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy.

I’ll be honest, at that time I didn’t really know what illustration meant, but as a child I was always fascinated by big books with illustrations, so when deciding what to study after high school illustration felt the natural choice. I often follow my instinct; it works most of the time! 

Who has been the most supportive in your illustration career, perhaps your teacher, family, friends?

I’ve been very lucky in this and always have loads of support from friends and family. 
My friends were my first clients and supporters, and I’m so grateful for this.

Did you always think art was something that was going to be a major part of your life?

Yes, with not a single doubt. I probably started holding a pencil before I took my first step. Art is in the family blood. My mum’s family consisted of four brothers and five sisters, and all of them are artists. My mum used to paint, two of my uncles paint, one of my aunts is a sculptor, another aunt used to write beautiful poems, and another one is a tailor and also a painter, so it was no big surprise for anyone when I became an artist myself. After all, I was already playing with my mum’s oil colours when I was 7 years old!

What is your favourite subject matter to illustrate?

I love music; sadly I cannot play any instrument myself, but I love to watch musicians playing. For me they’re like gods, able to create all those beautiful melodies. It’s magical. I like to illustrate subjects that make me feel good and to communicate this feeling to those who look at my illustrations. My characters always have closed eyes; they’re daydreaming, enjoying their music, feeling good about themselves — as will be anyone who looks at my illustrations. 

I also love illustrating animals; who doesn’t love animals?! But whereas most illustrations in the mainstream feature common animals like cats, dogs and rabbits, I like to explore and find animals that people might not know, like the jerboa for example! 

How would you describe your style?

Colourful! Our eyes are made to see in colour, so I like to make our eyes happy! 
I use a quite distinctive colour palette, made of bold colours that complement each other, usually with a touch of vintage feeling. 
I’ve been told more than once that my style is poetic and relaxing, and I’m so happy to take that compliment and that people are feeling the things that I want to convey!

What is your favourite collaboration to date? 

When working on a project, I like feeling part of it and being passionate about the thing I’m illustrating. So my favourite collaboration so far is with a small company in London called Salty Jitterbugs. Together we created a swing-dance festival from scratch, which is now in its 4th edition and has become international, with dancers, teachers and bands coming from all over Europe and the US. The festival is called “Mind the Shag” — a name inspired by the iconic “Mind the Gap”.

Collegiate Shag is a swing dance that was popular in the US in the 30s; it’s danced with a partner, primarily to fast swing and pre-swing jazz music.
 I take care of all the illustrations, graphics, and social-media material, and I love it because every year I can have fun with the topic and come up with a slightly new concept. Plus I’m an active part of the organisation and I dance swing myself, so I feel this collaboration as a big part of me and my work. 

What interested you about being represented by Illo Agency? 

I like Illo Agency because it’s different. Nowadays you often see a lot of similar styles in illustrations. Social media play a big part in this. If something becomes trendy, suddenly everyone starts going in that direction. Illo Agency gives you the opportunity to be yourself and to stand out from the mainstream; the key thing is to be different from everyone else. 

Do you have a favourite author, film director, or designer?

I have many, from Van Gogh to William Morris to Bauhaus. But my favourite illustrator/artist/person is Lorenzo Mattotti. I could spend days contemplating his works — the colours, the curves of his landscapes, the shape of his characters; his works are poetic, mysterious, almost from another planet. 

Are you working on any personal projects you can share with us? 

I worked on a big personal project that I completed a few months ago. A non-fiction picture book that features animals and musical instruments around the world. For each letter of the alphabet, an animal plays an instrument starting with that letter; my favourite is the numbat playing the nyatiti. I learnt so much with this project! The world is full of creatures, things and cultures, we could never stop being surprised! I then self-published the book through a successful Kickstarter campaign. 

However, ideas never stop flowing, so I’m already thinking about and sketching for the next project; but for now that’s still a secret!

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, do you have a favourite?

I read more than I listen to podcasts. I follow resources such as Lecture in Progress, It’s Nice That, the AOI. Not long ago I read the illuminating book “Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industry” by Ben Tallon, which is a very comforting read especially at the start of your career, and sometimes I listen to his podcasts on ArrestallMimics

Obviously this is all a bit of teaser to a much wider portfolio, but we're on call/ only an email away - if there's anything you feel Simona could be suitable for. Just contact her agent here > [email protected]

at illo agency we pride ourselves in representing a collation of global illustrators, distinctly diverse in creativity and uniquely celebrates by like-minded clients across a range of commercial markets.