October 9, 2010

Telling Stories and Making Things Up, Too

An Interview with Illustrator Lesley Frances Vamos

Part 2 of 2 (Link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to enlargentize

Lesley, could you take us through the steps it takes you to create a piece? Which steps in the process do you find the most difficult to master and why?
Coming up with a piece really varies. What I call ‘fan art’ is heavily influenced by the world I’ve chosen to live in, whereas my original art can come from anywhere and at anytime. I try my best to use my own life as inspiration (‘
a nose knows’). And it’s not so much that I have to think a piece is brilliant but that I can say with confidence that it’s unique.

In terms of the process itself, I generally start by drawing my line work in my sketchbooks; then once I’m happy with the look, I scan it into Photoshop for colouring. The process is still a work in progress as each day I learn new things about the program and ways to make the drawings retain that traditional aesthetic. Not to mention that I am still looking at ways to make colouring faster and more enjoyable, a part of the process that takes 90% of my time.

There are many times when I start with a sketch and get an idea half way through before I start making ‘changes’ to my original plans. For example, when drawing ‘
Cloud Chaser’ above (ZN: again follow this link for the accompanying ‘story’ as well), I really wanted to have a go at drawing a plane. When I had finished I realised no one was flying it. Not wanting to rub it out or mess up the design, I had to figure out another way to get a person into the piece. So, I put the girl on the roof and it all flowed from there.

Really for me, the most difficult part is staring at a blank page before coming up with or getting an idea. This can be fairly daunting as I’m sure many will tell you. To combat this, I try and make sure I have an idea before I even take my sketchbook out. Either that or I start with fan art or just plain ‘copy’ things until I feel ready to tackle something more original.

Plus, I don’t really enjoy colouring as many will tell you (ZN: hm, we wonder if maybe it’s related to
her issues with tanning? ^_^). I don’t know why, considering that as a kid its pretty much all I did (it was something I could easily control). To make the process more enjoyable I always make sure I have music or a movie playing to get me through. Plus when I was in California, I found talking to my boyfriend on skype helped quite a bit too… one of the only advantages of being so far away from him!

I’ve seen as well that you have run different blogs over the years, ranging from your
adventures in California to your latest more art-focused postings. Do you find blogging to be the most efficient method of getting your ‘message’ out there or does something else such as your DeviantArt account (or Facebook, etc.) work better for that? Do you intend to expand your on-line approaches?
I don’t know that my blogs are to get my message out there as I doubt very many people could stand to read the amount of content I put up (my family included).

My travel blogs are more personal and started because as a kid my mum always made my sister and I keep travel journals on our large trips away. The
blog documenting my final year at the University started out of a course requirement and just kept going. I’m nothing if not prolific.

art blog on the other hand is very new. The initial idea started, as with most social network forums, because of peer pressure. Basically, I followed a few blogs and was convinced to start an art blog by those not interested in looking at my page on DeviantArt. Before I started though I wanted to make sure the blog would be a worthy investment of my time and others.

So I spent some time thinking of a concept that would be a bit different and would challenge me. My final idea was to write and illustrate a small story once a week. I do relax the rule every now and then for time reasons, but its so far been a great way to get a new crowd to offer feedback on both my art and writing style.

You write amazingly voluminously (or perhaps more politically correct-ly put, quite fast and in thorough detail?). Have you missed your calling and instead want to secretly write?
Its actually quite funny how much I write these days (ZN: for the poem that accompanies this picture, see
here). When I began to write stories in primary school, I was absolutely shocking. Being contained within the bounds of my then (and still) poor spelling skills and not having a clue what to write about, I would usually stick to the same story each time. My stories would be again and again about something along the lines of a trip to my dad’s house or to my mum’s hospital (noting that my mum wasn’t a doctor or nurse and has never owned a hospital).

The story was in fact copied from my friend who suggested I write about what I did on the weekend. After she showed me what she had written, I decided to write the same thing… all year. I would never end the stories, figuring that concluding with “it was all a dream”, “to be continued” or my classic “what do you think happens next” would suffice.

Then one day, I had an almost otherworldly epiphany and wrote a story that was 10 pages long. I was so proud and my teacher likewise that she told me to take it to all my previous teachers and read it to them and their classes (still one of the best encouragement’s I’ve ever received ^_^). Since then I’ve found it much easier to write. It helps that I have a tendency to talk too much – which I channel as well as into a good memory for the many mundane facts of my life and other things.

But to answer your question, my wish is to be able to do both. I like presenting my work in this way. It started as a challenge or self-dare, and is slowly becoming something that I just simply really enjoy. Its nice not only to be able to practice writing and drawing things that relate to the text and encapsulate a paragraph in one still, but that allow me as well to reminisce on my childhood.. one that I was very lucky to have!

Recently you have received a good deal of attention on the e-waves as mentioned for your ‘re-imagined’ Simpsons portrait of the family as ‘real’ humans. This is of course not your only redux of a known story – where I’m still torn between HHGTTG, Scooby-Doo or the Wizard of Oz as to which is my favourite (ZN: for more examples, see at the end of Part 2 of this interview). Why do you think these exercises in (re-)tackling known characters are useful for you?
Hm, I do this for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a way to get my name ‘out there’. If you really want to get some feedback or people to look at your work, the best way to start is with a pre-existing fan base.

Another reason, as I mentioned, is that I usually find doing fan art useful when I’m struggling with original ideas. And finally, it’s a great challenge to take something that’s really well-known and established and give it your flavour so that it’s both recognisable yet new.

I would think that one of the most obvious potential outlets for your style would be children’s book illustrations – admittedly a very difficult and competitive market to break into – or at least perhaps even the general cartoon market for the younger aged audience. Is that a specific aim for you or do you feel that is too limiting for you to commit to at this stage?
I definitely find I seem to gravitate towards a younger age group. I think it’s a combination of the fact that I love kids and want to give them something meaningful and memorable to hold onto. Plus, being a big kid myself – not to mention that I still look about 13 years old – helps it all nicely fit together.

I also really enjoy working with round, appealing shapes and find they come more naturally. So I’d love to work in children’s book publishing, doing both writing and illustrating. Having said that though, if anything pops up that is completely different that I think will give me a neat challenge and is a great opportunity, I’ll take it!

Along these same lines, I notice from at least your on-line portfolio that most of your works have a true sense of innocence to them. Is that intentional? In addition, you once mentioned that you’re not comfortable being scary. Why is that?
The innocence is not intentional at all. It’s just who I am.

I’ve always been a slightly naïve person and have always been told I had an innocent-looking face (I have no idea what that means). Again, looking much younger than my age plays a big part in all that I’m sure. People won’t even swear in front of me. Not because I don’t like it or don’t do it myself (I do!) but because people just find it really uncomfortable. Something profane is always followed by a furtive glance in my direction and a quick apology – which I honestly do not get!

It’s even funnier when I swear and people scold me: “Lesley, you swore! You shouldn’t swear!” I suppose to them its similar to seeing their grandmother or a baby letting one fly. So yeah, the innocence is something I can’t seem to escape, not that I mind; but I would like to be able to draw things that generate an emotion besides: ‘aaaawwwwwwwww’. Still, scary for me though usually comes out fat and cute.

recently asked another artist about their experiences working both as a lead character designer, which involved 360° views, coloration under different lighting and more in comparison to their assignments as a lead conceptual artist. As you’ve experienced both as well, do you (or would you) have a preference for one approach or the other in that regard?
Not really. I love character design, I think I likened it once to having children. You get to create a life and personality, although unlike making children, all you need is a pencil and paper. But I also love coming up with scenes and illustrations that are more conceptual or storybook related.

Bottom line: I love to draw! Beyond that I’m honestly not that picky.
Lesley, you have 'collected' an amazing array of talents and skills through your educational focal areas of Digital Media, Film, photography, animation, design as well as your own listed interests – which include in addition to art and illustration reading, singing, playing instruments, being active, cooking (OK mostly eating). With that loaded description now in mind, what area have you not worked in at all or would like to work more in?
Oh that’s a great (and tough) question. I’m known in my family for being a serial ‘try-er’.

I would always try a different activity each year and once I had an accolade OR was not getting better quickly enough, I would stop and try something different. I would best sum this up in a conversation I once had with my mum:

Mum: Lesley, are you sure you need to get your own skates? You’ve only been figure-skating for 6 months… I still don’t know what to do with the tae-kwon-do uniform and ballet outfit you HAD to have?
Me: ~sigh~ mum, if I’m going to be an Olympic figure-skater, I’m going to need my own skates!

Of course, this would eventually turn into something along the lines of me wanting to be an Olympic swimmer, or hockey player, prima ballerina, gymnast, acrobat (noting I almost joined a circus and still know how to juggle), karate master, Sai swirling ninja... the list goes on. So you can understand there isn’t a lot I haven’t tried. (ZN: for the side-splitting story that goes along with this illustration of Lesley trying out ‘Sumo wrestling’, please see

I would love to do musical theatre, and get involved in stage production – set design and costume design, etc.. I used to write plays in high school for drama that I thought was lots of fun. Oh and I’d also love to continue to indulge my passion for teaching and start some art classes for all ages and skill levels. I’ll stop myself there before this becomes an essay!

So what’s next for Lesley Frances Vamos?
As much as I can manage!

In a few years I would love to be writing and illustrating my own children’s books. I think it’s about time Australia had some more original literature characters to look to and represent us! So I have some ideas for how to approach that.

I’d additionally like to be doing things such as freelance for animation studios doing character design, writing young adult fiction, as well as continuing to create poems and maybe even songs. I want to start taking singing more seriously and maybe dabble in musical theatre. I also want to run Art classes for children and adults as well as continue to teach at parties and other events.

Finally, my biggest and perhaps most challenging goal is to improve the art community and culture in Australia, something I can see turning into an on-going project but one that really NEEDS to happen.

To close out Lesley, what is something about you that would make the rest of us – kids or even just those of us who are kids at heart – chuckle?
Unfortunately, people find ways to chuckle at me on a daily basis, because I’m both a complete klutz and also because I tend to just blurt out all the fairly random things that pass through my head. So, its hard to pick just one.

One thing that does come to mind now is my ability to attract strange people. My mum is convinced she passed it onto me as she too seems to draw in the crazies. Honestly though, just spend a day with me and you will almost certainly have a conversation with a homeless person, be invited somewhere by a creep and be witness to some of the weirdest situations you’ve even seen in your life, including people getting into the boots of their car before they drive away at the shopping centre. It does make for some great stories though!! ^_^


Lesley Vamos is a talented illustrator and designer who beyond any shadow of a doubt has an extremely promising career ahead of her. Her
updated blog site (or perhaps better said, newest blog site) is a great place to not only enjoy her latest sketches but also her daily travels, be they in current times or those that head down memory lane.

If you want to look back, she has one of those fabulous
Experience’ sections in her CV that reads, well, that reads a lot like my own from way back when. She’s done character and concept design work, flash animation, logos, signs and more! She’s been hired as a professional photographer under the most stressful of conditions (read: wedding photos, gasp!) as well as several other free-lance tasks. She’s just returned to the great Land Down Under after spending a year at UC Irvine in sunny Burbank, Cali-For-Nigh-Yay, where she looked to gain experience in the animation industry as well as meet her idols! She’s now busily working on getting her next challenges lined up, including working on a new web-site plus setting up a shop for prints and clothes.

Oh and do NOT forget her recent production of these awesome, self-decorated shoes, even though we’re not sure if this is going to be a commission-based activity or not! (ZN does point out that you are responsible for procuring your own cool socks, noting Lesley is known for wearing ‘stripey’ knee-high socks, proudly possessing an eclectic collection of 14 different pairs and counting!)

And in breaking news, some of Lesley’s work has been recently published, where she is proud to have placed 5 illustrations in a very sophisticated
business tome (additional: that the author is her father had in fact no bearing on the assignment which was put up for bids by the publisher! So extra kudos for that!!). In addition, she’s recently taken the plunge into the dog-eat-dog (but in a nice way) world of children’s book writing and illustration by becoming a card-carrying member of the scbwi. In the meantime, if you’re now totally enamoured with her work, drop her an email any time for print or commission queries!

And now a few extra treats because you’ve been such a good audience:

Scooby-Doo and The Gang (I always had the hugest crush on Velma):

The Wizard of Oz


Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

And finally, Lady Gaga (just a few months before she got famous):


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Lesley Vamos or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.

1 comment:

Zac 'Joe smith' Lowing said...

Hmmmm, what to say... would, 'she's cute!' be off topic? lol. Lesley has a nice style, something about the weighting of the characters proportions makes me feel like I am not just seeing them in that moment, but where they where and where they will be. (Ugh, where... spell check, yeah, right version of word in question).
Les, I get the part about having the feeling of the paper under your hand, doing art with a computer is like trying to paint with a piano leg... clumsy at first. It would be cool to have a person near by that when you don't know the exact spot in a program to do what you want, they could just show you. Then again, maybe we wouldn't have found so many interesting other things.
Maybe I missed the link, but just how did you entertain all those kids with a broken leg and a box of legos?
As for new characters for Australia, your country does seem typecast a bit, at least here in the USA. It could be worse, you could be in... um... Canada, which is known for, um... Mounties? So how do you come up with something new that isn't cliche', yet from there?