Artist Spotlight: Katie Leamon
Katie Leamon is a family-run stationery brand based in London. Launched by Katie in 2010, the company has quickly grown with the help of Katie’s sister Rachel, mum Jane, and partner Ruairi, and the addition of Katie’s first child Baloo has introduced a delightful third generation to the team!
In this month’s Artist Spotlight, Katie chats with us about her creative process, time management as a new mom, and the inspiration for her playful new greeting card line ‘CUB’ (featured in our June Snailbox).
Tell us about the birth of the Katie Leamon LTD!
I started the company in 2010 following a desire to work for myself and see my designs materialise into my chosen product. The control freak in me was not satisfied with freelance work so I quickly began work to build my own brand.
I initially made a range of products with my illustrations and graphics on them including our debut card range. This was picked up by Liberty of London during their open call day that summer, and soon after I was lucky enough to sell to Paperchase and Selfridges via a new designers trade fair, which quickly solidified what worked and what I needed to focus on.
Did you always want to be an artist, even in childhood?
Yes. I always loved creating things, and I have always loved stationery so it was a very natural progression from my work. Throughout my studies I always had lots of sketchbooks and moodboards on the go and documented everything on paper.
What is your favorite medium to create with? Describe your process.
It varies. I like to switch it up in between collections so things stay fresh. My go to medium is pen & pencil and plain paper... I like to sketch and doodle the ideas out in my head then work backwards to make them a reality. I build moodboards from past collections, new colour inspiration and signature styles. Despite the medium I start this way. If I am going to do things digitally I will then sketch on my ipad or play with type in illustrator trying to find the right balance.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I tend to reflect initially, so I will look back on whats worked from previous ranges and build on that. I then look for colours and shapes in architecture and interiors and typographical styles in new or vintage advertisement. I have a very organic process; one thing tends to lead to another.
What's your solution for combating “creative block” and maintaining productivity?
I find sometimes I have to just ride it out. Concentrate on what you can do, and there are always a hundred other jobs to be done anyway! I will then remove myself from the situation, visit a gallery, look over magazines, make a moodboard and it soon comes back.
What does a typical day at your studio look like? How do you manage your time?
I try to find at least half my day doing design, but quite often that might be doing formatting design, editing design or sampling. Its not always newness — that tends to be more seasonal. I catch up with everyone first thing in the morning. We have a production studio in Essex about half an hour away from our London studio, so I make sure everything is going okay there and finalise anything I am needed for before cracking on with my own design work.
I find there is never enough hours in the day, especially since becoming a mum, but I have got better at prioritising and being more productive in tighter timeframes. We juggle work with home life between me and my boyfriend Ruairi. He works alongside me at the business and we both get at least a day or two at home with Baloo every week too. We have also got better at switching off at the weekend, made easier by having a two-year-old to run around after!
What do you enjoy doing in your “free time”?
Spend time with family & friends. We have both got enormous families, so every weekend we tend to see them or friends. I love being outside so come spring we will spend most of the time out in the garden, or at the park. I am a foodie too so if Ruairi and I get the chance we will head out for dinner when we can.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced to get to where you are now?
I think the hardest challenge for me is managing people. I don’t think it comes naturally to me, and I struggle as I want to make sure everyone is happy while also installing a hardworking work place.
I also struggle with accounting. I’m not very business minded, so having Ruairi on the team really helps as he is a lot more logical in this approach.
How does the culture of your city contribute to the development of your independent business?
I think there are a lot of creative independent businesses in London. It’s very vibrant and inspiring. It’s a great place to live and we count ourselves very lucky! The downside is that its harder to stop and switch off. There is a pressure to work long hours in order to succeed — something that I always struggle with — but I’m actually learning to work smarter now we have a child.
How did your sister company “CUB” come about?
CUB is a diffusion line, introduced in 2017 and inspired by the birth of our little boy (called Baloo!) I wanted to create a more playful, energetic and colourful collection, but it was not in line with our main collection, so we decided to launch it in its own right as a sister company. CUB is our playful outlet, with brighter and bolder designs. It was lovely to have complete freedom in my expression without worrying about something being 'on brand'. I think our CUB line has certain similarities to the Katie Leamon collection but we felt that it would be potentially confusing for customers and also appeals to a slightly younger market. It’s also quite fun to launch a new brand where you can create exactly what you want with complete freedom!
We hear you are working on a new range of cards for your main line. Can you tell us a bit about it?
We have literally just launched (today!) a range of cards using recycled coffee cups from leading coffee retailers that would have otherwise gone to landfill. It’s been amazing to put to use a material that encompasses such great morals and combine it with our signature style. All our products are responsibly sourced, but this is the first range that is made from 100% recycled consumer waste, and the collection has come out so well. It’s such beautiful paper; you would never know!