Posted Sep 16th 2011 by

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An interview with
Lesley Barneswords by , September 2011

Lesley Barnes is a Glasgow based illustrator and animator with a beautifully individual style, currently forging her way through the creative industry taking in everything from fashion to folklore. Having recently worked with big name clients including Bestival, London’s V&A Museum and indie music legends Belle & Sebastian, Thunder Chunky felt the time was right to have a chat with Lesley and find out more about the creative world’s next big superstar.

Hi Lesley, how are you today?

Hello! I’m good – I woke up, ate some porridge and drew a horse.

We really love your work, is it possible to say how your visual style has come together over the years?

I used to work only in black and white. I used no colour at all. I think I was actually scared of all the hues and shades! Once I was brave enough to actually incorporate it into my work, it was as if someone had opened a magic box in my head, and all sorts of wonder escaped into my world and onto my page. Colour is very important in both my work and my life. I like to be cocooned by colourful prints and objects in my studio. My two favourite sources of colour inspiration are my illustrator friends Thereza Rowe and Simon Wild – if you need a pick me up just visit their websites.

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper design

Are there any shapes you just can’t live without?

I have a soft spot for awkward shapes like pentagrams and triangles – it’s nice to include them in an illustration and show them they can fit in. But the shape king is the circle. The circle is both useful (cogs, wheels) delicious (cakes, biscuits, donuts, pancakes) and makes me smile (a big sun in the sky, a full moon). My source of shape inspiration is most certainly the work of Ben Newman.

Soma gallery

Soma gallery

You recently worked with Belle & Sebastian, and both hail from Glasgow, is there a strong creative scene there? Your visual work suited their music really well, is there a sensitive, creative soul that runs through the city?

I think Glasgow is a very special place. It might be cold and rainy but the people make up for that.

‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ tells a wonderful story, was this your own tale, did it stem from the song, or did it come from somewhere else?

This was pretty much a dream job, as Sarah (B&S’ multi-instrumentalist vocalist) left me with an open brief to create whatever I wanted! For this song I pictured Belle and Sebastian, a boy and girl happy and in love, but with a kind of ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over this contentment (the events they ‘didn’t see coming’). I also wanted to do something that looked quite sweet but had a bit of a darker unsettling undertone with lots of eyes watching and waiting…

I also tried to keep the look and feel of a children’s book (reflecting the fact that Belle and Sebastian took their name from a French kids book about a boy and his dog) so I designed all the characters first as paper puppets.

I hope the animation hasn’t turned out too ‘twee’ or ‘cute’ (which is how people have been describing it!) I did want it to have a slightly scary element…but I’m not sure I really succeeded in frightening anyone….

I also felt that the music and lyrics had the sense of a journey like a train/bike ride, so I presented the narrative as a trip through a magical land via different modes of transport (bikes, trains, ships, airship….)

I Didn’t See it Coming – Lesley’s music video for Belle & Sebastian

As far as I know you’re a fan of folklore, do you think there’s a modern equivalent for storytelling? Could short-animations be the 21st Century’s folk tale book?

That’s a very interesting question! Myself and Jazz musician Kit Downes are actually planning a live fusion of music and visuals called ‘Gods and Monsters’ which is going to be an exploration of folk tales and myths both ancient and modern.

Time Out Magazine

Time Out Magazine

What’s your favourite story, old or new? Would you ever consider animating your own film version of your favourite story?

My favourite story is ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (It’s a short story and you can read it here) It has love, murder and a single flawless diamond the size of a mountain! I don’t think it would work very well as an animation….but I would love to direct a film version of the story!

You work in both animation and illustration, and your themes stray from fantastical folklore and wild animals to fashion and music, do you enjoy the variety?

I really do! Sometimes I think that maybe I should settle down and concentrate on one thing, but I enjoy doing a wide variety of projects. I think what unites all my illustration and animation is a certain bold graphic style and a love of colour, pattern and detail.

Glamour Magazine

Glamour Magazine

What are you working on at the moment? What can we look forward to seeing soon?

As well as ‘Gods and Monsters’, myself and Simon Wild have an animation project we are about to start collaborating on. I don’t want to say too much, but it involves a lost trumpet!

Kit Downes

Kit Downes

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?

Put on a pair of red socks.

Yohji Yamamoto artwork for the V&A

Yohji Yamamoto artwork for the V&A

You can enjoy more of Lesley’s work on her website or get your hands on her prints and products over at her online store. You can also get to know Lesley even better by following her on Twitter.


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