How would you describe yourself – who is Leon Edler?
Hmm. I’m a conceptual illustrator and cartoonist based in Brighton, UK. I work mostly for newspapers and magazines – The New Yorker, New York Times, Guardian etc. but have also recently worked on bigger projects including designing murals. I work in a simple style with bright colours and (usually) funny ideas.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey into illustration & cartoon? Why you have became a cartoonist?
My biggest love is comedy. I’m a comedy nerd and grew up loving everything from 50s radio comedy to modern sitcoms – Tony Hancock, Flanders & Swann, Seinfeld, Alan Partridge… I wanted to make stuff that made people laugh. I thought that would be for TV, but I liked how immediate cartoons were. I could draw them and make my friends laugh. I won a couple of awards doing that about 10 years ago and slowly turned it into a career. As my drawing improved I fell in love with illustration too.
Can the creativity be learned later, or is it a feeling that is always within the human being?
I’m sure everyone is creative in some way. But it’s a spectrum like anything. I think if you’re really creative, you will always feel a need to make stuff – whether that’s writing, drawing, making music or whatever. But to make good stuff, you need to spend a lot of time practicing – finding what you’re good and bad at.
What is the difference between creating editorial illustration and cartoon?
I have never done cartoons based on a story or topic in the news, so there is complete freedom to do whatever you want. The only thing that matters is that it’s funny. With editorial, it’s much more like problem solving – you have to distill sometimes complex ideas down into the most simple, engaging image possible. And depending on the brief, there might be other factors to take into account too. The main thing they share, though, is that you need to be able to see topics in a slightly different way – to be able to make them interesting or surprising.
You are also co-founder of Room Fifty. What is the story behind Room Fifty? How do you choose the illustrators who are participating?
I started RoomFifty with Chris and Ben (both design directors at the Guardian) as a place to showcase the best illustrators in the world and allow people who don’t work in art or design to discover them and buy their work. The most important thing to us was to make it fair for everybody – really good quality and price for the customers and 50% profit for the artists. We think we found a gap between print on demand sites and high end galleries. It’s exclusive but not elitist. We also want to explore what else we can do with it and have recently been working with museums and charities on exclusive ranges.
We approached most of the artists on the roster because we thought they were the best at what they do. We also want a large part of the roster to be made up of women and people of colour, so we actively focus on that. We also get submissions from artists that we might not know and that brilliant.
Have you ever found it difficult to make a living from what you do? Do you have any tips for artists thinking of doing freelance?
Yes! Of course. My first commission was for the New York Times, but it was another two or three years before I was able to live off illustration, and I think that is still rarer than people think. I consider myself very lucky. I was fortunate to have a wife who supported me, both financially and mentally. I did other freelance work (I was a book editor) but also needed time to develop as an artist.
I don’t have any groundbreaking advice other than:
Working in a studio really helped me – The support, advice and guidance of other people doing the same thing, but further down the road, was a gift. Try and engage with other people doing the same thing.
Also engage with people you want to work with. Contact ADs but be personal – show interest in their work. They are professionals with fragile egos too, so they will remember you if you are personal and show an interest and enthusiasm in your own and their work.
Always be working on something. Even if it’s personal work. You need to get work out there regularly to get on people’s radar. Personal work is good because it shows your voice, your ideas etc.
Be polite. No one wants to work with an asshole.
Work nights, weekends and holidays. Chilling out is important, but if you get offered a job with a tight deadline, do it. That’s how you get your foot in the door.
Can you say the advantage & disadvantage of being an illustrator?
I’ve had a million jobs – debt collector, barman, bingo caller, shop worker… and I hated all of them. So I feel really lucky to be doing this for a living. The disadvantages are the constant worry – no work/too much work, lack of security (but who really has that anyway?), no holiday pay or perks. The advantages are that you have some control over your time, you are drawing for a living, you are creating stuff, you are contributing to culture in some small way, you are adding something to the visual landscape, and each day is different. I get to walk my kids to school and draw pictures in a studio all day. That’s great.
Have you ever had any bad client experience? If so, how did you handle it?
Yeah. Loads. And I haven’t always handled it very well. The main problem arises when the commissioner doesn’t really know what they want until they see what they don’t want. The only thing you can do is be polite and firm, try and guide them, and only do what you think is necessary for the fee they are paying. Usually you can work it out, but I have walked away from jobs.
Have you found any inspiration in an unexpected place recently?
This is really cheesy, but painting with my kids has taught me to enjoy the process of making something rather than bring obsessed with the result. It’s lovely.
What are your top five songs on your playlist?
Oh man. How can you pick 5 songs? Okay, 5 songs that I’m listening to a lot when I work at the moment are
Tindersticks – Tiny Tears
Sid Vicious – My Way
Pink Floyd – Shine on You Crazy Diamond
Tom Jones – Resurrection Shuffle
Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory
What do you like about working & living in Brighton? Where are your favorite spots in there? Food, coffee, shops, etc.
I grew up in North Wales and London always felt a bit much for me. Brighton is chilled out, it has the beach, the countryside, London an hour away, great pubs and restaurants, ping pong tables everywhere. I have 4 year old twins, so I don’t really get to go out much, but for food I like We Love Falafel, Foodilic, The Chilli Pickle, Nayeb Kebabs. Pubs – Basketmakers, The Great Eastern, Prince Albert. I can’t get too excited about coffee shops.
Who are your creative heroes? Writers, artists, musicians, family members or friends who influenced you as you were growing up? Have they changed over time?
Gerard Hoffnung is my biggest inspiration, but also – Tony Hancock, Steve Coogan, Larry David, AC/DC, Garry Shandling, Peter Cook, Edward Gorey, Ivor Cutler, Richard Pryor, John Landis, Jordan Awan, Charles Barsotti, Evelyn Waugh, Armando Ianucci, Chris Morris, Jean Jaques Sempe, Edward Steed, Arnie Levin, Nishant Choksi (as a personal friend and mentor), Chris Clarke (as a personal friend and supporter). There are hundreds and they all feel more or less important at different times.
What other illustrators/cartoonist are you digging these days?
Greg Clarke, Luci Gutierrez, Edward Steed, Tomi Um, Jordan Awan, Tim Lahan, Fran Caballero, Pablo Delcan, Sarah Mazzetti, Tara Booth…
Which comic/cartoon is your favourite?
Are you obsessed with something?
I can easily become obsessed with things, but I have no consistency, so it never lasts.
Could you give us three fun facts about yourself?
I was in the World Beard and Moustache championships
I can usually guess the year a film was made just by seeing a clip of it.
My mum went out with Ray Davies from the Kinks (sorry dad).
Finally, is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do?
What year was Trading Places made?