Meet Katie Leamon, illustrator, and mama of baby, Baloo
The design studio of Papier artist Katie Leamon is very much a family affair. Arriving for this shoot at the converted warehouse space in east London, where she creates her stylish and refined prints and illustrations, we’re greeted with home-made cake and a warm welcome from Katie, boyfriend Ruairi (who runs the day-to-day business) and assistant Seb (not kin but might as well be). Then a gurgling comes from a buggy in the corner and baby Baloo wakes up from his morning nap – wondering who these interlopers are in his studio. Once he’s satisfied that we won’t take his mum from him for too long and he’s cheerily pawing through The Fox’s Socks on his play mat, it’s time for work.
“At the moment, while Baloo is still a baby, we pop into the studio but I am trying to work from home more so he can play,” Katie says. “He has made an appearance at a fair few meetings. He is such a people pleaser, happy to go to anyone and (almost) always smiling! So it’s made it a lot easier for us. I am trying now to get a few hours in there without him so I can crack on a lot quicker, but he is still feeding so I am never far from him. I think it will be a good message for him to learn about hard work and that work can be what you want it to be.”
Keeping it in the family has been the case for Katie and co. long before Baloo showed up. “Initially, I shared a studio with my brother, an artist, who helped me get on my feet,” she says. “My mum stepped in when I got busy, we are incredibly close and she was just helping me out at first. Then my sister was helping too and before long I realised I couldn’t go back to doing things on my own, so managed to work out a way to make it permanent. I am incredibly lucky to have a team managed by family members – there’s complete trust and loyalty that you would struggle to find anywhere else.” With her step-dad, step-uncle and family friends also involved, there’s little need to go paintballing on company bonding trips. “As a team we are very close and those of us not actually related soon become part of the extended family!” With a small team helping her out with the practical side of things, Katie gets to spend half her time actually designing, and half her time approving artwork, checking samples, and researching new ideas. “I always have a sketchbook to hand to sketch and brainstorm new ideas. I try and create a plan for a collection as whole, and to grow from a concept or story. I then work with pen and paper before editing on the computer. I’ve recently bought an iPad Pro to streamline some designs, too. I’m quite old-fashioned so it is taking a while to get used to it.”
Despite her embracing of modern techniques, it’s getting her hands messy that Katie loves best. Namely, in the case of her Papier collection, paper marbling: the method of floating inks on water and then transferring the patterns made onto paper.
“I love the organic patterns created; it’s loose, free and playful but then when finished off can be very elegant.” The Marbre Vert design was made in her bath as it was the only place big enough to use an A1 piece of paper. It’s a work that has left an indelible mark on Katie – and her bathroom. “The blue in it is one of my favourite colours – but my tub has never looked the same since!”
Katie has felt an extra impetus to create work that will make a mark for all her family since Baloo has entered their lives. “He inspires me to design. I love getting my paints out while he sits and plays next to me, and it has more meaning now as we are doing it for more of a purpose; to build a brand we are all proud of.”