With clients like Lufthansa, Ted baker, Diesel and Lynx, artist and illustrator Joanna Henly is one of the UK’s most talented and sought after commercial artists. So how did a girl who grew up in Bridgend end up working with such auspicious brands?
I must confess, I’ve admired Jo’s artwork after seeing a mural she’d produced in a shop in Bridgend. As soon as I got home I had to Google her to find out more. She has a unique style and, from what I can see, she’s getting better all the time. Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Jo to find out more about what inspires here unique style.
Please let us about your life in South Wales…
Although born in Wales, due to my father’s career, my family and I moved to different locations around Britain before eventually settling in Bridgend in the late eighties.
Here, I fell totally in love with the Ogwr coast, of which I hold so many incredible memories – especially of Ogmore and Southerndown beach, and long sunny walks in the country. I loved the stepping stones and countryside around the Ogmore Castle ruins. I also spent hours driving over the Bwlch with a friend to paint and draw the beguiling landscape.
My family still resides in Bridgend, though I moved away to study in the mid 90s and now live and work in East London. I try to visit them as often as possible. And I’m always on the lookout for work opportunities back home in order to create extended stays. You can see an interior wall job I painted a few years ago in Mayhem Menswear in the centre of Bridgend.
Describe your style?
Vintage tinged depictions of sensual and empowered women. Traditional portraiture, street-art inspired large scale wall works for boutiques, residential homes and window displays.
I’ve done many a project for companies and brands within advertising and media. I’m a total perfectionist and completely obsessed with line and curvature.
When did you first realise you had a talent?
I do not remember a time when I didn’t have a pencil or brush in my hand. From a very early age I would shut myself in my bedroom or a makeshift den in the garden and enjoy the peace and solitude I found there to just create. When I was younger, I was interested in dance, horse riding and even thought about joining the Navy at one point, after years in the Sea Cadets, but art was my one true passion, which I had to pursue.
Are your parents or anyone else in your family creative?
Dad carved the most incredible Welsh Love Spoons. I use to watch him sketch out his plans on graph paper whilst growing up. He was inspired after reading a book written on the subject by Len Evans, and this inspiration was augmented after he was invited to visit Len at home in Aberkenfig. I think that this was the origin of my love of line and curvature. I’ve not seen spoons as beautifully crafted as dad’s.
What’s your favourite media to work in?
I love the immediacy of the biro or pencil for sketching. But paint is really exciting for me. I’m using a lot of medium with acrylics to give it the feel of oil paint, which I’m planning a return to very soon.
Have you been formally trained?
Yes, after A Levels in Bridgend, I studied my Foundation year in Treforest, Pontypridd before leaving to do a Fine Art Degree in Portsmouth. After a few years in London I returned to study to do a post degree diploma in Public Art, a course I ended teaching on for some time before setting up the business.
What artists or illustrators inspire you?
Renee Grau, Gustav Klimt, Mucha and Egon Scheile.
What is your favorite piece of work to date?
My latest painting, ‘You can’t break me’ (main picture). I’m returning to painting like this after a good 15 year break. It feels like coming home.
Please describe a typical day…
After taking the bike to the studio and making a cup of tea, I begin with free writing. I’ll write for up to an hour, just whatever’s in my head. I helps to clear my mind and with planning the day/week ahead. It’s very cathartic and the best start for a productive day.
I find it good to finish the studio day with something creative happening. Leaving at the point where I feel like I could paint or draw for longer.
Is there a company or individual you would like to work with, or for?
I’ve been very lucky to work with some incredible companies and brands over the last five years. Now my sights are on galleries and gallery representation in and around London. It’s a very new idea, so daunting as well as exciting.
What are your plans for the future?
Goodness. I had a painting hang at the Saatchi Gallery last week, now I would not have imagined that a couple of months ago! It’s an unpredictable lifestyle in a way. I can’t imagine where things will go next and try not to plan too much. Though I do contact galleries, blogs and agencies – I’m promoting my work all the time.
I’ll be securing my sponsorship with a paint supplier shortly, working more with canvas, whilst continuing the illustration business. Who can say? Watch this space.