FRANCESCA HENDERSON

Francesca is a North East London based illustrator who operates pretty analog; each of her line-drawings are created by hand in her studio, using traditional materials. They start out as preparatory illustrations - life forms captured by ink and nib on paper. Francesca then translates the preparatory works onto the curves of the pot using paint and fine brushes.

Trying to use as few lines as possible to capture the form, suggesting it rather than presenting it; Francesca leave it to the spectator to fill in the gaps, interpreting the missing spaces as they feel right. This makes the final outcome collaborative and unique to each viewer, she believes that this keeps a piece ever evolving - what magic for a piece to take on a life of its own after leaving the studio!

What was your first proper job and what path have you taken since?

My first ever job was babysitting and I was hopeless at it - I always ended up eating all of their snacks! My first ‘proper job’ however was in photography, assisting on fashion photoshoots. I worked my way up in the industry through photography to show/event production, I was lucky enough to get to work on fashion week shows for some of London’s most iconic fashion houses as well as  events for brands and private individuals. My favourite part of the job was creating environments that made people feel relaxed at ease, naturally this led me into the world of interiors. The pace is calmer here and allows me a well-balanced work life where I get to exercise two sides of my creativity; part of my week is spent working in the interiors industry, the other part is spent creating my own pieces, mostly illustrations. I feel very fortunate to get to have a dual career – both sides of my work feed the other, each tapping into different parts of creativity and thinking.

What inspired you to be an artist?

In all honesty, I wouldn’t call myself an artist, there is a level of expectation that comes with the word that intimidates me - I am bit of wimp as it turns out. Working without that pressure allows me the space to create freely without any weight of expectation.  In answer to the question though, I have always loved being able to create and my parents were very encouraging of that so following a creative path felt natural.

What excites you?

People - the energy of human connection - good company enjoyed in an informal, welcoming environment is bliss. I’m also a big lover of the outdoors so most outdoor adventures and rural travel gives me a hit.

Who inspires you?

My mum, Marisa was hugely inspirational to me, she had such a strong sense of balance, fun, creativity and self. My partner also has a very inspiring way of thinking - he’s incredibly thoughtful and empathetic, he challenges me in a really positive way. When it comes to creative inspiration, I cannot get enough of the ink works of Joshua Osborn, the silhouetted line drawings of Bella Franks and who doesn’t love the nostalgic joy of Quentin Blake? I’m also a big fan of the photography of Nadia Attura and Joe Howard - you get to travel through both their work, an escapism from the confinement of 2020.

Do you have a daily ritual?

Yes, as self-riotous as it sounds I like to start my day with a little Headspace, a few minutes of yoga and a little bit of outdoor movement. Each is only a small taster-sized session; 10 mins maximum maybe but they each put my brain in the right place for the day. It’s a basic one but I also love the ritual of making the morning coffees, there is something soothing about going through the steps.

Do you have a top tip tool that helps you with productivity?

Writing a list of what you want to achieve the next day so when you wake up you have a plan of action - my whole day would be delayed if I relied on my foggy morning brain to make the plan for the day ahead. 

How do you overcome creative lulls? 

Dry spells in creativity are inevitable - accepting that releases any tension around the subject. I keep two lists on the go; creative to-do’s and administrative to-do’s… I start the day hoping to work on the creative list but if it’s not flowing that day, I switch to the administrative list. Both lists need to get done so if I can’t create today and need to work on the second list, it will clear the desk of admin and free me up to immerse myself creatively when it is next flowing. 

What are your preferred mediums to work with and do you have any tools / equipment that you just can’t live without? 

Dipping inks and a calligraphers nib are my go-to, however I find nothing to be quite as soothing as painting. This collaboration with Jorelle has proved a perfect balance of the two. 

What's your approach to managing technology whilst you’re in the creative groove of things e.g. emails and social media? 

Turning off (most) notifications. It is something I started trialing a few years back after a podcast I was listening to recommended it and it has hugely increased my productivity. The podcast reminded me that technology and devices should be there to serve us when we want them to, rather than us serving them when they want. 

What's your proudest career achievement?

Ohhh I’m not sure, I think what I perceived as big achievements when I was younger were probably more ego-fixes. I won’t pretend to be cured of the human condition as an adult but I would say the satisfaction of a client’s reaction when I deliver I piece they have commissioned is pretty great - if it bares sentimental connection to them and I’ve been able to capture the sentiment for them - If I could bottle that I would.

What other artwork projects have you recently been working on?

I did a collaboration with The Garage Press, translating my illustrations into a few small-run letterpress print editions. I’ve always been cautious to keep my works as single one-off hand drawings because I worried reproduction might flatten them and take away the unique quirks of each. Letterpress however, in its very nature adds its own unique quirks so each print comes out a little different. There is something very satisfying about watching the old press roll over the print and the way the tile bites into the paper. I’ve also been working on some tattoo designs for a client which is new for me – that level of trust is simultaneously the biggest compliment and the most intimidating thing. Mostly though my works are private commissions for line drawings that capture a significant moment or place to an individual – I always love hearing the stories that accompany each brief.

What are you listening to/watching?

On a creative day I like to work to Podcasts and Audio Books - I’m currently devouring Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn - it’s so thoughtful and thought provoking on all elements of human connection.

If I want to zone out with music to focus, Headspace’s Tina Guo playlist is a dream to work to, so is the Hans Zimmer one. I’m also a little obsessed with Melody Gardot, Michael Kiwanuka, Leon Bridges and Madeleine Peyroux.

What’s it been like collaborating with Jorelle? 

An absolute dream - afternoons spent paining have been a soothing escapism - it’s been lovely to translate my work to a more 3D form and a real honour to be asked to. I’ve also used the opportunity to work with more colour than my work usually contains and it’s a been a joyful change. 

How have you found working with a different medium?

I’m a big lover of change across the board; it tends to lead you down new exciting paths or return you to your original position refreshed and with much more gratitude. On this occasion I would say it has done the former, I’ve loved playing with paints - I had forgotten what a joyful and forgiving medium they can be.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

With the nature of my work being about collaboration with the viewer, less is more - I have to be quite considered and held-back with my application. So, I suppose my answer to this question is a little back to front - I think once I have enough of a suggestion of the form to open the dialog with the viewer, but before I get too literal and start colouring in their parts for them.

What dream do you still want to fulfil?

At this very moment in time, I am lucky to feel quite content - that might very well change though. As I mentioned, I love change so I’m sure it won’t be long until I start eyeing up the next challenge. Like positivity, I believe creativity breeds more creativity so working with more creators, seeing, hearing and understanding their work – that’s something I would like more of. I also love travel so getting to explore more of the world would be wonderful. 

You can see Francesca's hand-painted pots here and see more of her work on her website and her Instagram.