Sharing Studios

Vancouver illustrator Leah Schell and graphic designer husband Steve Monteith of Abundant Sink Creative not only share their lives together but their studio space as well. Watch Sharing Studios and see how they find inspiration within one another’s work, then read more about Leah’s illustration practice in the article The Wonderful World of Illustration below.

Interested in some of the supplies Leah uses in Sharing Studios?
Holbein Artist’s Watercolours
Windsor & Newton Artists’s Water Colours
Liquitex Professional Acrylic Inks!
FW Acrylic Inks
Kohinoor Rapidograph Technical Pen
Watercolour Palette
Arches Watercolour Block
Opus Capella Watercolour Brush
Opus Allegro Watercolour Brush

The Wonderful World of Illustration

We caught up with illustrator Leah Schell in her Vancouver studio to discuss faeries, birds, and the fine art of marketing.

Pure delight. Words to describe both Leah Schell and the work she creates. For the last fifteen years, she has infused her love of nature and imagination into her professional illustration work. The result is a world rendered in watercolour and ink and presented as original illustrations, books, prints, cards, stamps, and more. A world where Faeries walk woodland paths, birds are bedecked in finery, and mice enjoy afternoon tea.

Opus: Describe your process from idea to paper to completion.

Leah Schell: I begin with an idea [which may stem from] going for a walk around Vancouver, or if I’ve seen a bird or a colour that inspires me. Then I will do a sketch and I mainly just transfer the main subject of the sketch to watercolour paper. Next, I build the background. I paint in watercolour, and I pretty much complete the whole painting before I do the final touches in acrylic ink work.

O: What mediums do you prefer to work with?

LS: Primarily I use watercolour to paint with and an acrylic ink pen. I use the second finest tip I can find and that’s what I usually use for my line work in my paintings.

O: Describe the subject matter of your artwork?

LS: My subject matter is varied. I guess it is Faery and Faery with a capital F, in the terms of the Faery realm. So that includes birds, nature, critters, and the odd humanoid with pointy ears, long fingers, and sometimes wings. I just really love nature and I love the West Coast. I find that it’s an endless source of inspiration. Living in the Eastside of Vancouver we have a lot of green space so if I am ever at a loss I just go for a walk in my neighborhood.

O: What is it about the Faery World that you are trying to portray with your work?

LS: I am interested in the light and dark of Faery tales. What I’m trying to project is a sense of “what if”, that anything’s possible and not everything has been explained or explored. To keep an open mind and a sense of humor … for it to be a place of childish wonder.

O: Why do you enjoy using watercolour as your medium?

LS: Well I began as an acrylic painter and I really like acrylic, but I love the transparency of watercolour. I love the feeling of never really knowing the medium. I’m always learning and I’m challenged by it because it’s not static. Anything you put down on paper you can take away and I just love its delicate nature.

O: Describe your technique/creative approach to each piece.

LS: I try to emulate the Victorian illustrators or late 19th century and early 20th century illustrators. I really love the texture and the gritty feel of their work. I always have that in the back of my mind. My technique really is that I sit down, I do the sketch, and I just let the rest of the painting take me where it takes me. I don’t like to approach it in a rigid way.

O: How do you go about getting your work into the marketplace?

LS: That’s an ongoing process because the marketplace itself is really changing. When I first started marketing my work I did wholesale trade shows and found myself being featured in the artisan area of the trade show. It didn’t inspire me at all because for me, the people that I want to see my work are also the people that I want to connect with. I’m inspired by that connection because just having a conversation with someone at an artisan market may help me bring back ideas to my studio. We don’t create in a vacuum, as the saying goes, and you really need that connection with people to understand how your work is being seen.

O: How do you market/present yourself as an artist?

LS: I never really thought about that because I always try to let the product (the painting, the card, or the print) speak for itself. I stand behind what I create and let it do its thing. I feel that the work sort of takes a life of its own and it has its own voice. I try not to over-analyze or articulate the piece because I really love when someone can look at a piece, see it with their own eyes, and tell me what they see. So as far as marketing myself, I try to let the work be my vehicle.

O: How do you merchandise and diversify your work?

LS: At a market my work has a sort of vintage or traditional feel. So when I actually merchandise, I try to extend on that idea. I use a lot of distressed woods and little cabinets to help add to what the person is seeing. It helps articulate more of the idea or intention of why I’ve created a piece in a certain way. As an illustrator, I love the tactile quality of seeing my paintings in other formats, so I show my work in books, greeting cards, prints, hand bound notebooks, and even vintage postage stamps. I think it’s important to allow those purchasing or viewing my work to see it in different capacities. I like my work to be in an everyday kind of format so it can be part of peoples lives. I think by doing that, it sort of brings my work to life.

See more of Leah’s work at