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Art for the Heart: An Interview with Xavier Leopold

Art for the Heart is called “a journal for a happy, confident you”. What do you think that it is about art which instils confidence in people?

Confidence comes in being able to be authentically ourselves and express our thoughts and feelings. The book gives young children an outlet to do that, a chance to fully embrace who they are (flaws and all!) and how to process how they feel. The illustrations are fun and playful but feature a range of emotions like tears and being ‘goofy’ that the reader may not have felt confident enough to embrace in the past.

The activities give them simple and creative tools to control how they choose to navigate their day-to-day lives from decision making and friendships; eating well and exercise; and being vocal about matters that are important to them. In many ways, Art for The Heart makes room for their voice, which is very empowering.

Why did you choose to make the book into a form of journal rather than perhaps a colouring book?

My thinking was that weaving in creativity and wellbeing into young children’s everyday lives in a way that feels organic makes the notion of mental health and wellbeing less intense if you know what I mean. What’s really clever is that the book is both an activity journal and a colouring book – simply colouring in the illustrations (over 80 of them are packed throughout the pages) is therapeutic and a form of escape and expression.

Each of the pages is curated to help guide the reader/artist to use their imagination. How did you decide on the appropriate number and type of prompt?

To be honest, I don’t think that there was an ‘appropriate number’. The number of activities and illustrations vary across the 9 chapters and I guess the editor and I followed our gut-feel to land on ‘just right’. What was important to us activity-wise was to approach the theme of the chapter from enough angles so that each reader ‘gets it’.

As well as art challenges, there are a 5-A-Day Challenge and a Food Quiz. How important is it to you to keep a journal not only of thoughts and feelings, but of consumption, too?

Very important! We only have one body so we might as well take care of it. I think that what we consume can have a major impact on how we think, move, and maintain our overall wellbeing.

The book offers both inspiration and encouragement. Do you think that it is important to constantly reassure people with both? How do you find this works for you?

I think it is important, especially in the early years of our lives. Inspiring somebody brings hope, and encouragement brings out the confidence in them. Growing up, I was always cheered on by my family to do anything I put my mind to, and I think that sort of nurturing goes a long way subconsciously.

I notice that there are no blank pages in the book. I find this reassuring as I never know where to start with a blank page! You would have had to, though - do you find this difficult, too?

At times there were creative blocks, however my way around that was to read the literature and imagine how the motion of the words would translate into a scene. I think that using this method allowed me to not only tap into my inner child, but it also allowed me to create just the right feelings to bring this book to life.

How and when did you turn to art and what has it done for you?

I turned to art during lockdown, a time when the world paused and distractions from our daily hustle and bustle all seemed to disappear. Being in quarantine and practicing social distancing meant that I had more time with my thoughts and realised that I had a lot on my mind that I wanted to express urgently and creatively. Art was, and still is, very therapeutic for me. Between April 2020 to September 2020, I created 28 paintings which went on to be curated into my first solo exhibition in October 2020 at gallery@OXO along the South Bank.

After creating this book, did you fill in your own copy when it had been printed?

Ha, great question, the truth is I have not. I’m still pinching myself over the fact that I have published my first book and still processing this pinnacle moment. I guess once I get down from cloud 9, I’ll give it a crack!

If you were asked to describe your work, do you feel that it defines you as an artist, as an illustrator, or would you use another term?

My work in the context of the book defines me as an author and illustrator. My painting/artistic style derives from my doodle habits so there are similarities between my painting and illustration technique.

My paintings are a blend of abstract portraiture and cubism with the unique eyes and vibrancy of my colour palette being my signature style. You’ll see the eyes on the illustrations throughout the book but of course, the colouring is entirely down to the reader(s). I must say, I’ve already seen some impressive colouring in.

Does art talk to your heart? Do you turn to it to help with all your feelings?

I really do! I’d like to consider myself as an emotionally driven artist and it feels great to have art as a vehicle to channel my emotions at any given time. Whether I’m feeling down, happy or just need to ‘get away’, I turn to my canvas, paint brushes, paints and easel.

What advice would you like to give to reader/users of your book?

To always follow their heart, follow their passion and to really pay attention on what motivates them creatively.

Can we expect more books and works of art from you in the future?

Potentially, but for now I’d like Art For The Heart to take its time to breathe and really have the social impact that Welbeck Publishing and I were looking for.

Art for the Heart by Xavier Leopold, published by Welbeck Children’s, is out now (£9.99).

Art for the Heart – Art led wellbeing workshop with Xavier Leopold

Date: Saturday 14th May

Time: 1-2pm

Address: Brixton Studio, 9 Brighton Terrace, London, SW9 8DJ


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