Emerging Designers: Sally Leung & Stellar Leuna
Two sisters. Twins no less. Both very creative. Both with the same history of interests but both expressing themselves in different creative fields. Ligature Journal caught up with jewellery designer Sally Leung and illustrator Stellar Leuna to find out what makes them tick.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
Sally Leung: I’m Sally and I’ve been making jewellery under the label Lyleu since 2014. I started off learning to make jewellery in art school and eventually continued my jewellery studies in a more technical course to refine my skills.
Stella Leuna: I’m an artist and illustrator from Sydney.
Growing up together, you both have no doubt been informed by the same or similar things. Can you tell us about it and how it influences your work and your decisions to go into illustration and jewellery design?
Sally Leung: We both grew up loving horror and fantasy themed subjects, whether it be gore or paranormal, witches and magic. We were born on Halloween and I think subconsciously it must have sparked a real sense of identification with that kind of imagery and subject matter. Our favourite movie as children was The Wizard of Oz, and I think all of the overarching themes and imagery in that story really struck a cord for both of us. It’s fantasy, a little bit of horror, and very surreal too – all things we just grew up being very drawn to. We would watch it on repeat every single day when we were about four years old and that propelled a lot of our interests immediately afterwards.
I started collecting a lot of jewellery when I was fourteen, which started with markets in Hong Kong that would just do rings with skulls or flowers, intricate cross necklaces, mood rings and that sort of thing in stainless steel. It wasn’t until I found some rings in sterling silver that I realised the aspect of jewellery that was more than just buying mass produced rings. The level of intricacy that is placed into making any ring was really intriguing to me and eventually it went from steel rings in my teens, to buying a silver ring from each place I travelled to in my early twenties, to making my own jewellery. I’m still influenced and drawn to the same type of jewellery and imagery now but it’s just become way more refined to my personal taste and imagination, and came with maturity.
Stella Leuna: We grew up basically having free rein with the television and could watch whatever we wanted. It was the early ninties and children’s television was the weirdest it’s ever been with ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ and ‘Ahh! Real Monsters’ being some of our favourite shows to watch, along with basically any horror film western or eastern at our disposal. We were quiet kids and loved to draw and would always draw together. I guess it was only when we went to different uni’s and studied different things that we went our individual ways in terms of creative pursuits. Sally always loved jewellery a lot more than I did and always collected rings that reminded her of certain times in her life or a place she visited. I just really wanted to do posters and merch for my favourite bands so I guess that’s how we came to that decision. Pretty straight forward really.
Do you ever happen to create a piece/illustration/design independently of each other then come to realise that whatever you’ve made has similar characteristics to the works of one another? Can you give us an example?
Sally Leung: There are definitely influences from fine art in both of our work. We have never made any particular pieces that seemed to be of the exact same subject, but we both favour the use of the colour black, we love fine details and texturing. We both love classical art in general, in particular of the Romanticist/Pre-Raphaelite period. My jewellery is actually inspired by the details of medieval jewellery and armour, and ancient artefacts and I’m intrigued mostly by the history that’s embedded in those objects. Stella composes her drawings in a similar way to a lot of classical art, with predominantly female figures that always remind me of the women in those paintings even when they’re playing a guitar in the modern day. Funnily enough, the jewellery I make appeals to people who also enjoy the same things that Stella’s characters love. Although our specific audiences are different, the core of what we do relates to the same types of people as us so there’s always that overlap. There’s a huge influence from music and horror for both of us.
Stella Leuna: We’ve always just been influenced by the same stuff – occult and horror themes have always been a focus as well as the Romanticist era of art. Anything that touches on the topic of mortality (or immortality) has always been interesting to us since we were kids. We haven’t really created anything similar in terms of the end product because we use such different mediums so I guess the closest we’ve come is just being inspired by those mentioned.
Do you ever work on collaborative projects together?
Sally Leung: We have actually never collaborated, but have spoken of a couple of projects. I think we both just get too busy with our own work, but one day! She has actually done a drawing of one of my lookbook photos from 2016, so she had to draw the jewellery and the model in her style and it translated in such a cool way.
Stella Leuna: No not really but we do make each other things often or trade each other’s art. I actually designed the Lyleu logo and helped with the design of her website a lot and she makes me jewellery in exchange. It’s a bit hard to meld our two worlds together weirdly, because our audiences are quite different. We definitely have some ideas for collaborating together but they’re in early stages so we can’t really say much about that at the moment.
How would you describe your creative processes? Do you think your surroundings affect it?
Sally Leung: I definitely need to have incense or a scented candle burning and music playing when I work. I can’t start until I’ve done that little ritual and put my apron on. I also love having lots of natural light and to work during the day because I can see outside the window at the trees and hear birds, and nature is a huge influence for me as well.
Stella Leuna: I feel like everyone has the same answer to this question so I’ll keep it brief. It’s pretty straight forward – sit, ideas generate, sketch, refine, finish. My surroundings are important and i find it hard to focus without having music or movies playing while I work. I don’t like working around other people so being able to do art for a living is really beneficial to my wellbeing haha. I think I definitely thrive in solitude.
What challenges do you face as an emerging/freelance designer? How did you overcome them?
Sally Leung: At first I had this idea that I had to aim to be at a certain place in my creative career by a certain time of my life, but that only makes things harder. At the end of the day, just keep doing what you love in the way you love to do it and nothing else really matters. People who understand you will appreciate it.
Stella Leuna: Financial struggles are always anxiety inducing but I blame capitalism for making me equate my worth with how much money I make. The way you overcome that is by creating art purely for fun and making sure that you make time for that aside from the commercial work you get, and to place equal if not more importance on the personal work.
What has the experience been like, getting to where you are now?
Sally Leung: Lots of self reflection, trial and error, and meeting lots of new creative people who inspire me to keep going.
Stella Leuna: It’s been great. I have to take frequent mental breaks to really think about where I’m at and where I want to be in the near future, but the best part of this journey is knowing I did it all on my own and I haven’t relied on anybody financially to get through this. Hard work and persistence pays off – and not to mention a positive mental attitude.
What do you love the most about what you do? And do you have a favourite piece that you’ve designed/made, if so, what is it and why?
Sally Leung: I love that I can create wearable objects that people carry with them where ever they go. Jewellery is sentimental and intimate to the wearer and it’s something that very often becomes passed onto another person later on. I love that I’m part of that process or the history of that in some way.
My favourite piece so far is probably the Morta earrings, Urn ring and Arx ring.
Stella Leuna: I love that there are no rules in creating art. You can make whatever you want and it can be as silly or weird or as serious as you want. My favourite piece to date is probably ‘Fatale’ which I created in 2014. I made t-shirts of this image printed on it, then just last year it was featured in a PRADA collection. It was something I drew at 2am in the middle of the night and it came to me really suddenly. I still remember very vividly the moment I thought of it. It was revolutionary for some weird reason. It’s not even the best thing I’ve drawn technically or in terms of skill level, but I just love it. I made it at a time in my life where I felt powerful and motivated and happy, so it reminds me of that whenever I look at it.
Where would you love to be a designer (here, overseas etc.) and why?
Sally Leung: I’ve thought about this before and I honestly think I’m happy working in Australia. Anywhere you go there will always be room for you to add something to the market, and I think Australia has a lot of great jewellery designers and it’s nice to be part of that. In saying that though, a good portion of my customers are actually American so in a way it would make sense for me to work there, but realistically I’m not sure if I can see that happening, at least not any time soon.
Stella Leuna: I know this is cliche but every now and then I think about living in New York. I know it’s incredibly hard to get a visa to live in the states but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I like it there, I dunno.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to young designers?
Sally Leung: Don’t give up just because it feels like people aren’t noticing yet. View your creativity as an extension of your own personal development and just let it grow as you do otherwise you will always be unsatisfied and always be looking to what other people are doing and basing your own success on theirs.
Stella Leuna: Shut up, stop worrying about what other people are doing and do your own thing.
Read this and many other amazing articles in issue seven of Ligature Journal. Pick up a copy at Tiliqua Press.