It’s easy to see why our students are drawn to the work of photorealist artist Ileana Hunter. Not only does the realism impress them, (it would impress anyone) but its powerful use of negative space evokes an emotional response, tells a story, and makes her work instantly recognisable. For students, she is definitely an ‘I want to do that’ artist.
“Lots of art teachers contact me to say my students have picked your work to study and send me an amazing array of drawings that students have created inspired by my portraits. I feel so proud of them all.” Hunter told me.
I’m sure in the eyes of many aspiring artists, Hunter would be viewed as someone who has made it. The 200,000 followers she has on Facebook bear testament to that. But, throughout the interview, I got a sense that this was an artist who was constantly working hard to make a living and raise a family.
Born and raised in Romania, Hunter moved to the UK in 2008. She told me that as a child she was ‘bookish’ and this may go some way to explain her perfect English and broad vocabulary which she tells me she learnt at school.
At school in Romania, art was only on the curriculum for Hunter between the ages of 7 and 10 and she remembers it being formulaic. She recalls being asked to draw a landscape in gouache with little guidance. Music wasn’t on the curriculum either. This didn’t stop her, she was always drawing throughout her school years.
Hunter completed a psychology degree and masters to meet external pressures, even though she knew, as soon as she stepped into the University, that it was a mistake. She completed both degrees because she wasn’t a ‘giver-upper’. All the time she was a University, she was drawing.
When she came to the UK Ileana Hunter took the huge step to work full time as an artist.
“For me growing up, it was unfathomable to not be employed by someone else. Becoming self employed as an independant artist was a huge risk. My family were used to having the same job their whole lives and used to that security. The thought of their child breaking the mould was pretty out there.“
Family is clearly important to Hunter. She mentioned her parents and children throughout the interview and of course, her children feature in her work and in her plans for work going forward. The drawing below was completed for her daughter and she has also drawn her mother.
It’s always hard to get a sense of scale when you view work on the internet. I had assumed that Hunters drawings were large because she captures so much detail, but her work was smaller than I expected but no less impressive.
“I’ve always been short-sighted. Sometimes I draw on a larger scale, but I find it doesn’t quite work as well. You have to play to your advantages. If you’ve been given something that is almost like a disability, think of a way to turn it around.“
Hunter takes pictures of models in her home photography studio, and whilst she does, they talk. She feels that her best work has resulted from making a connection with the model.
“They tell me their life story, the good and the bad, we talk and there’s healing in this. Things come to light that perhaps none of us knew before. Maybe, my schooling [in psychology] did have an effect on my life as an artist.” Hunter revealed.
She told me about the tools of her trade. A putty rubber, a regular rubber and a pencil plane. She had various soft pencils and her favourite mechanical pencil. Hunter told me that even .5mm mechanical pencil is too chunky and she sharpens the tiny lead to a point by doing lots of strokes on scrap paper. She also had an array of tools for blending. She uses cotton buds, and tissues carefully wrapped around her finger, and a brush for the softest blending.
The evocative work above is about Clara her daughter and her invisible friend.
It was the work from Hunters ‘Fragments Series’ that first caught my attention, particularly the work where hands are revealed by a clever use of negative space.
On her website she states that these works are “exploring mental health and social constraints’.
“My natural instinct is always to reduce and find the essence of things.” she said.
It’s fascinating to look at the photograph she took and worked from and to see where her process led her.
“I’m really obsessed with freckles, to the point that I don’t really want to draw people without freckles.“
Finding poignant, punchy images and being ruthless with reducing what she draws is at the heart of her fragments series.
As an art teacher, it is always useful to know the themes that can be found in an artist’s work. The themes I see in Hunters work are:
Below is a portrait of Hunters mother surrounded by magnolia blossoms.
I asked Hunter who her influences were:
“I’m very reclusive… I’ve rejected what was expected of me and so I did my own thing without looking left or right. Subconsciously there must be lots of influences, but consciously, I couldn’t name you any.”
“An important skill to learn is fortitude of character, being tenacious. It will be intensely difficult for those who want to pursue a career as an artist. It will be disheartening at times. When you finish a piece that you’re not happy with, when you’ve had a bad month, if you’ve barely made any money, that’s when it takes a lot of strength to pick yourself up and say ‘I know I’m good at this, I’m going to keep going’.”
Hunter sells her work on Etsy and also recieves lots of commission via her website. She has to reject many of them because the photographs they provide are either not good enough or not appropriate for her method of working. Taking the photograph is an important part of her creative process.
“In order to make it as an artist, you also have to learn to be a marketing person, a business person, an accountant and a social media expert.”
I asked Hunter about whether she uses galleries but she told me she prefers to ‘paddle her own canoe’ and prefers to sell her work herself. “I like the autonomy, I enjoy not being beholden to anybody.”
“I’m a parent, I live on stolen moments to work. I work at night mostly. Up until he [her son] was eight, he didn’t realise I worked at all.”
Hunter told me that she wanted to do portraits of her children. She has already completed detailed, full pencil drawings of them, for them, but she wants to take lots of photographs of them and do some ‘fragments’ portraits of them for her own personal enjoyment. “I’m just brewing them in my head” she said. I can’t wait to see.
If you are an art teacher and want to explore this artist with your students, you can download the artist presentation below to use in your classroom. This presentation was made with permission and in collaboration with the artist. Simply click on the image below to learn more.
Register and you can download 3 of the Free Resources Every Month!
Save money and get 10 resources of your choice every month. The yearly subscription is the best value.
For departments with 2 or more members. Subscribe for a total of 2 teachers to download 10 resources each month.