Born in Poland, Sonia Hensler is an artist, illustrator and collage creator who has made the UK her home.
Sonia’s dramatic work caught our eye thanks to its expressive and striking nature. Her bespoke pieces have been commissioned by The Dorchester, Loewe, Coco De Mer, as well as by Citizen Femme among others.
In her own words, Sonia’s art “seeks to arouse, amuse, and surprise in equal measure.” We spoke to Sonia about how she found her artistic style, who and what her inspirations are, what a typical day looks like in her studio, and more.
In your own words, tell us what you do.
I worship at the opulent altar of fashion, theatre, food and film; fun and frivolity are my sensory stimulation. Aspiring to these pleasures, I believe, is not an egotistical whim but an acceptance of human desires. Highly stylised and occasionally uncompromising, I wish my work to be playful, yet provocative and hopefully it will lift your mood, or at least the corners of your mouth!
Have you always wanted to work in this field?
Yes, I was raised in an artistic family, so I found my groove almost automatically – I never wanted to be anything other than an artist. This is my first and only job.
How did you get started as an artist and illustrator?
I was actually adamant from pre-school that I was going to be an artist. This is genuinely the only occupation I have ever been interested in and so I funnelled all my energy into making it happen. I studied an MA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poland, which included a scholarship at Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall.
Who, or what, inspires your work?
I’m a very visual person and I take a lot of inspiration from film. Directors that explore taboo and the sensual – like Bernardo Bertolucci, Tinto Brass, Peter Greenaway and Paolo Sorrentino spring to mind. They have a lightness of touch and seem unafraid to explore challenging subjects in an effortless, almost whimsical way and have fun with it. Terry Gilliam would probably be another one…
How would you describe your work?
My playful works are mostly simple line drawings awakened by an, often literal, splash of colour and the occasional Victorian-inspired flourish. I seek to arouse, amuse and surprise in equal measure.
Best thing about the job?
That I can express myself as much as I want without talking (words are not an easy thing for me). That I can dress however I want whilst creating, listening to dark and obscene music without anyone telling me to stop. Sometimes travelling to cool, interesting places, too.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
When I’m not drawing, I love baths in oils and then to lie on my royal blue sofa and watch interesting films, drinking champagne. I love travelling in Europe and eating delicious local food. I also love walking with my family around Cornwall (where I live). It’s so magical and remains unspoilt in places. Dressing up is great fun too.
Dream travel destination?
Recently I was asked to do a life drawing event for a wedding in a palace in Venice. I also love other parts of Italy like Napoli, Siena, and Sicily.
How do you start your days?
With a cup of coffee, dropping my kids to school, kissing my husband goodbye and finally having all day for myself. My working day is usually quite simple. The morning routine is to check my emails and write to a few potential clients who I would love to work with. Then I generally start drawing.
What’s your go-to uniform?
When I’m out it’s extravagant, outrageous, and sophisticated (often in black and white). When working in my studio, it’s similar, but all dirty and covered in paint.
Describe your workspace.
I like to surround myself with interesting objects in life, and my desk is no exception. It’s old, dark and weathered with legs that terminate with large lion’s feet. My bizarre candles and brass high heels are displayed proudly on top. I’m in a transitional phase at the moment, as I have a workshop at home, but my plan is to move to a studio outside of my house in the near future. I’m a chaotic illustrator making lots of mess so I have lots of inks, pens, paints, scissors, glue, paper, cloth, cameras (the list goes on) along with my trusty old Mac that is literally held together with cellotape after I dropped it. I’m also surrounded by lots of books that inspire me and a big black chandelier, which I love.
Identify something in your workspace that’s special to you.
I have a few things which are very special. I collect some strange things like erotic candles, pointy golden shoes, black and white cases, feathers, crystals – and recently I have been given a beautiful raven’s claw on a golden bullet. Why? I don’t know, but I love them all.
What time of day are you at your most productive?
It used to be evening as I did not have a choice – I have two little girls, who were born 11 months apart – so it was the only time I could work, but now they are young teens so my most productive time is morning until noon.
Work takes you most frequently to…
Still, good old London. If I have any free time I love spending it walking around old corners of London like Soho, Covent Garden or Clapham (I used to live in Clapham). I will regularly visit Sketch, Cinnamon Club and Tate Modern.
What’s your go to lunch order?
Food is very important in my life. However, I live in a very rural location so there aren’t many places to eat out. I usually go to my local organic farm shop and grab some exciting vegetables, fruit and cheese to eat with homemade sourdough bread that I make every couple of days. I like a heavenly Middle-Eastern salad box from Sabzi in Falmouth too. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t live in any city as I would eat too many macarons and croissants.
What is the most rewarding part of the job?
The freedom it affords me to live life on my own terms. The freedom to express myself and creative ideas, from thoughts and dreams to physical realisation. The freedom to indulge in the glamorous, frivolous, whimsical, and sensual sense of aesthetics makes my heart soar.
And the most challenging?
Sometimes clients, or a particularly difficult brief.
If you were to write a two-line job spec for yourself, it would read as follows…
“We are looking for a strong, quirky, art deco style illustrator to work with us on a daily basis forever.”
What did you study in school or university?
I’m Polish and completed an MA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poland.
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
My mother is also a painter so she was my initial inspiration and gave me a good grounding in classical arts. Slowly, as my own interests developed I’ve been very influenced by fashion and fashion illustration, although this is more in the sense of certain aesthetics rather than following current trends. I love Victorian fashion and design, and the more fantastical side of fashion photography such as Tim Walker, Jean-Paul Goude and David Lachapelle. I don’t try to emulate but I’m definitely inspired by Aubrey Beardsley, Mark Ryden and Daniel Egneus.
What were some hurdles you had to overcome in the early days?
When I first moved to London in 2007, it was a very challenging time for me – the city of my dreams didn’t align with actuality. It was quite difficult to suddenly be surrounded by so many people, smells, thoughts, sounds, cultures and general stimulation. As a sensitive person, it was a lot for me and caused me to shut down and desensitise myself somewhat. This was not helpful as an artist and so I sought solace in the (relative) wilds of Cornwall.
What’s the most important work-related lesson you’ve learned?
Be patient and don’t ever give up! Knock on the same doors a few times.
The best advice you’ve ever received:
It was from my husband, Joseph: “Allow space and time in your life to get a sense of who you are and what you want to say as an artist. Try to steer clear of social media and the bombardment of the internet as much as possible — we can all become saturated with other peoples ideas and external stimuli. This can end up with a lot of trend following, worries about ‘followers’ and popularity and ever more complex re-hashing masquerading as originality!” This is something that I am constantly wrestling with.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on my own projects, trying to develop myself as an artist and focus on experimentation, free from the confines of client requirements and expectations.
What’s next for you?
I hope for the freedom and opportunity to be able to incorporate more and more of what I like into my work. I would like the work I produce outside the constraints of a design brief to find an audience. Other than that I try and live for the now — I don’t really plan for the future if I’m honest.
Any Questions or Tips to add?