The Smell of Creativity
We recently spoke to the hugely inspiring illustrator and mental health expert Amberlee Green, founder of Line & Honey. Amberlee brings a sense of intentional and inclusive wellbeing to her softly reflective artwork, by visualising what healthy wellness can look like.
What is it that you create?
I’m an illustrator and my work is centred around the feelings of wellbeing and rest. I mostly draw women, usually in interior spaces that feel calming and relaxing. My work is partly aspirational, as my practice grew out of my own need for self care and by putting it on paper I’m hoping the calmness will wave into my own life! And partly because there’s an understanding, particularly with women of colour, around our inability to tap into wellness and relaxation for ourselves, so I really focus on that.
I create framed art prints for people to buy to put up in their home or offices and I’m commissioned by companies, to bring that Line & Honey ethos of relaxation and wellness to their brands through illustration. For example I might get a brief around launching a new cocktail menu using local sustainable ingredients, and I’ll create a library of illustrations for them to use for their new menu or for their new bar.
How did Line & Honey come about?
I created Line & Honey at a time I needed it the most, to cope with a feeling of being overwhelmed. I’ve always been creative and loved drawing and painting, but I left it behind when I was studying for my degree in psychology. I went on to have a career in in mental heath working for the NHS, and then took on a masters in psychiatry, and it was at that point, when I was feeling very stretched and overwhelmed that I asked myself what it was that used to ground me and give me space to breath, and it was drawing.
What is it about wellness you find important?
For me it’s about the visibility and representation of women of colour. The wellness space is a big industry and visibility wise, it's been limited for women of colour. Commercially, its a very white space and it’s led to women of colour feeling unable to engage.
We’re living in a society which is full of hustle culture and business, which for women involves dealing with lots of different dynamics in the workspace and for women of colour, it’s even more challenging. Theres very little time for stillness and rest.
People might be working full time, they might have a business, a family or all these things, all which are happening on top of all societal stresses, there’s very little time to focus on yourself and your wellness needs.
Line & Honey really concentrates on creating that space, by saying, this is how it looks - through illustration - if you allow that sense of calmness back, if you give yourself time to relax and say no to those societal demands.
What is the feeling that motivates you to start drawing?
It’s the feeling of stress, when I find myself thinking ‘when was the last time I took at an hour to relax?’ I’m a busy person, I’m not that good at meditation and I’m not great at dedicating hours to straightforward mindfulness, so instead I incorporate mindfulness into my drawing practice, because you have to sit and be very focussed, very present. You can’t be up and down loading the dishwasher, Drawing is a very soothing practice, mine’s also very minimal and layered, you have to do one thing before the other, it’s an antidote to all the chaos.
What tuned you into scent?
I’m quite a sensory person and scent has always been a big part of my life. I use sensory experiences and rituals to help me zone the day, for example, in the evening, without fail, I light a candle. My evening ritual is “lights are off, lamps are on, light a candle and it’s evening.
What first tuned me into scent was family. My parents are Jamaican and they’re very sensory people, my mum is such a big candle person and we always had candles and incense around when I was growing up. And creative things were always happening in the kitchen! There was always cooking with fragrant smells and delicious ingredients around.
It’s this familiarity which connects me, once you associate scents with certain things - home, food comfort - candles can become ritualistic because they are always anchored to something else. When you leave home, you tap into those rituals to make yourself feel at home.
Does your Jamaican heritage inform your scent appreciation?
Jamaica smells like food! It’s such a rich and technicolour place, you can’t go anywhere in Jamaica without smelling the jerk pans, the sweet plantain, the mango trees, it’s a very sensory place. I think everyone from the Caribbean is very sensory.
How do you use scent during the day?
I use candles and sent to wake me up in the morning and relax in the evening.
For morning I use rose and fresh florals to wake me up, I love rose scents, a lot of my skin care is rose scented florals, it taps me into that feeling of get up and go, the sun shining, all these indicators direct me to being up and about.
My evening candle scents create a sense of warmth, because I like to be warm at all times, I still wear socks to bed in August! So vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and spices all tap me into evening time and bring the pace down, bring me into the present and allow me to leave the daytime issues behind.
Do different scents produce different work?
Yes! Because I create a feeling of comfort and relaxation in the evening, theres no brain work happening, so the work I do then are my own illustrations of women lounging around, feeling comfortable and familiar. I don’t want to be creating anything new, I’ve had that the whole day.
Whereas in the morning when its bright and I’m in this awake mode with the floral candles lit, that’s where the idea generation happens. So I tackle new commissions and brain storm new ideas then. I listen to what I need.
Do you stick with the same scents?
I rarely revisit the exact same candles twice, there’s so many lovely ones and I’m curious to try them all. I’m very clear on what I like, so I rarely buy a candle that I don’t love, its not a lucky dip for me, I chose intentionally but I do like to explore too.
I love the floral and warm fragrance categories, orange blossom, rose, these are the smells that make me feel very awake and alive in the morning.
Have you ever had creative block?
Overwhelm for me is a common feeling, I like to have order and organisation in my day to feel in control my output, in times of uncertainty and overwhelming situations, there is no candle or smell that can help.
Creative block is an interesting concept, it’s routed in how you feel about yourself rather than about the ideas are coming out of your head.
When you’re in creative block it might be that your ideas are just as good as the rest of them, but when you have that feeling of being overwhelmed, you can’t sooth yourself like you usually can, you can’t convince yourself that your work is good, you’re more derogatory and negative.
At that point you need to stop. If your headspace wont allow you to feel congratulatory about your work, thats where creative block comes in. You don’t think your work is good enough but in reality you just aren’t in the right mindset to see your work and appreciate it’s the same work you’ve been doing the whole time .
Do you have any tips for young illustrators starting out?
Illustration is about communication, narratives and storytelling and at the beginning of their careers, illustrators should think about the story that ties all their work together. It’s what grounds us and allows us to keep creating work, doing different commissions. So I would say, focus on what that story is for you and use that as your starting point.