Digital Art School: Jonty Lees

We hope you’ve been enjoying the series led by our amazing Cornish artists. In this workshop, Jonty shows us how to take inspiration from the natural world in your own sketch book.


Exploring everyday objects

In this workshop artist Jonty Lees will demonstrate how to make a sketch book and offer ideas of how to fill its pages with drawings inspired by the world around you.

You will need:

  • A4 paper
  • Pencils, colouring pencils or felt-tip pens

Fancy joining in with others for this workshop? You can #createalong with Jonty on the 12th of Novembersign up.


A highly respected artist, Jonty Lees’ work, spans a broad range of methods, including performance art, sculpture, video and installation. His remote life in West Cornwall lends his work a deep connection with the environment, using unpretentious production methods often incorporating beautiful poetic moments. Playful and inventive his ideas are rooted in everyday life often revisiting childhood gadgets and games, or hinging on his desire to employ a particular material or object from bicycles to Blue-tack to Bratwurst, which he uses to explore the eccentricities of human activity.

Lees studied at University College Falmouth and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. From 2007-08, he undertook a residency program at Tate St Ives, where he occupied one of the historic Porthmeor Studios, previously used by pioneering artists of their time Borlase Smart, Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron.

In 2014 Jonty participated in a programme led by Arts for Health Cornwall, bringing great art to older people in care homes. After spending time with residents at Crossroads House, Scorrier, specialists in dementia care, he realised the importance of simple tea and conversation, and commissioned Staffordshire ceramicist Reiko Keneko to produce a set of cups and saucers each printed with a single word, which Lees had tested out using 100 flashcards as a visual trigger to identify which would inspire the biggest reaction.

He is currently a senior lecturer at Falmouth University and works with children, artists and members of the wider community at Pool School Gallery where his research examines the Cornwall Schools Art Collection. Important and culturally significant for both its quality and breadth, it was created with the intention that children should have access to great art.

Can you tell us a bit about your artistic practice?

I paint, I teach and I work with children and young people in Pool, Camborne, Illogan and Redruth on a brilliant project called Pool School Gallery. We have a website and an Instagram page.

How does Cornwall impact, influence or find its way into your work?

In a few ways. Culturally, Cornwall has a wonderful and important history. Tate St Ives, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, CAST, Porthmeor Studios, Back Lane West and new things like The Bankers and Mash Up Festival, FEAST, Krowji – Cornwall has an impressive list of cultural providers. And that’s before we begin to list all the wonderful museums – Helston, Falmouth Art Gallery, the military museum in Bodmin. Geographically, the place is extraordinary. The landscape inspiring. The people are wonderful. I like Cornish culture, the songs, the stone. Last year I worked with the artist Seamas Carey who took me to an interesting and ancient harvest ceremony in Madron.

This season our designers were inspired by the Cornish Modernists – has the work of these pioneers of the twentieth century laid any foundations for you, or does your work take any lead from these artists?

St Ives Modernistism is an important reference for me. I spent a year in Porthmeor Number 5. My friend, Luke Frost, is a living, breathing direct link.

Why did you decide to get involved with Hospital Rooms and Digital Art School?

I was introduced to the project by the artist Richard Wentworth. Tim and Niamh gave a wonderful talk at University just before lockdown. It was inspiring. The staff and students really got what they’re trying (and succeeding) to do.

Which part of the project are you most excited about?

I’m really keen to make some sketchbooks and do some drawing. University has been busy this week, lots of staring at the laptop – so I’m really looking forward to being outside and looking carefully and slowly at the world.

What positive connections do you see between art and mental health?

Art is a wonderful way to express ourselves. I draw all the time. It’s a positive activity. You know you exist. You feel human. It helps us connect to others.

Tell us about your online workshop and what people can expect…

It’s very simple. I’ll show people how to make a sketchbook, and then we’ll do some drawing in it.

How do you feel about hosting a workshop online?

It’s ok, I’m getting used to working online. I’m getting better at understanding the cues and manners of it all. I really hope that it can be an exchange.

How have you found these Covid times?

Lots of it was good. I spent more time with family, we didn’t use the car, we went on walks together. The planes stopped flying overhead. I liked the positive effect it had on the environment, but it was difficult not seeing my mum and dad and not giving them a hug and kiss. I appreciate our experience of lockdown was very different form people living in the city, and I think the notion of threat is something that is affecting us all.

Who should get involved with Digital Art School?