Edinburgh College of Art tutor, Pilar Garcia de Leaniz, illustrates the capital's businesses

It’s been running since June last year, with 80-something illustrations so far

Published 12th Jan 2022
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

Number 83 was Reka, the owner of Himalaya Tibetan Cafe in Newington, while 82 was Malcolm from The Banh Mi Bar; 77 was Kevin from The Black Hoof tapas restaurant in Dalry and 25 featured Shaun and Roberta from popular restaurant, The Little Chartroom.

Each of the people behind these businesses has had their premises illustrated or a portrait created by Pilar Garcia de Leaniz, 43, a Teaching Fellow in Design (Textiles and Illustration) at Edinburgh College of Art.

These are part of this artist’s 100 Local Businesses Edinburgh project, which she’s been detailing daily on Instagram, in order to collaborate with and support local businesses in Edinburgh. It started back in the middle of June 2021, with a digital print of Black Rabbit vegan cafe on Brougham Street.

Garcia de Leaniz came up with the idea as she usually participates annually in the 100 Days Scotland project - a concept that originated in New Zealand but came to Scotland in 2011, in order to encourage creative people to make and share work over 100 consecutive days. 

“Last year, during lockdown I came up with the idea of illustrating portraits of my colleagues at Edinburgh College of Art and it had a huge impact on the community. The project #ECAstaff was shortlisted for the Creative Edinburgh Awards 2020 and I was commissioned by the University of Edinburgh to create murals in the buildings of ECA, what a superb project”, says Garcia de Leaniz, who is originally from Seville, Spain. “Due to this amazing embrace of my work, in 2021 I decided to continue collaborating with people for my 100 days project. I come from a family that has small local businesses so I understand how global crises can impact the work of business people. I wanted to support those places in the city where I live and love, as well as to keep developing and improving my drawing skills”.

This project has been hugely popular and also won this artist, who completed an MA in illustration at Edinburgh College of Art in 2017, and had previously studied advertising and marketing at a Spanish business school, the Creative Edinburgh Creativity Award for 2021.

“From the beginning of the project, many people received it with great interest”, she says. “Definitely 100 is not enough!”

Thus, Garcia de Leaniz hopes to continue and go past the 100 mark. Edinburgh has no shortage of exciting small independents, and we imagine she could probably make it up to 1000 if she wanted. No pressure.

Although there is no charge involved, when it comes to Garcia de Leaniz featuring a business, some of the ones that have been illustrated, like restaurants Noto and Aizle, have ended up commissioning her to create other artworks, and others have bought signed prints of her creations.

It all generates interest in this artist’s work, and the cross pollination on social media has created a conversation.

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“Also, large organisations have contacted me for exciting commissions that I can´t wait to share with you all,” says Garcia de Leaniz, who has previously worked with the NHS, Live Borders, the University of Edinburgh, and Anaya publishing, who released her first illustrated book Calmalandia.

Although restaurants, cafes and producers have featured heavily in 100 Local Businesses Edinburgh, the artist has also worked with local and independent hairdressers, jewellery shops, tour guides, and even travel agents and a flamenco company. Alongside each portrait, she includes a biography that’s written by the owners.

We discover that Peter and Stef of Hula Juice Bar, “always strive to create a summer vibe for our customers,”and that Morrison Street cafe Nice Times make “excellent cinnamon buns, cakes, cookies and more from scratch every day”. Superico’s head chef, Scott Wyse, is illustrated with an octopus’ tentacles coiling behind him, and The Pastry Section’s owner, Lesley, appears to be the cherry on top of a giant pink cupcake.

“I have met some great people along this journey who have supported it enormously and shared this project”, says Garcia de Leaniz, who describes her work as Scottish creation with Spanish soul. “These include Shed Hair Salon, Jeffreys Interiors, Mad About Travel, Detail Framing, Catalog Interiors, Snapdragon, Treen, Neal's Yard, Real Food, Taza In Town, LeftField, Spanish Film Festival, Nordic Living, Covet, Salento and Union of Genius among others”.

Usually, the process involves Garcia de Leaniz asking the business for a photographic portrait, along with any other images that they want her to use for inspiration. She draws a rough piece digitally, using her signature graphic black line that contrasts alongside pastel colours, then “polishes”. The finished illustration takes from one to two hours to complete, “depending on the complexity and the time I have that day”, with the artist adding a few of her personal motifs, like hearts, wind and stars. Her work is instantly recognisable.

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“Botero, Snoopy, Ten Hundred, Ricardo Cavolo and Laura Callaghan are some of the artists that have inspired me along my wonderful creative adventure, from their colours and composition to how they use symbolism in their artwork,” says Garcia de Leaniz. “My style comes from the idea of wanting to embrace imperfection as a way to express myself. That has a big impact on me as an individual and artist, I consider myself an imperfect creative human being and I love it!”

Instagram @pilardeleaniz




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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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