Leo Duff

Honorary: Fellow
Position: Fellow of Kingston University


Born in Belfast, Leo Duff attended Victoria College with its unusual art department, before moving to Brighton to complete an Art and Design Foundation and undergraduate Communication Design course. After graduating from a postgraduate course in Illustration at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1979, Leo worked as a freelance illustrator and visiting lecturer at several art schools, as well as exhibiting work. She came to Kingston in 1982 and worked on the Illustration and Graphic Design undergraduate and postgraduate courses, before moving to the Art and Design Foundation in 1995.

A lifelong interest in drawing, and involvement at the forefront of national and international drawing organisations, played a part in her establishing the MA Drawing as Process in 2000. Drawing projects she championed at Kingston include the Drawing Lecture Series, with advocates of drawing such as Quentin Blake, Cornelia Parker, Peter Blake, Posy Simmonds, and the touring exhibition and conference related to the publication Drawing – The Process and its subsequent events. PEAP (Picker Education in the Arts Programme) was masterminded and established by Leo, alongside successful fundraising that led to the 'Brill Project' (1999), bringing together a full biography and retrospective exhibition of Reginald Brill, the head of Kingston School of Art (1933–62). In the local community, Leo set up 'The Big Draw' – a series of public drawing marathons in the Bentall Centre atrium (involving over 50,000 participants on one of the weekends) – and worked with south-west London schools and colleges on many Brill drawing projects, involving Kingston students in their delivery.

Leo's drawing has at its heart the examination of process in drawing, including extensive research into East-Asian ink painting, comparing through practice its philosophy, media and techniques with Western drawing. Her subject matter captures the sense of place of the many locations she has set out to explore and respond to via drawing. Heritage sites ranging from the well-known Stonehenge to remote Bolus Head in Ireland, or the current frenzy of demolition and construction in China, have led to exhibitions from Porto to Seoul, Dublin to Taipei.

Leo's contribution to illustration is reflected in her activity as a past council member of the Association of Illustrators and the House of Illustration. She has been commissioned by organisations as diverse as Saatchi & Saatchi and The World of Fine Wine, and publications ranging from Architect's Journal to Vogue.

Travelling has always been part of her life – adventurous family trips, her location-based illustration work, drawing workshops for the British Council and artist residencies abroad – so Leo naturally grew into the role of forging international links for the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, parallel to teaching and her practice. As academic director of overseas development, she worked until her recent retirement to promote the Faculty's outstanding UK reputation to the global arena of art and design higher education.

Kingston University is pleased to recognise the achievements of Leo Duff for her outstanding contribution to art and design education with the award of Fellow of Kingston University honoris causa.