Why two Toronto illustrators created an entire show of pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio

By Courtney Shea| Illustrations by Jennifer Ilett and Sabrina Parolin
Shutter Island.

Jennifer Ilett and Sabrina Parolin met as students at the Ontario College of Art and Design, but it was their shared love of a certain ’90s dreamboy (turned post-millennial meme-boy) that truly cemented their bond. Their new art exhibit, Draw Me Like One of Your French Girls (on now until Aug. 31 at the Steam Whistle Brewery art gallery), features illustrations of Leonardo DiCaprio through the years, from his early days in The Basketball Diaries to his more recent status as professional Super Soaker enthusiast.

“We wanted to do something that captured nostalgia and and the role Leo played in our own childhoods and the childhoods of our whole generation,” says Parolin, who first fell for Leo after seeing Romeo and Juliet. Ilett, meanwhile, says seeing Titanic prompted her “sexual awakening.”

Here, Ilett and Parolin discuss the inspiration behind some of their favourite pieces from the show, the extreme joy they felt seeing Leo (finally) win his Oscar and the key to getting Leo’s (totally dreamy) Leo-ness just right.


Parolin: “In this image, Leo replaces Kate Winslet in the scene from Titanic where Jack paints Rose’s portrait. I think it really captures the spirit of the project, which is very tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be a very serious fine art project.”



Ilett: “I wanted this to feel like a glamour shot portrait, along the lines of what you would have gotten in one of those centrefold posters in Teen Beat. And then I wanted to add some fun and silliness to it, which is why the cat came in. There are a lot of people who appreciate Leo, and a lot of people who appreciate cats.”

Parolin: “It’s that classic dream boy pose, running his hand through his hair.”



Parolin: “I did two different images of Romeo + Juliet Leo. That movie was the first time Leo really caught my attention. He’s got that really dreamy, swoopy haircut and super-defined jawline. I definitely had some posters hanging in my room after that.”



Parolin: “His Leo-ness comes from his eyes and eyebrows. That whole area of his face is very piercing and dreamy. The simpler you get with your line work and shading, the more challenging it becomes because every little line needs to be in the right spot, otherwise, all of a sudden, it doesn’t look like the same person anymore.”



Parolin: “This was probably the piece I found the most challenging. It took the longest to complete, partly because The Great Gatsby is such a visually stimulating movie, and there are so many things that you could decide to draw. I wanted to capture him as that very serious, stifling character. The concept is that he’s literally being smothered by the flowers around him, because he’s such a smothering character, but I still wanted it to look delicate and beautiful and visually appealing.”




Ilett: “I thought it would be funny to make the bear from The Revenant really cute. It’s a fun contrast to have Leo looking bloody and the bear looking sort of harmless. The most challenging part was probably drawing the gun. I had to look up a bunch of prop photos from the movie. We thought about doing an Oscar-winner Leo for the exhibit. Maybe next time. We were about halfway through this project when he won, so we were very excited.”

Parolin: “We weren’t together at the time, but we were so proud to see Leo finally get his Oscar. We were geeking out over text.”



Parolin: “This image is a nod to current-day Leo as an icon of the meme generation. He’s not your usual paparazzi celebrity, but when he does get snapped, the photos are always a bit peculiar and endearing and fun. I’ve seen this image circulating on the internet with all kinds of different captions.”


Ilett: “I have a bit more of a cartoony style, so I wanted to figure out what I could do while still using broad, flat colours. Since drawing Leo is all about the eyes and eyebrows, this one was a challenge, because you can’t see them. I feel like I was lucky because it’s such an iconic image.”



Parolin: “This is the companion to Super Soaker Leo. We laid out the show’s book chronologically, so these are the last two images. I drew this from a series of paparazzi photos of Leo where he’s on a yacht, surrounded by beautiful women, and he has this unhappy expression on his face. It spoke to me, I guess.”


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August 16, 2016

An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect spelling of Jennifer Ilett’s surname.


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