With the constant stream of bad news and uncertainty, art seems to have become our only source for escape. Despite it all, at least we have movies, photographs, books, music, and illustrations to look at when we need a break. That’s why The Badger’s Artist Focus is an essential space. Here, readers are invited to forget the world for a little while by submerging themselves into the exciting projects that Brighton artists are working on.
This week, I spoke to Rosie Barker, a final year BA Illustration student at Brighton University. Her artwork, which is injected with striking colours and influenced by Japanese art, has the capacity of transporting you to faraway places. I talked to her about her transition from University to Art School, about her storytelling techniques, and how the pandemic led her to embrace food as her main subject.
Tell me a bit about your background. How did you decide to get into art?
I was always very good at art in school and college, however, I was never taught the amount of available jobs within art sector, which I believe is a massive shortcoming in our current education system. Thinking that I would be unable to develop a stable career, I kept trying to veer away from art jobs, which led me to apply to Goldsmith’s University to study English Literature instead. Soon enough, I realised how jealous I was of my flatmates pursuing art-based degrees, and I made the choice to drop-out and attempt to get into an Art School to do something I actually loved. My degree had no foundation course, so I spent my lunch breaks whilst working at a restaurant building up my portfolio for my application. Luckily, I got into the course I wanted to, which gave me the motivation to pursue being an Illustrator more than ever.
Some of your artwork reminds me of Japanese manga art, is this intentional?
It’s interesting you pull that out of my work. I grew up watching films by Studio Ghibli, and I always had a love and interest towards the art of Hokusai, Utamaro and all the Ukio-e artists, which was a woodblock print and painting style from the Japanese Edo period. I also deeply admire the art of Moebius; his comics have a softness to them that I really enjoy compared to the bold pop-art styles you might commonly find within the UK art scene. I guess this inspiration has fed into my work unintentionally, as it’s what I interact with the most, so it has naturally filtered into my practice.
How does illustration allow you to explore storytelling?
Illustration allows me explore storytelling in a very accessible and emotional way. People are much more likely to engage with something that is visual. Therefore, through my drawings, I am able to transport the viewers into a world where they can question, wonder and relate to the situation that is being depicted. I love how a great illustration can tell a story immediately. I think being able to achieve that is a really amazing skill and I hope to get better at this throughout my career.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been experimenting with comics too, how has this experience been for you?
When I broke the news to my college art teacher that I was going to pursue English at University, they jokingly said that maybe I would end up illustrating my own stories, so it seems funny to me now that I’ve actually began creating my own comics. I am really enjoying the process but I also respect comic artists so much more now. I now realise how hard it is to find a good midpoint between a story that is too obvious, and one that is too niche or difficult to understand. I have also challenged myself to not include any text so that I can let my artwork do the talking. Through this, I have discovered how important composition, atmosphere and mood are when telling a story to create engagement. I definitely want to explore this further this year.
A lot of your work explores the idea of food, why is that?
During the pandemic, food seems to have become the centre of our lives. From our daily trips to the supermarket, to eating something nice, food seems to be the one thing we can enjoy despite the situation. Usually, a lot of my inspiration would come from travel and seeing friends, but since I’m unable to enjoy this part of my life, I have discovered a new interest in drawing food.
In terms of technique what tools do you normally work with and why?
I usually start off with rough sketches in my sketchbook. For me, this is the best way to get ideas out of my brain. The sketchbook itself is a pretty messy place, but it gives me the freedom to experiment without much thought. I then take my ideas into Procreate on my Ipad, and draw and colour digitally. I still try and recreate the same process I would follow if it were done by hand, but the digital format allows me to produce work that can be printed, posted and shared with others easily. Drawing digitally these days has become almost natural, I barely notice the difference from paper but I think it’s good to have a balance between both digital and analogue.
Do you have a favourite piece? If so, what made it your favourite?
My favourite piece is inspired by a 1973 food tray used by astronauts. They used this item to heat and eat their dehydrated food from. Through this tiny item, I wanted to also capture the strange, lonely, yet fascinating life of an astronaut. I was very pleased with the composition and colours, as they work really well with the subject matter.
Have you got any upcoming projects that you’re looking forward to?
More comics! I’m also hoping to open digitally a shop to start selling my printed pieces soon. I’m not entirely sure how this year is going to pan out, but for now I am planning to carry on improving my drawing and storytelling skills, alongside finishing my degree. Hopefully we will be able to have a show in the summer which will be a nice project to work forward to and to celebrate all the work that’s been created in the crazy year that we’ve had.
To see more of Rosie’s work…