In Conversation with Rosie Brooks

by Cass Art

 Rosie Brooks has worked freelance as an illustrator for nearly a decade globally across publishing, advertising and editorial. Her clients have included Sir Paul McCartney, NSPCC, OUP, Pearson Ltd, the Royal Opera House Education department and many more. We were delighted to talk to Rosie about her journey as an illustrator, influence on her work and the importance of story telling and illustration in children’s upbringing.

Hi Rosie, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today. Could you tell us about your background and journey as an illustrator?

My pleasure! I grew up in a family of artists, both my parents worked as book designers, and encouraged drawing all the time. My dad was a real stickler for thoughtful observation, so it felt very natural to carry a sketchbook to jot down visual ideas, and importantly we always had a lot of brilliant equipment around the house. The equipment you use makes such a difference, especially when experimenting and insecure about what you are trying to achieve.  I am very grateful my earliest memories of drawing were with beautiful pens and pencils. I think it is such a shame when a budding young artist is put off for life with the disappointment over what they have created with cheap or gunked up pens or brushes, and I have always bought the best I could afford.

 

At eighteen I decided to follow my other passion and went to Durham to study Music. I think I knew I would end up as an illustrator, but I wanted to take some time to get there, and I am really glad I did as it felt like it offered me a portal into another world I would otherwise not have known existed. A lot of my illustration is music focused, especially of late, and I have worked with lots of amazing musical clients from Sir Paul McCartney to Classic FM and The Royal Opera House. After Durham, and a brief foray into Broadcasting, a stint as a lounge pianist and then as PA to a violin dealer I decided to complete a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration. I was already accepting regular commissions and I think it was then I knew I wanted to illustrate full time. The amazing wood cut artist and illustrator John Lawrence was my tutor and I so much to him for the time and patience he took looking through my sketchbooks, encouraging me to go the zoo to improve my animal drawings and to find the ability to be self-critical without being self-destructive.

 

I’ve been extremely lucky with the diversity of the clients I have worked for over the years, I had a lovely commission with an Indian Publisher quite early on which lead me to become a creative ambassador for Department for International Trade’s Great Britain campaign and I’ve always felt that one of the brilliant things about being an illustrator is it doesn’t matter where on the planet you are based as long as you your bits and pieces and access to a scanner! The most important thing for me is keeping my ideas new and fresh and I feel like I use the illustration as a means of discovery.

Are there any books, illustrators who inspired you to an author/illustrator yourself?

One of the first illustrations I remember really examining when I was little was Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue cover of the New Yorker (1976) my grandmother, who had owned a bookshop in Notting Hill in the forties had the poster and I can clearly remember working out the how the line and watercolour must have been done. From that moment I was hooked. I’ve never been much of a painter, it is all about the line work for me so other strong influences were Jean Jaques Sempe, Ronald Searle and for both her style but also her visual humour – Posy Simmonds.

 

What do you think the importance of illustration/reading in a child’s cognitive development is?

I think Illustration is absolutely critical to a child’s development. Pictures in books are the way in to understanding written language, they form the basis of comprehending and investigating the world around us and blur the lines between reality and imagination so beautifully that they create a safe world in which we can develop our characters and personalities. It’s no wonder adults are so nostalgic about the books they read at bedtime and the children’s book publishing industry is booming.

Seeing illustration in books also encourages children to draw too, which is obviously brilliant especially in our digital age, where developing handwriting and drawing skills are given less attention when competing with shiny beeping phones and computers.

 

You’re able to illustrate so many facets of our modern lives whether its sitting on a train, in a restaurant, sightseeing, even attending a life drawing class. How do you choose the scenes and characters to depict? What’s the process like?

If I’m not working on a specific commission, my sketchbook illustrations tend to be a combination of memories (particularly at the moment) or of scenarios and dreams of plans once we are post Covid. I am creating a series on Instagram at the moment called ‘Things I am looking forward to’ which seems to have captured people’s imaginations – I think we are all looking for little things to cheer us up. Whilst there is a lot of quite generic ‘be kind to yourself’ messaging out there, I wanted to create a series which actual tangible examples to remind myself as much as anyone else of all the little things we have to look forward to - like pottering around a gallery on a Saturday afternoon and trying on new shoes. It is definitely doing wonders to keep my spirits up and I’m now receiving lots of requests, so I have lots more to work on!

What’s your go to materials you use in your work and why?

I settled on my favourite combination of materials around ten years ago and on the whole I haven’t deviated much from them since – I love Leonhardt nibs, particularly the general drawing nib, Winsor and Newton Black Indian ink (which forms a wonderful permanent line once dry) on Cass’s Heavyweight cartridge paper. The brushes I use for the watercolour are from Cass too, I have a huge collection of the synthetic range which I much prefer to the hog or squirrel, and I always tend to end up defaulting to using the Number 4 size which is just right for the size I like to work to. The last few years I have become much more obsessed with colour and I have experimented with lots of the professional watercolour ranges, using a mixture of pans and tubes, my watercolour sets are combination of lots of makes – for red it has to be the Winsor Red from the Winsor and Newton professional range, but I’ve recently fallen in love with Schmincke’s greens, especially the Hooker’s Green.

As we all know 2020 was such a strange year but from a creative perspective how did you find it affected your work or did it at all?

2020 was a very strange year, and I have mixed emotions about it now that we are in 2021, still in the teeth of this horrible pandemic but with the glimmer of hope coming from the vaccine.

I’ve missed my old life enormously obviously. I had an equal balance of working incredibly hard in my studio about 70% of the time then letting off steam socialising (I am very lucky to live in central London with all its fun of the fair) but when Covid hit last March, that balance shifted to being exclusively in work mode.

When the ridiculous panic buying was a thing I actually ordered litres of ink and a huge supply heavyweight cartridge paper from Cass! Throughout last year drawing provided a wonderful escape for me, it has definitely kept me sane and happy and I am very grateful to have a wonderful studio to work in. I have worked on some super collaborations including illustrating Classic FM’s Hall of Fame at Easter, and creating them a jigsaw, Christmas cards and calendar to raise money for their charity Global’s Make Noise.

I think, although at times horribly stressful and bleak, last year gave me a unique opportunity to focus, to slow down and to experiment with my illustration again in a way that would have been impossible in the way I was before. I’m shortlisted for the Sequestered Art Prize, the sort of competition I would never have thought to enter pre Covid and I’ve taken lots of time to research ideas and have a number of projects all on the go at once. I think illustrators (and visual artists on the whole) or at least those who have a space to create will be able to weather the storm better than many other branches of the arts. I have a number of friends who are musicians and performers who are struggling on every level at the moment, some of the stories I have heard are absolutely heart breaking.

 

There’s always something wonderfully traditional about holding a physical book as opposed to digital I find. What do you think the future of the physical book is? Will e-books eventually replace the physical do you think?

The million-dollar question! No I don’t think they will. Not beautiful books at least. And certainly not bedtime story books. It makes perfect sense for text, scripts, documents etc all to be able to read on digital devices, it saves time and if the reader’s agenda is to literally consume the words then it is a very efficient means do so, the only technology in this instance primarily being replaced is really the photocopier. But books can be beautiful objects in themselves and a person’s collection reveals so much about their character, I believe they will always be collected in their physical form - the bookshelf backgrounds on zoom phenomenon of 2020 only served to prove how important they are to people’s identities. Also, even as the world becomes more and more digital, the one sanctuary will always be illustrated children’s books, e-books still don’t come near sales of print books, particularly for picture books for younger children as parents and grandparents still enjoy the feel of turning the pages together when reading bedtime stories.

 

Can you tell us about any projects you have coming up in 2021?

 I’m working on a number of ongoing commissions with my lovely illustration agent Beehive Illustration as well as a few exciting projects with my new licensing agent This is Iris, who I signed up with last year after winning the 2019 “License This’ competition.

I also recently launched a new range of greetings cards with a company called Holy Mackerel.  I am currently working on building up the range to cover lots of different interests, festivals and occasions, they are available directly from their website and on Amazon but I am hoping when the shops reopen they will available across the UK https://www.holy-mackerel.co.uk/artist/rosie-brooks/

As 2021 marches on the world will begin to heal a little from the ordeal of the last twelve months but in the meantime I am going to stay wedged in my studio, drawing… night and day!

 Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us Rosie!

Do follow Rosies work on her Instagram and website.

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