Our Creative Director Julia, accompanied by our youngest intern Theodore (nine months at the time of writing), met with London based illustrator Rose Hill to talk pets, art and going big.
I met artist and illustrator Rose Hill and her beautiful daughter Summer when we were exhibiting at New Designers this year. After a brief chat at the show we arranged to meet up so that I could hear more about Rose Hill Designs and the women behind it.
We met in Dalston with the two minis in tow, and through the chaos of a bustling cafe, I set up the recorder and Rose began to tell me how it all started;
It all started, when I was 4 years old I entered a competition for cadburys and won. My artwork was displayed in the national history museum for a year. I thought it was normal, to be creative, and it was only when I got older I realised that not everyone is.
I trained as a textile designer, I remember my A-level teacher said I was never going to achieve anything. But I got into Chelsea College of Arts and got a first class hons! At our degree show exhibition I got my first commission from Charles Saatchi, then after that I had a commission for the fashion editor Amanda Eliasch, and then from Charlie Allen, the tailor who designed the England World Cup kit.
After those amazing commissions, I thought, I had to get a real job (not thinking that what I was doing was a real job). I got a job at Woolworths and designed prints and girls wear, which was a great commerical learning and lead me to be able to work in Australia, I applied for a job and they interviewed me in the UK and they waited three months for me to go to Australia. Once I returned to the UK I designed for a studio, and brands like Ted Baker, Debenhams, John Lewis, Abigail Ahern, but I wanted to do my own thing.
In September 2013 Rose launched Rose Hill Designs at Top Drawer in London. She was picked by Charlotte Abraham for the ‘Spotted’ sector. At the time, just two or three months before the exhibition, she only had artwork in her collection and wanted to expand this so she had products to sell at the show.
I always loved stationary, paper goods and cards, I made cards for Eddie, my husband, and for family all of the time. I had such an amazing show. I wanted everything to be carefully designed including the stand and the dress that I wore. I wear the dress to all my trade shows, and the image on the dress is on the back of my card. My stand was black, which made the colours really pop. However, at the time no-one had a black stand but now all I see is black or grey stands!
At the show Rose secured a commission for Harrods, she designed a print which went on bags, tea towels, oven mitts and aprons. She got her cards into Scribbler and Oliver Bonas, and was commissioned for a collaboration with ZSL London Zoo.
Tell me about your influences,
Definitely colour, patterns, animals, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, music, people, all things really – that’s what is so lucky about being an artist, everything can influence you in life, everything that’s been, that is and that will be. Artists like Roy Lichtenstein are really influential. A main feature of his work is that he has lots of spots because its like the spots of the newspaper, and I thought I would be cool to do geometric patterns instead of the spots which is what my illustrations are made of.
I always wanted a pet myself but we lived in a tiny flat in Islington where it seemed a bit unfair to have a dog, so I ended up drawing them.
Would you call yourself an artist or an illustrator?
I think that I am a happy medium between the two. I’m an artist but I can definitely work to briefs, which is where I am a designer. At the same time I do what I want to do and I think my technique makes me artist. I hand draw everything – straight on to the computer using a wacom tablet or with my new fancy computer I can draw directly on the screen – so everything goes straight on to Adobe illustrator and photoshop. Therefore I think I’m both!
One of your very successful products is called ‘Make Your Pet Famous’, can tell me more about this?
The whole process was very organic. Along with my cards I have always done commissions on the side. A customer commissioned me to draw their dog and wedding portrait, I already had some dogs in my collection. However, I had 11 and needed 12, so I asked if they would mind if I used their dog in my collection. They loved the idea and so did everyone else! At trade shows I would tell people about Lola. Then people would ask if I could do their dog and I would put then into my next collection, so after about three commissions I thought there was something in this. I would say ‘I’ll make your dog famous’ so I launched it as a product.
Its really nice being able to get other people to be a part of it and all the dogs have their own personality. The pets often have their own personalities – like Tupac was obviously going to have a bandana and become famous from a song called Cat ‘em Up, he lives on the West Side of London with Biggie – but then Rascal unfortunately didn’t have as much of a personality, however, his owner was an Islington Gazette journalist so that cat took on his owners personality. All their stories are now on the back of the cards so you can read about them. It’s a nice way of showing what I do and otherwise you wouldn’t know that they are real cats and dogs. It was so cool to draw Eroc the skateboarding dog an Instagram mega star!
When Rose is first commissioned she spends time getting to know the pet and the owner. Then she can combine them in the story. She involves the client in the colour, background and accessory that the pet is drawn with. The clients send in several photos so that Rose can draw them without them moving around. To Rose and her clients these are more pet portraits, the pet becomes her friend and the owners too, like she is a part of their family.
I have done a couple commissions recently where the pet has unfortunately died and they’ve said ‘you’ve changed a sad time to a treasured moment’. Which is really nice and lets the pets live on forever. It’s really fun way of remembering them, but without being cheesy. Pets are like kids to their owners and this is a way to commemorate them in a really fun and happy way.
What challenges do you face from doing commissions rather then you’re own artwork?
What can be difficult is when you do a whole illustration and then someone says its not quite right, but they don’t know why, and then you work on it and it’s still not right, and they decide they prefer the original, but I always want to get it perfect so I’ll spend more time on it and then it’s wonderful because I always get it right and the client is really happy. It can be a little frustrating but I really like constructive criticism – if it makes my work better then it’s worth it.
What has been your biggest high of your career?
I’ve been so lucky to have done so many amazing commissions and collaborations!! Getting a commission from Charles Saatchi (to illustrate and make his daughter a dress) straight from my degree show was incredible! I feel very proud to have drawn 2 artworks for Sadie Frost which gets featured in magazines like Red magazine and a portrait for Robert Webb and his family (wife comedian Abigail Burdess and 2 girls).
Being such an animal lover doing a collaboration with ZSL London Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo was wonderful and another collaboration with the British Museum. Having Harrods as a stockist to numerous items including the ‘Make your pet famous’ range and designing a print and accessories especially for them under their own name. Being able to sell my art and stationery across the world, places like Japan (which I would LOVE to visit) America and Australia is amazing!! It’s an honour to be able to create a life and business that people love and want to be apart of, I feel truly grateful!!
So finallly, what’s next for Rose Hill and Rose Hill Designs?
Oooh that is an exciting question! I will be doing a residency at the Old Diorama Arts Centre in May for 4 months with a solo exhibition on 12th November- 2nd December. I’ll be displaying self-directed work which is so exciting to be able to create. There is quite a bit of space available and wanted to do 2 parts: an immersive exhibition in their “snug” area and go large on the other walls.
More generally I want to work big next year, as big as possible, sides of buildings big. It has been something I have been thinking about for three to four years now and I am making 2018 the year I do it.
I am also doing an exciting event with the coolest furniture store, Aria. The event; Make Your Pet Famous: Live Photo Booth With Customised Illustrations, has it’s launch night on the 1st March. The night will include a live photoshoot experience in Aria’s custom-made photo booth with complimentary photography for pets and the launch of a new pet accessory collection, designed by myself exclusively for Aria. Not to mention a special appearance from Insta star, Eroc the skateboarding dog #ErocDog.
And finally, I will be designing a special mug for the Women’s Institute for their Centenary in 2020!
Thursday 1st March 2018 | 5.30-8pm
at Aria: Barnsbury Hall, Barnsbury Street, Islington, London N1 1PN