Home » News » A Q&A with artist Rosie Harbottle | TOAST x Garden Museum

A Q&A with artist Rosie Harbottle | TOAST x Garden Museum

The Garden Museum and British lifestyle brand TOAST have collaborated with artist Rosie Harbottle on an exhibition of original artworks celebrating the TOAST Spring Summer 2024 seasonal theme, Outdoor Pursuits.

What was your journey to becoming an artist?

I grew up in the North East before moving to Devon at the age of 13. I have a very creative family, lots of musicians and artists. My mum studied fashion design and made lots of our clothes. She makes everything from baking to crochet, to growing veg, and I think that had a huge influence on me growing up. My aunt on my dad’s side is also an incredible artist and she too encouraged our creativity from an early age.

After a fleeting time pursuing teaching and then Graphic Design, I realised that I needed to explore my drawing and creativity further and so embarked on an illustration degree at Plymouth University. This was pivotal in my journey to becoming an artist as it instilled a fantastic work ethic within my practice as you had to be at the studio every day. This consistency meant that I used this time to explore many ways of expressing and exploring my creativity, from animation to embroidery to printmaking. I didn’t worry too much back then about cultivating a ‘style’ but I knew that it was important to explore different ways of making as much as possible as well as gain all round skills. At that point I wanted to get into surface pattern and print design (clothing).

I got a dream job in Northampton straight after my degree at a print design studio and learnt such a lot about the business as well as honing my technical skills. It was a fantastic foundation into the commercial world but sadly I realised that I couldn’t cultivate my dream lifestyle there and I reluctantly head back to Devon believing that perhaps it was the end of my career in illustration. That was over ten years ago before the likes of Instagram had made it possible to reach new audiences. I briefly worked at a commercial printers in Exeter until one day I was sacked – perhaps making it too obvious that I didn’t enjoy the work. Thankfully I have very supportive parents and my dad encouraged me to go freelance and work for myself. I worked across many different areas of illustration including textile design, greeting card and stationery design until the pandemic hit and I had the time to explore my own art. I had recently moved to the edge of Dartmoor with my partner and being surrounded by nature along with the freedom of extra time due to the pandemic meant that I could take all that I had learnt from the previous years and channel it into my own artwork.

What does a typical day in the life of an artist look like for you?

Every day is different depending on what I’m working on and what deadlines I have. I get up about 7.30am and eat breakfast and check emails and write my to do list for the day. I’ll then walk our dog Lando in the fields near our house before heading to the studio for around 9.30am. I’ll pack any orders of prints that I have and complete any other admin tasks such as ordering more supplies, emailing, invoicing, updating my website, booking couriers. I feel that I can then get into the creative zone much more easily after lunch when I’ve dealt with urgent enquiries and tasks.

I then head home about 6ish and depending on the time of year either cosy up in front of the fire and deal with any more admin for an hour or so before dinner or we tend to the garden and poly tunnel and enjoy being outside. I love cycling so will often go on an evening bike ride in the spring and summer months.

Do you paint flowers and plants from still life or your imagination?

It’s often a mixture of both. The plants and flowers I draw and paint are a stylised capture of the plants I see along with how they make me feel. I’m always working on numerous different projects at any one time so I’ve learnt to work fairly fast. Before I start a new piece, I will make lots of small quick sketches to work out composition. These sketches mean I plan the piece to a certain degree but still leave space to feel my way through the painting without it being too prescribed. I need this balance of planning versus freedom.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Inspiration comes to me in many different forms but living in the countryside here in Devon provides endless inspiration as I live so closely with nature. Music is also intrinsically linked to my work too and I can’t paint without it. I find songs can often dictate where a painting goes, it puts me into a meditative-like state and helps me to get inside the work and understand its personality and where it’s headed, it’s vital for my creativity.

Here’s my current playlist:

The Watersons – Country Life
Beirut – Scenic world
The Tallest Man on Earth – A Lion’s Heart
Ye Vagabonds – The Foggy Dew
Lankum – Daffodil Mulligan
Joshua Burnside, Laura Quirke – Far Away the Hills are Green
Aldous Harding – Hunter
The Bonfire Band – These Days
Hayley Hendrickx, Max Garcia Connover – Crow Song
Nadia Reid – Call The Days As They Were Known

What’s your favourite garden to visit when you’re not painting?

Apart from our own garden, here in the South West I love visiting the Piet Oudolf garden at Hauser & Wirth, Bruton. I love looking at his plant pairings and how in every season there’s something new to look at and be inspired by. I also love visiting Trebah Garden in Cornwall in late August/early September for the sheer abundance of hydrangeas as well as the spectacular location overlooking the Helford River and out to sea.

Can you tell us about your paintings for our collaboration with TOAST?

This exhibition tells a story of my interpretation of TOAST’s Spring Summer 24 theme of Outdoor Pursuits which for me is the very foundation of my life in the countryside. It is the ebb and flow of the seasons, noticing the first flowers to bloom and harnessing the sun’s rays to grow food. Embracing nature and working with it and enjoying time spent amongst it. I have presented drawings of flowers, local landscapes and insects along with more finished acrylic paintings on canvas. All created with a rich and vibrant palette they celebrate nature and evoke a sense of optimism.

What has been one of your favourite pieces to make?

My favourite piece in the collection is ‘Making Daisy Chains’ as it conjures up happy memories of Summer which can often seem a long way away in the depths of Winter.

Finally, as we are the Garden Museum, can you tell us about your relationship with plants, gardening and nature?

My mother is an incredible gardener and grows lots of her own food as well as a variety of plants and flowers. Growing veg is her passion though and when we were little we would often go with her to the allotment, play in the dirt and look at all the different bugs and insects. Every holiday was spent camping and the highlight of the year would be a week in the Lake District with family friends in a farmers field. One such friend, Matt, would always point out mushroom varieties and different wild flowers and plants, we were encouraged to build dams, make bows and arrows out of sticks and sing around the campfire after we’d all hiked up mountains together. It was a wonderful mix of creative people who all had a love and deep appreciation for nature. It was an intrinsic part of my childhood and a part that I’m so grateful for as I’ve carried this appreciation into adulthood.

Now living on the edge of the moors with my partner who’s an arborist, we both share this love of nature and plants together. We grow our own food and are lucky to have a river running though our garden where we can spot kingfishers from our bathroom and hear the call of deer from the nearby forest.

British lifestyle brand TOAST creates simple, modern and functional pieces intended to last for years to come. Its collections, produced in collaboration with artisans, weavers, and mills from across the globe, are designed with a relaxed sense of ease and made with quality materials in long-lasting silhouettes. 

Each of its shops across the UK is a welcoming space in which to slow down, discover seasonal collections, learn more about its makers and techniques, and come together for creative events.

TOAST x Rosie Harbottle: In Nature We Play is open with free entry  – 

Rosie is hosting a free oil pastel workshop as part of our Branch Out programme on Friday 19 January: find out more

Photos: Marco Kesseler
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