“We moved to a house on the edge of Dartmoor just before the pandemic,” says artist Rosie Harbottle. “It was the most beautiful spring and I started to notice all of the colours around me so much more. The roads were quiet and I found a maze of new footpaths while walking my dog. I suddenly had the space to explore my creativity, and that wave of inspiration hasn’t stopped since.”
Working predominantly in oil pastel and acrylic on canvas, Rosie’s artwork is informed by the natural world, folk and decorative art and the simple joy of everyday objects. She uses a rich palette, brush strokes and mark-making to craft poetic pieces that celebrate the changing seasons and the flora and fauna that surround us.
Growing up in the north-east of England, Rosie’s relationship with nature was an essential part of her childhood. “Every summer we’d go camping in a farmer's field at the foot of Catbells in the Lake District. We’d run wild and sing around a campfire - it was very idyllic.” Another informative feature of her youth was the arts centre in Darlington where her family and their friends spent almost every weekend. “It felt like our whole childhood revolved around it. They had a folk festival every year, which was quite a delight.” With a mother who knits, bakes and grows vegetables and flowers, a father “who really should have been on the stage,” and an artist auntie who would encourage dance and make puppets by hand with the children, growing up Rosie was nurtured by a creative community that no doubt influenced her path.
With a move to Devon at age 13 and the fleeting consideration of a teaching career, Rosie went on to study graphic design at Anglia Ruskin University - “creative, but perhaps the more sensible creative pursuit,” she says. “I was always trying to choose the safe option.” But then, a spark. Stumbling across the illustration room one day, “I thought ‘Oh my god, this is it.’ After a break up with my long-term boyfriend I decided to go to Plymouth University. It was the best thing I could have done.” The illustration course taught Rosie to explore and experiment with everything from embroidery to print-making, but it also impressed the importance of discipline. “We had to be on campus every day, nine to five. We even had a module on being self-employed. It was really important in building my work ethic.”
Onwards to a “dream job” at a print design studio in Northampton, which included travels to Paris to sell to buyers, lessons in the business of illustration and invaluable technical training. Being landlocked was the only downside. “I hated being in the middle of the country,” Rosie says. “I missed the sea and the hills. It was a dream job, but not my dream life.” Moving in with her parents, Rosie took a job at a local printer doing more commercial work. Though she learned a lot about printing, which would be helpful in a future of self-employment, “I hated it… I got fired, likely because I wasn’t hiding it so well.”
“I thought my parents would be angry because I was 26 and didn’t have my life together, but they were so supportive. My dad said, ‘Well, now you can do it for yourself - just go for it.’” Rosie started reaching out to design studios and taking on more freelance work, moving out of her family home and establishing herself and her practice. The pandemic coincided with a desire to shake things up. “I was mainly working in watercolour and was fatigued by seven years of commercial work and executing other people’s ideas. I needed to express myself so I picked up some oil pastels and started exploring. I had the space to be creative and I’ve not stopped since.”
Living on the edge of Devon’s rugged and diverse moorland constantly inspires Rosie. Mirroring the pastoral summers of her childhood, there is a freedom in Dartmoor that feeds her craft. “We live in a wooden house with a river that runs through our garden. There is a mink that lives on a tiny island in the river, and herons come to fish every day.” Living alongside nature, Rosie finds beauty in each season. “Before, I loved summer and hated the cold, but now I appreciate all the small things, from the first shoots of spring to the wild storms of late winter. We rely on nature for everything, from the wood we chop for the burner in the middle of the house to the sun’s rays which grow our vegetables in the garden. There’s something so poetic about living in sync with the natural world,” she says. “It’s the very foundation of my life in the countryside.”
Rosie’s art transports you to these kinds of pastoral scenes through motifs of trailing wildflowers, dancing insects and frolicking ponies. Inspired by folk art, decorative details and a rich colour palette give these tableaus a delightful and inviting quality. “I’m a colourist first and foremost,” Rosie says. “I’m always in pursuit of the perfect palette. Colour can evoke so much feeling. It’s always the first consideration when I begin a new painting.” Citing Milton Avery’s approach to colour and the natural world as an inspiration, Rosie is also drawn to the way artists like Hilma Af Klint play with perspective. “She looked at natural forms under the microscope and painted what she saw on huge canvases - they’re like blown-up petri dishes with splitting organisms.”
Rosie’s colourful celebration of nature is what led to the commission from TOAST and the Garden Museum. Responding to this season’s theme of Outdoor Pursuits, Rosie has created an exclusive series of prints for our shop windows. “I looked to recreational outdoor pursuits and how we interact playfully with nature,” she says. With ‘Making Daisy Chains’, ‘Little Trophy’ and ‘Sun’s Eye’ Rosie has created colourful, expressive and textural representations of daisies and nasturtiums that evoke a sense of optimism and joy.
“The often-overlooked daisy has been used in so many ways throughout history, including in herbal medicine, but I wanted to celebrate its playful side,” Rosie says. “In Medieval Latin, a common term for daisy was Solis Oculus, meaning ‘sun’s eye, as their petals open and close with the sun. Nasturtiums are one of my favourite plants to draw. I love how they tumble out of polytunnels and climb up walls. Its Latin name is Tropaeolum which directly translates to ‘little trophy.’ What a perfect compliment to the competitive outdoor pursuit - you're always a winner with nasturtiums.”
For the exhibition In Nature We Play, created in collaboration with TOAST and the Garden Museum and displayed in its Lambeth gallery space from Wednesday 17 January, Rosie has crafted a collection of original artworks in oil pastel and acrylic on canvas featuring various nature motifs in her signature vibrant palette. “I couldn’t have moved into a better studio space to create this collaborative work,” Rosie says. “It’s above a plant nursery and I look out over beautiful trees with a river running through the land. I arrive early so I can create from a place of calm, and I listen to folk music, which, unsurprisingly, helps me to paint a more evocative picture.”
A Free Gift With Your Order
Spend over £150 and receive an exclusive oil pastel print, Little Trophy, by Rosie Harbottle. One print will be offered free when added to a qualifying order. Available online and in TOAST Shops. Free Gift Terms & Conditions apply.
Words by Georgia Murray.
Photography by Marco Kesseler.