Liz Rowland is an illustrator of wonderfully colourful, whimsical yet poignant characters and scenes. Her work is full of human connection and, for me, seamlessly straddle’s both sides of the fantasy/reality landscape. Having evolved to portray a recognisable aesthetic Liz’s portfolio articulate’s a global aesthetic that coherently harnesses a sense of holistic community in a way that shrugs off the [too often] negative connotations of such a broad topic. In a world where geographic borders are tightening, and words like “diversity” and “gentrification” can spark heated debate, Liz’s work is impressively grounded by a sense of belonging and nostalgia.
Open Journal: Thank you very much for sitting down to talk to us today about your beautiful work. How would you describe your illustrations as a complete body of work? How has your aesthetic developed?
Liz Rowland: When I meet new people the first thing they ask is ‘what is your style like?’. It’s hard to see your own work that objectively and describe it so freely, but it’s also necessary. If you can see your work through other people eyes it’s much easier to approach the most suitable clients and know what will and won’t work for you. I always tell people who haven’t seen my work that it is hand painted, playful, uses lots of colour. I used to be awful with colour, I didn’t understand how to use it. It was during a trip to South America that I started working with it properly, recording things in my sketchbook. As with anything, practice is vital. Through painting everyday my work has developed and hopefully will always continue to.
OJ: Did illustrating find you or did you find it? How?
LR: I think it found me long before I found it. I was trying to run away from it for a while and find something more stable, something that I was less emotional about and that would give me some security. I tried a different career for a few years but after some time it left me feeling empty. I decided it’s better to do something you are connected to and deal with the rollercoaster of it than to stay with a job that you feel nothing for. You only remember the things that made you feel something and the thing that has always brought me the most joy is drawing.
OJ: What is the balance of creative vs bread & butter work that you do now? Are you lucky enough to have 100% of your professional time dedicated to illustration? How long did the journey take to get to that point?
LR: It took me the best part of 2 years to build up enough work to live off but I’ve made adjustments to my lifestyle to make that happen too. Since moving back to the U.K. recently from Melbourne, I’ve managed to keep living costs to a minimum so I can really indulge my illustrative work. Part of the attraction of working for myself was the freedom it allows. I’m restless by nature and I love to travel so it’s suited me for that alone, but it’s also allowed me to dedicate my time to illustration and build up work over here.
OJ: Your client list is enviable. Gourmet Traveller, Soho House, Vogue, The Telegraph…describe your dream client…
LR: Thank you! It’s been a pretty incredible year. My ultimate dream client is The New York Times. I would love to work with them at some point. In general, I’d like the opportunity to work on something other than editorial. I’d like to do some packaging for example. I’d love to work on a cookery book. But most of all I’d like to work on a project that requires some travel, first-hand research and drawing on location.
OJ: As whimsical as some of your characters are, your work evokes a deeper sense of ‘meaning’ akin to fables and stories with morals. What is the motivation behind your work? What is the defining message (if any) that led you to develop a portfolio that harnesses a strong sense of “community” and “belonging”?
LR: Coming back to illustration in the age of Instagram I am very aware of how saturated the market is and how important it is to find your own voice. ‘Authenticity’ is a word thrown around a lot and sounds incredibly sickly but it’s really vital. Rather than trying to define a style when I was starting out, I spent time looking at what makes me tick personally and why I love the artists that I do. The things I love the most in images are the subtleties and the emotion. I’m drawn to handmade objects, paintings, language, human things because above all I’m interested in people. I am fascinated by human interaction, people’s stories and different ways of being. I am interested in cultures and communities and what creates them. I’m happy to hear that this has come across in my work.
OJ: What does the future hold?
LR: I have just signed with a new client who I’ll be illustrating a book with. It’s a bit of a dream project so I’m really excited about it. I’ll be able to share more about that in the coming months. I’m continuing to move around the U.K. for a while and making plans for a longer trip somewhere from Easter next year. At some point, I’d love to find a studio and work with ceramics again. I think I need to stay put somewhere for a while for that to happen!
Interview complied by Tiffany Jade.
Images Liz Rowland.