Posted 30 March 2022
Mention Rosie Barker
Interview by Lyla Johnston

Rosie Barker on gradients, social media and her switch from English Literature to illustration

Rosie Barker’s journey to illustration was an unexpected one. Having originally enrolled on an English Literature degree, she started to rethink her career path after seeing the work her creative flatmates were producing. After doing a little research, Rosie took some time out – working as a waiter in a café while putting together a portfolio – before eventually joining the illustration course at Brighton. Since graduating last year, Rosie has focused on growing her social channels to great success, gaining commissions from the likes of Danone and Elephant magazine. Here, we talk to Rosie about her journey so far, self-promotion and her love for gradients.

Rosie Barker

Rosie Barker

Job Title




Selected Clients

Campbell’s Soup, Danone, Khruangbin, Elephant Magazine, Noema Magazine, M.Moser Associates, Time Out

Previous Employment

Chalet Host, Waitress, Barista

Place of Study

BA Illustration, Brighton University (2019–2021)


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I would describe what I do as being a visual storyteller. This can be for brands, musicians, articles and more. Essentially, my job is to take a story, idea, or atmosphere and create an engaging and visually exciting image, allowing the audience to understand the information easier and convey more meaning to the subject matter. This all happens from my desk, where I draw onto my iPad and create illustrations for clients worldwide.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I try to be open to finding my inspirations and influences from various sources by engaging my brain’s curious and creative side to notice things every day, such as conversations with friends or feelings I am having. However, I naturally gravitate towards specific areas of influence such as travel, dreams, and the human psyche.

I enjoy creating strange and surreal worlds where I use colour gradients and light to convey a particular atmosphere or mood. I also take a lot of inspiration from comic artist Jean Giraud for his beautiful clean lines and Ukiyo-e artists such as Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro for their use of space. I also have a strong love for modern light artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson that I also believe filters into my work.

“I enjoy creating strange and surreal worlds using gradients and light to convey an atmosphere or mood.”

Rosie’s work for M. Moser Associates
Rosie’s work for M. Moser Associates

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
I Illustrated a poster for [musical trio] Khruangbin! Laura Leezy and the band commissioned many artists to create a poster for each venue on their tour. It was great to see so many incredible artists take on the brief in their own styles and be given a lot of creative freedom, which is always exciting.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Having taken a creative course, I don’t think it is essential to becoming an illustrator, but it certainly gives you the time and space to experiment and grow – something I think that can be harder to achieve if you have to work full-time.

However, I think the main skill needed in this role is the ability and determination to get up and create every day, which can be really hard sometimes. Being organised is also an essential trait; you need to dedicate time each week to all areas of your business, such as quoting, invoicing, marketing, building relationships and, of course, creating. This can all become quite chaotic if you aren’t organised.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you first started out?
The journey was definitely messy. I loved art in school and college, but I was never really informed about the creative career options available, and I think this is still a big issue in education. I thought the best option would be to take English Literature at university with the aim of becoming a writer. Later on, I deferred a place at Goldsmiths to work as a chalet host in the French Alps. I actually didn’t draw for a whole year during this, and genuinely had my eyes set on writing for a big paper after my degree.

When it came to starting the course, I remember sitting in a seminar thinking to myself, “What am I doing here?” I was endlessly jealous of my flatmates bringing back what they had made in design and other creative courses, and knew that I needed to drop out.

“I loved art in school and college, but I was never really informed about the creative career options available.”

After moving back home, I spent the remainder of my loan on trying to figure out what creative area interested me most. I decided to try an ‘Introduction to Fashion’ course at LCF and got thrown into what fashion design was all about. One of the girls on the course said that she used to be an illustrator but gave up as she found it too stressful. She didn’t exactly sell me this career, but I was intrigued; at the time I thought illustration was just drawing children’s books. After some research, I realised it was much more than that and I decided I wanted to apply for a degree in illustration – plus, I was pretty terrible on a sewing machine.

Most universities require you to have completed an art foundation course, but as I was over 19, I would not have been able to afford to go, as I had missed the cutoff point. Instead, I spent my breaks working as a waiter in the café next door and building a portfolio for my application. I was over the moon when I got accepted into all my options and decided to join Brighton’s illustration course.

Rosie’s desk

How did you go about landing your first clients?
To be honest, I landed my first clients quite naturally. During lockdown and while working on uni projects, I decided I needed to be more consistent on social media – drawing every day, experimenting and posting. Over time my work progressed with practice, and my social media following grew.

I used Instagram to share my work and grow a following of people that genuinely liked what I was creating. I think this is what brought me clients who actually wanted to work with me and my style, rather than just fulfil an illustration job you could search for on Google. That’s when an art director saw my work on social media and got in touch for my first commission.

Although I have never contacted clients directly, I have purposely put my work In front of potential clients in spaces such as LinkedIn and Instagram, which I believe has helped me get jobs. A year down the line, I have finished my degree and been lucky enough to have worked on a number of different projects as a freelance illustrator.

Rosie’s work for Elephant Magazine

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Firstly, I love the Creative Rebels podcast. It’s always a great boost of weekly motivation, and I have learnt a lot from them and their guests.

Secondly, The Association of Illustrators has been so helpful with the information they provide, especially the legal bits, and it’s a must to join this if you’re an illustrator starting out.

Lastly, it has to be the Designers Humor Instagram page; their memes are hilarious and pretty relatable to any person in the design industry.

Editorial work for Time Out

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Creatives experience a lot of self-doubt about their work, and I think this has been something that I’ve had to learn to get used to and push through. I have had to remind myself that not every project will go perfectly, and if you’re completely satisfied with your work, you probably aren’t growing either.

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Posting my work on social media has got me almost all of my jobs so far, so I do believe it is incredibly important. You can create the most amazing work, but if people can’t see it, it is hard for them to imagine how they can work with you. I believe it also creates a sense of community with artists worldwide, and I have found this area of Instagram surprisingly supportive.

From my experience with Instagram, it is all about being consistent. Published is better than perfect, and you need to be posting and engaging one to two times a week at least. It also takes time to build a supportive following, so be patient and your work will get better while they do. However, you do need to create a healthy balance; limit your daily intake of social media, and remember it’s not a race.

Rosie Barker illustrator creativelivesinprogress 09

Hometown Memories

Rosie Barker illustrator creativelivesinprogress 10

Aisle 5

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I have learnt that you have to be prepared to lose jobs. Quoting yourself too low affects how companies value the industry, and says a lot about who is commissioning you. If they are looking for a cheap job, then the project will probably be disorganised and cause you more stress than it’s worth. The Association of Illustrators and Intern have a lot of really great information about how to price yourself, which helped me a lot when starting out.

“Even though I could continue to financially support myself through my illustration work, having some variety in the week helps my creative practice.”

I also think it’s crucial to save money as an illustrator and have a buffer for those quieter times. Clients will usually pay 30 days after the project has finished unless you request otherwise. Living on the edge of the money pot each month can be stressful and risky. I have been lucky enough not to have had to take on any supplementary work over the summer months; however I am now looking to do something part-time again.

Even though I could continue to financially support myself through my illustration work alone, I think that having some variety in the week helps my creative practice. Working all day every day on your creative work can feel intense when you think you have to do it to make a living. Whereas, knowing that bills are covered and having a divide in the week can be a much more positive way of working than people may think.

Work for Koyoi Craft Cocktails
Work for Koyoi Craft Cocktails

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
I think [illustrator and artist] Kelly Anna talked at my university about her career when she said “be stupidly confident,” and it’s stuck with me ever since. I think this has helped me take risks and push self-doubt out the way because the only way you’re going to learn and grow is by doing things wrong first.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
My first bit of advice is to start drawing every day, even if it is just a line on the page, because the chances are, you’ll carry on and draw a lot more. Starting is always the most challenging part, but over time, your skills will improve and you’ll better understand yourself and your unique way of working.

I often begin by drawing things I have seen in my daily life, no matter how mundane. Eventually, the creative part of your brain starts to kick in and before you know it, you’ve filled two pages. Open your eyes to what you like visually and unpick elements of other artists’ work and why you are intrigued by it. This will help you find your own unique voice and practice.

Then, you need a place to post the work you’ve been creating. Start a social media account and set yourself a goal to post weekly or as many times that is reasonable, but challenging. Spend some time connecting with artists and art directors that you’d like to work with or find inspiring. Finally, keep going and be patient – even when it gets tough. This may seem simple, but it is definitely the most challenging part, and will determine your success and longevity in any creative practice.

Mention Rosie Barker
Interview by Lyla Johnston