Creative Lives — Bristol-based illustrator Rosi Tooth on drawing blue body hair and taking each day as it comes
For many of us, finding creative work that we resonate with is welcomed more than ever right now. Bristol-based illustrator and ceramicist Rosi Tooth creates just that. With a focus on starting conversations that matter, Rosi’s work regularly addresses issues such as mental health, loneliness – and most recently, the global pandemic. A fine art graduate of 2017 from Oxford Brookes, Rosi was initially faced with a plethora of job rejections and a traumatising unpaid internship. But gradually, Rosi began experimenting by drawing “squiggly blobby nude ladies” and the rest was history. From blue pubic hairs to humorous and honest accompanying copy, Rosi is taking it one day at a time and inspiring a generation whilst she’s at it. We learn a thing or two from the young artist, like how she is learning to accept her body through her work and the impact leaving university had on her mental health and confidence.
In-House Graphic Designer and Freelance Illustrator
Fine Art, Oxford Brookes (2014–2017)
Rosi in her home studio
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an illustrator, graphic designer and ceramicist. I’m based in Bristol and currently work in-house during the week as a graphic designer, whilst running my illustration and ceramics business on the side. My work as an illustrator and ceramicist promotes female body positivity as well as tackling topics surrounding mental health and self-awareness.
Most of the work I produce is for myself which is then sold through my online shop; however I have worked with a few companies like Bristol-based stationery brand VENT for Change and more recently I’ve finished designing a illustrated children’s book. The majority of my work has led me to talk on panels and run my own workshops, which I really enjoy doing.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
Monday to Friday I work as a graphic designer at an in-house publishing agency in Bristol. I mostly produce commercial and corporate designs for them. After 5pm I work on my own stuff in my home studio – this often stretches into my weekend too. I use my weekends to make sure I’m on top of my admin, and spend any leftover time drawing or making ceramics. I was working on a string of workshops and talks, but we’ve had to press pause on that.
How are you right now and how has this period changed the way you work?
Honestly I’m not really sure how I am. Some days seem easy and I feel as if nothing has changed – but then the reality of the pandemic and the uncertainty around how long it will last starts playing on my mind. Right now I’m working from home doing my graphic design job. I enjoy working from home and the lack of commute which means I can have a much slower morning of sitting in my living room and drinking coffee.
‘Blend In’ (2020)
‘Proud To Be A Woman’ (2020)
Is there is anything that is particularly helping you at this time?
It sounds really silly but Animal Crossing is helping me massively. It gives me the right amount of escapism as well as a bit of control which I feel I’m lacking right now.
In light of what’s happening at the moment, do you have any thoughts on how artists can use their skills to create change or impact?
Artists are already doing such an outstanding job of pulling together to create things like free colouring books, postcards to send to loved ones, online tutorials and workshops, but the problem is that most of them aren’t being paid for the work they’re doing. I have been asked to do a lot of free work, which I can take on since I am lucky enough to still have a steady income – but I know that not everyone is in the same position as me. If you’re asking artists to make work, please pay them!
‘Self Care Isolation’ Positive Post Campaign (2020)
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I just finished illustrating a children’s book called Fabulous Families commissioned and written by a lovely Italian couple. The book has seven stories by seven different illustrators that highlight various types of families: from same sex to single parents. I also have a T-Shirt campaign running with Print Social to raise money for Women’s Aid – one of my favourite charities! It’s important to remember that during the lockdown not everyone is safe at home and we need to ensure charities can continue working and keeping women and children safe. I’ll also hopefully be running a Things I’d Tell My Younger Self workshop for The Other Art Fair at the end of the year which I’m really looking forward to.
‘Wash Your Hands’ (2020)
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Creativity, drive and drawing style – these are super important to me. Also passion – there is no way I’d be doing this if I didn’t 100% want it.
What do you like about working in Bristol?
I love how many creatives there are in Bristol. There are so many hidden gems like Nick Hands printing press workshop that I only discovered at a Glug talk earlier this year. I love the size of Bristol, it’s not too big or too small. I can walk to my printers and to Trylla, a local ceramics shop. There are just so many quirky places to go and things to see.
“There is a lot of pressure to be creative every day and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of everything.”
What tools do you use most for your work?
I use an iPad and a pencil with the drawing app Procreate. If I get an idea during the day, I usually just scribble it on a sticky note and stick it to my computer screen so I can stare at it all day.
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
I just moved house and bought my own kiln which means I’ll be experimenting with lots of new pieces! I’m working on a range of ceramic vases based off my ‘Grow Your Own’ print and also a ceramic coffee cup series with all my new clays that I’m hoping to release sometime this year.
‘Grow Your Own’ ceramic vase and print (2020)
What inspires your work? And how important do you think it is to land on a particular style as a creative?
Observing how people go about their days inspires me and ideas come to me when I’m reflecting. I do think it’s important to have a style – it makes your work memorable and professional. People like consistency, and if you have a style then a client is more likely to be able to visualise what sort of thing you can produce for them. Having said that – your style should always be developing and evolving, but these changes should happen slowly.
How did you come to focus on the female form and body positivity in such a unique and imaginative way?
It goes without saying; I had quite an unhealthy relationship with my body for a long time. One day I just got so sick and tired of my own perspective. I knew that I would be happier if I could just accept myself, but I didn’t know where to begin. I started drawing squiggly blobby nude ladies after being deeply inspired by Amber Vittoria’s colourful bold illustrations in an attempt to grow more comfortable with imperfections. It worked, to say the least and I fell in love with the way my ladies looked – hair and all. A friend later said to me “When you first started drawing in this style I desperately wanted you not to draw the body hair because I found it jarring. But now I wouldn’t want them to look any other way”. I loved this so much because that is exactly how I felt. It’s about accepting yourself. The colour palette I began using became more defined the more I drew and I’m sure it will evolve as my style grows.
How I Got Here
Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I did study at degree level but my degree doesn’t really have much to do skill-wise with what I do now. I was never taught to use any of the programs I use in my jobs. However, I was taught to properly research and develop an idea. We always used to joke that fine art was a degree in conceptual thinking. I think university bought me time to do some much-needed social development and growing; I wasn’t ready for the world at 18. I used to be quite bitter that I didn’t do illustration at degree level because I felt like I missed out – but actually now I’m glad because I don’t think I’d be producing the type of work I do otherwise.
‘Lost My Mojo’ (2020)
‘I Thought It Was Thursday’ (2019)
“I think university bought me time to do some much-needed social development and growing; I wasn’t ready for the world at 18.”
After graduating what were your initial steps?
I moved back home to London and found it very hard to get a job. I didn’t even know what jobs I could get. I did an unpaid internship, which was terrible, and then I moved back to Oxford for a zero-hour contract job at an art gallery. It was terrifying not knowing if I would be able to pay my rent each month, and the job was awful for my mental health. I was a gallery assistant who basically stood in a room and barely got to speak to anyone for days on end. I actually got signed off on sick leave for three weeks, which is when I decided to quit. I moved to Bristol and finally got my first design job six months and three cities later.
‘Spring Flowers’ (2020)
You started illustrating back in March 2019, what instigated this move?
After working in graphic design for a year and a half, it just wasn’t fulfilling me in the same way fine art did. I felt so uninspired and really self-conscious because I didn’t really have a hobby, I just would sit and watch Netflix every evening. A friend encouraged me to start posting on an old art account, I had less than 200 followers and in the beginning it really was just for me. I found some artists I admired and drew inspiration from them and just kept developing my style. I had no idea it would lead to owning my own business with multiple clients.
“After working in design for a year or so, graphic design just wasn’t really fulfilling me in the same way fine art did.”
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
Leaving university was a huge shock to the system! I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to get a job and I felt particularly lied to. Doing an unpaid internship was so hard – and not just because it was unpaid. I was treated so poorly and taken advantage of a lot. I learnt that even though I was young and less experienced I didn’t deserve to be treated badly.
My biggest lesson from it all was that I shouldn’t give away my niche. My job at Vent for Change was very illustrative as well as design-based, and the series I created under their name was a lot of ‘me.’ I gave them my illustrative style and my handwriting. They still use it on products even though I’ve left – it doesn’t feel great to see a collection I have no part to play in with my handwriting on the front of it.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative at this time?
Don’t work so hard that you burn out. Experiment a lot before honing in on a style, and have fun whilst doing it! Once you’ve got a style, keep developing it and never stop. Make work about things you love – it will feel so much more genuine.