Born and educated in the UK, illustrator Liz Rowland is now based and living in Melbourne, Australia. Rowland has travelled extensively around the world to places like South America, Morocco, Italy, Malaysia, Colombia and Tasmania. The illustrator has very much been inspired by her travels, hence documenting a lot of the places she visits into joyful illustrations. We spoke to Rowland about her upbringing in the UK, the creative scene in Melbourne and her exciting plans for the near future.
“I am a British Illustrator now living in Melbourne, Australia. I grew up in a big town in Shropshire, right in the middle of the UK. I was always itching to get out and see the world. I left to study Illustration at University, and from there I moved to London and travelled as often as I could manage. I went on to study a foundation course in my hometown without really understanding what illustration was. I was just content knowing that the course meant I got to do art everyday. During that course I learnt about graphic design and illustration properly, and heard about the Illustration course at Falmouth University and made that my next goal. I was so happy when I got my acceptance letter! My mum and I just started screaming.”
“My mum is big on craft so when I was growing up our house was full of felt, fabrics, paints, plasticine. It still is now. We baked play dough and made jewellery boxes and wrote stories. I continued with art for my entire childhood, I took my sketchbook and pencils everywhere! My parents were separated and my Dad lived all over the place. He was based in Istanbul during my teenage years, so my brother and I would visit and I would take my sketchbook and record things. Everything was so different there and it fascinated me. I had no doubts that I wanted to do a creative job, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. At school I studied textiles and obsessed over drawing the models. I discovered fashion illustration was a legitimate thing, so I made immediate plans to move to live in Paris and began studying French alongside my art foundation. Turns out I was very bad at French and I am absolutely not cut out for the fashion world.”
After completing university, Rowland interned in London where she assisted in illustration agencies and moved onto project management for a while in a packaging studio. “After a few years in the job I started to question if it was what I wanted to do long term. I had given up drawing entirely by then and felt like I had lost the thing I was most passionate about”, Rowland says. “I left that full time job and decided to travel for a while and give myself some time to figure out my next move. I spent six months travelling South America, getting back into painting, and flew on to Melbourne from there. My boyfriend had a contract starting here and I knew it had a strong creative scene. We fell in love with it once we arrived and decided to stay put for a while. I found a casual job to get back on my feet and found a studio (way more affordable than in London!)”.
“The creative scene (in Melbourne) is strong here. It also feels much more free and accessible, less competitive maybe, despite the amount of creatives here. I live in the creative heart of the city and it is filled with studios and galleries. There are independent exhibitions and art markets on every week. Local creatives collaborate with local shops which I love. There are loads of street artists here! There is less commercial work for illustrators, but it creates a drive to make money in other ways, so making products and/or having exhibitions and selling original works.” Comparing the creative scene in Melbourne to that of where she grew up, Rowland talked about the lack of creativity in her hometown. “It’s a modern town and a little sterile as a result. Then I moved to London, which has always been the creative capital and was super exciting at first. But being a creative in London at the moment is so tough, with the cost of rent and life in general. Life is expensive in Melbourne too, but the wages are much higher, so you can work a part time job and get by quite comfortably, whilst building up freelance work. It gave me some breathing room in the early days.”
Having travelled to a lot of places, it was only natural for Rowland to document her travels through illustrating. “Nearly all of my inspiration comes from travel, I find I start to slow down and struggle with fresh ideas when I have been in the same routine or place for too long. I am fascinated by cultures and understanding different ways of living. I make sense of a place through painting it, studying it in detail and feeling engulfed in that world. I love Morocco, the history and colours and craziness of it, the architecture and food and smells. Mexico is one of my favourite places for very similar reasons. Colombia, mainly due to the people. I travelled around Malaysia on a trip a few years ago and it was my highlight, it has such a mix of cultures. Italy, which is so vastly different to the others mentioned but somewhere I dream of living one day! I love the wildlife in Australia, sometimes I forget where I am (Melbourne is very European!) and then a parrot will cruise by. Tasmania, I’ve been a couple of time over the past year. It’s somewhere that was so unknown and remote to me as a child, I had no clue where it was in the world or what it might be like there. It’s actually quite similar to the UK in some ways, and has a certain light to it in the evening that makes everything feel like a painting, like a soft blue/purple blanket of light.”
Talking about her illustrating style, Rowland says it’s something she struggled with. “I think it’s the main reason I didn’t feel ready for the commercial world straight after University, I was still approaching every project in a different way and wasn’t sure of myself as a result. Of course my current style is just me drawing without thinking too much about style, it just took me ages to chill out and have confidence in what I was doing. Painting everyday on the trip through South America helped me to start figuring it out. I’m still working on it though, and hope to always be. I don’t want to get bored and complacent, I want to be somewhere just outside of my comfort zone with each new project.” Speaking of artists who have influenced her work, Rowland mentioned Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar, Japanese artist Miroco Machiko, American folk artist Grandma Moses who “didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s”, David Hockney and Laura Carlin. “Laura Carlin is my favourite Illustrator, I love all that she creates and I admire her approach. She isn’t on social media or plugging her work at every chance, but instead has built up a loyal following through years of hard work. She’s found that sweet spot between being a commercial illustrator but retains a certain exclusivity and mystery.”
When Rowland is not making art, she enjoys being outdoors, hiking, cycling, going to the beach, eating good food and being with her favourite people. “I see friends as often as possible, especially important now that I spend a lot of time of my own during the day. I listen to an endless amount of podcasts. I like to read. I like to watch films. I gym to stay fit, but it also helps my productivity.” We were also curious to know about artists she would like to collaborate with in the future and if she has any exciting projects coming up. “I would love to spend some time working with traditional artists from rich cultures across the world. For example I plan to spend some time learning from Aboriginal artists here in Australia at some stage. Japan and India are high on my list too. I want to better understand their approach and their methods, but mostly learn from their patience and dedication. I am heading to India next month for a couple of weeks, I’m so excited about that. It is somewhere I have wanted to go for such a long time and take such huge inspiration from anyway. So I have some personal work I want to develop whilst I’m there. I think that will keep me going for a while afterwards. Aside from that my focus for the next year is to continue to build up commercial work and be in a place where I am making a full time living from illustration!”