A few days after we met with Bristolian illustrator Nicola Colton, we returned to Hamilton House to find out all about the work of joyous and talented illustrator Rosanna Tasker. Delving into the world of dreams and returning to her uninhibited childhood roots, Rosanna creates beautiful, dreamlike visuals that whisper poetic possibilities and evoke subtle mysteries.
We engaged in an uplifting conversation about the blossoming artistic community hosted by Hamilton House, about Rosanna’s fascination with the aesthetics of the 1920s and her childlike approach to breaking the artistic rules. We stopped for coffee and cake by The Bristolian, one of her favourite spots to hang out in Stokes Croft, where we chatted about her latest commission for The Washington Post and her passion for classical piano and Burlesque, and ended our get-together with an invigorating plant-touching spree at the Botanic Gardens.
For people who don’t know you – who is Rosanna Tasker?
I am a 25 year old freelance illustrator living and working in Bristol. I grew up in Shropshire in a beautiful cul-de-sac of four houses. It was a tight knit community of families, with slight hippy commune vibes. I absolutely love the city, but I'm a country girl at heart and often need my fix of greenery.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
There are so many! Childhood feels like this colourful, countryside dream where the days lasted for eternity and were awash with imaginary games. We were always outside rain or shine; swimming in the river, climbing trees, building hay bale houses, making mud pots, choreographing dance routines to Billie Piper, sewing tiny clothes for the fairies, writing stories and performing our own plays. The four families in our cul-de-sac threw what we called “The Big Party” every two years, which was like a miniature festival in our field. There’d be hundreds of friends camping, with my dad's shed converted into a stage where live bands played, and even now the sound of a tent unzipping makes me excitedly nostalgic.
What about your favourite childhood book?
I absolutely loved the Dr. Xargle series (written by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross), it's so comically charming and I still think the concept of an alien perspective on human civilisation is completely genius.
Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?
I have an old primary school workbook where I state that my life goal is to work in a shoe shop. I remember this being because I was fascinated by the secret room at the back of stores, from which shop assistants produced boxed up pairs of shoes; I imagined that behind the door was a huge, high-ceilinged vault of hundreds of shelves packed tightly with shoeboxes, complete with sliding library ladders.
Where does your fascination with the 1920s come from?
I became enamoured with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's love letters and the way they conjure up such a beautiful, exciting impression of the time. I love the aesthetics of flappers and speakeasies, and the idea of female social emancipation taking off in such a spirited way through androgyny, partying and flirtation. Obviously there was a hugely problematic class divide in the 20s and I hold a completely romanticised ideal of the era, based on novels depicting the hedonistic lifestyle of the affluent.
Womanhood and the female body seem to be constant elements in your work. Can the viewer interpret this as a feminist statement?
I'm sure there are elements of that subconsciously, but really I think I just find women visually interesting!
You have a very distinctive illustration style that reminds us of the Czechoslovakian Art Stamp Collections from the 60’s and 70’s. When did you start developing your current style and how do you see it evolving over time?
Thank you, that's a lovely comparison! I would say my style largely developed during university, but it mostly came from unlearning everything I was told at school and college about how I should draw. That stuff is important too, and I do believe in learning the rules before breaking them, but to find your own unique style you definitely have to return to your uninhibited childhood roots and rediscover what comes naturally to you. Every new piece of work is an opportunity to challenge myself, try something new, and develop my skills, so who knows which path my visual identity will take in the future.
Tell us a bit about your creative process.
My illustrations are created through a combination of pencil linework, soft crayon shading, and either punchy or delicate gouache painting. The image is drawn and painted on separate layers using a lightbox, which are then scanned, and the final composition is completed on Photoshop to allow for alterations.
You have become a successful illustrator in a short period of time. What have been the major forces behind this success?
After university I was very lucky to get my first real-world commission working on a children's book with Moon Design & Build. The combination of realising my own capability as well as the encouragement I received from the lovely people within the company really helped give me the confidence to throw myself in at the deep end of the freelance swimming pool. I owe a lot to the support of my family and friends who have been so crucial in keeping me going through moments of self doubt. I'm very much still in the early stages of building my career, but staying positive seems very important. You never know what opportunity is just around the corner!
Tell us about your favourite collaboration or project.
I had a grand old time working on a commission for The Guardian, creating four images to accompany their ‘Journey of The Future’ competition. The subject matter was inspiring and I had a lot of freedom to be playful.
How did you find your current studio and what do you like about the area?
I found my studio in Hamilton House through a good friend. It's right in the heart of Stokes Croft and is such a fantastic hub of creative activity. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many lovely, talented people and I can't express how much this building means to me.
You live and work in Bristol. What made you choose this location and what do you love about living here?
After studying illustration at Bristol UWE, I stayed in the city for its buzzing atmosphere and creative charm. The whole city feels so friendly and I love that it's small enough to bump into people you know every day.
What is your most recent source of inspiration?
Tropical Araucaria trees and Dragon Blood trees in Gran Canaria. Also the colour palette of my neighbour's handsome cat (grey fur with a yellow collar).
What are you currently working on?
I've just finished a mural design for the new Pizza Workshop restaurant in Bristol, a cover illustration for The Washington Post's Local Living section, and album art for a french singer whose lyrics are written by 6-11 year olds. I'm currently finishing off a picture book for a private client and her children, and from next week will be working on a series of book covers for Usborne.
What would be your dream project?
Illustrating a wonderful book or doing an album cover/tour poster for a musician that I love. It's very English of me, but I've always been excited by the idea of having an illustration used on tea packaging.
When you are not in your studio, where is one most likely to find you?
Probably in The Canteen below my studio! My life really does centre around Hamilton House and the wonderful people there.
Tell us about your other passions: classical piano and bass guitar.
I joined a band at university within a month of starting to play bass, so I had to learn a lot on the spot. We had the best times and it's a shame we've gone our separate ways now. I started learning piano when I was six. I love anything in a minor key from the Romantic period, especially Chopin. My grandpa re-began playing piano when I started, and we fed off each other's enthusiasm and shared repertoires until he passed away two years ago. It's been such an important part of my life.
Where are you taking Charleston and Burlesque classes?
I was taking classes at The Showgirl Academy which was brilliant, and now I'm continuing Burlesque at The Old Malt House. Dancing makes me so happy, and Burlesque is the biggest confidence boost. Being in a room full of women supporting each other and owning their sexuality away from the male gaze feels very empowering.
Do you listen to music while you work? What are you listening to these days?
I've had another Tom Waits binge recently, and been really loving Betty Davis. I struggle to fully concentrate on work when listening to great music though! Strangely, I tend to focus better when listening to podcasts. Some favourites are This American Life, Invisibilia, Criminal, Adam & Joe, and Desert Island Disks.
What book you would love to illustrate the most?
It would have to be a classic like The Great Gatsby.
What would we find in your wardrobe? How would you describe your personal style?
I'd like to think it's somewhere between Jane Birkin and Bettie Page, but I doubt that's what it translates as! My great-grandmother was an Irish seamstress and although we never met, I’m lucky to have some of her handmade garments that have been passed down through the generations. My nana was a prolific knitter with eccentric taste in wool, so I've kind of hoarded about 50 of her big knitted jumpers.
What are your dreams and ambitions for Rosanna Tasker Illustration?
I just hope I can keep working as a full-time illustrator! I'm so grateful that I'm able to spend my days doing something I love. To be creating, being challenged, learning and evolving is a wonderful feeling. Having a portfolio of imagery that spans my whole life would be so special.