Meet Cornish Illustrator, Sophie Harding

Getting Creative in Cornwall…

Cornwall is fast becoming a popular destination for artists and creatives alike. I don’t know if it’s the myriad of independent galleries, the fresh sea air, or just the laid back way of life, but there’s certainly something about this corner of the West Country that is attracting some serious talent. Take my latest Q&A guest: Sophie Harding. Sophie is an illustrator and designer based in the town of Penzance, where she lives with her son and whippet in a terraced cottage by the sea. Pretty idyllic, right?

There’s a real charm to Sophie’s artwork, which often features colourful designs inspired by the seaside and the community around her.  Her work portfolio spans everything from paintings and greeting cards to textiles and jigsaws; and she also boasts an impressive list of previous clients, including M&S, WHSmith and Ladybird Books. Without a doubt, Sophie Harding’s career is an enviable one and I wanted to find out more about what prompted her to pursue a creative livelihood in the first place…

Sophie, what is your earliest memory of being creative?

My earliest memory of being creative was when I was around 6 years old and I first learnt how to sew. I’m not sure who taught me, possibly a teacher as my mum hated sewing. I smuggled some fabric, a needle and thread into school so I could sew during lessons. I was found out by the teacher and got into trouble for it!

When/why did you take the leap to go full-time as an illustrator/designer?

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to have a creative career. As a child I was forever drawing, painting, sewing and knitting – it was my passion. I watched a documentary on the BBC about  the fashion course at Central St Martins when I was 14 and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. After my foundation course at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design I applied for Central St Martins and was accepted. In 1992 I graduated with a BA Hons in Fashion and Textile design.
By this time I knew that I didn’t want to follow a career in fashion and I decided to pursue being a freelance illustrator instead. I decided to give it  a year and if I didn’t manage to get enough work I would do something else, maybe get a proper job, although I didn’t know what else I could do!

Within a year, having traipsed around London with my portfolio, I managed to have enough work to support myself and I became self employed. I did have a huge amount of rejection during this time, but I was very tenacious and kept on going.
My first commission was for ‘Friends of the Earth’, designing two christmas gift wraps and from there things sky rocketed.
Over the years, I’ve designed cards and gift wrap for M&S, worked in New York as a textile designer,  illustrated children’s magazines, created designs for tableware, christmas crackers, cups, posters, jigsaw puzzles, wallpaper, illustrated a children’s book, the list goes on…. I’ve been doing this for 24 years now!

Have you faced any challenges in pursuing a creative career?

I’ve had plenty of challenges. Tight deadlines, erratic income, harsh criticism of work, very late payments, lots of competition, not enough holidays or time off, commissions that never materialise plus the stress of self promotion on social media! It can be quite demoralising and it’s a challenge to keep buoyant, but it’s all I know and I’m lucky to be able to continue to do something that I love.

Can you describe your aesthetic in just three words?
Originality, Colour, Charm

How long did it take you to perfect your illustrative style?

My style has naturally evolved over the years and I like to think that it’s easy to recognise a piece of my work. I have common themes that run through my work in different mediums. This year I’ve been painting in oils because I was feeling that my acrylic paintings were getting tighter and tighter in style and I was keen to loosen up a bit. I think it’s really important that my work continues to evolve.

Who or what would you say inspires you to create your work?

I’m inspired by living in Cornwall. Lots of elements of the county appear in my work, seagulls, the sea, sun, boats, seascapes, landscapes and houses. I’m currently inspired by a few different artists – Milton Avery, Bonnard, David Shrigley, Alice Mumford,  Mary Fedden, Craigie Aitchison and Matisse.

If your studio was on fire and you could only grab one thing – what would it be?

I would grab my Teresa Gilder sculpture which sits on my desk.

If you could sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with anyone (past or present) who would it be
and why?

I would love to sit down and have a cup of tea with my mum. She passed away when I was in my final week of college, when I was 21.

What is the best thing about being based in Penzance?

The best thing about being based in Penzance is being so close to the sea. I  love swimming in the sea and I love walking along the prom just looking at the sea.

Where can we find your work?

My work is available from my online shop and various galleries:

Avalon, Marazion
Blue Bramble, St Ives
Square Gallery , St Mawes
Gallery Tresco, Tresco
Mulberry Tree Gallery, Swanage

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