This October, we talked to the Cotswold-based illustrator, Gemma Hampton about how she developed her signature free-flowing style, her working life and the organic growth of her career.
Your work often features simple and everyday subjects—particularly botanical or still life—why do you think you’re drawn to these?
Spending time in nature is hugely important to me. I enjoy long, slow walks in the countryside, observing the beauty of the surrounding landscape and find so much inspiration on these journeys. I use this precious time to switch off and take in all the sensations, helping me to relax, meditate and boost wellbeing. Gardening is a hobby I have taken up in recent years, growing produce and becoming more self-sufficient, embracing the change in seasons. I find the process fascinating and so satisfying. I am drawn to organic forms and feel an affinity with botanical subjects. Working primarily in ink and watercolour, the freedom and fluidity of these mediums allows me to capture the essence of form through expressive line drawing and minimal mark making.
Tell us a little about your studio space?
I work from the home I share with my husband, daughter and our ever-growing collection of houseplants. My studio space is essentially our dining room. When creating larger artworks or packing card and print orders I work at the dining table and for smaller sketches and admin tasks I sit at an antique bureau. I sometimes work outdoors too, observing subjects in their natural habitat. Bringing nature indoors creates a peaceful energy and helps me to feel inspired.
When did you first begin drawing? Have you any stories regarding your earliest sketches?
Drawing has been a passion for as long as I can remember. I used to sketch pencil portraits of my teddy bears and paint at a little easel wearing my father's old shirts. I have a vivid early memory of winning a colouring competition and going to collect my prize which, much to my delight, was a pencil case filled with stationery. As I grew older I took a break before sketching on a regular basis.
How did you develop your signature restrained style of illustration?
My style has evolved over time. I have explored different mediums and used to work with lots more colour, though have always favoured still life and botanical subjects. I find my artwork reflects my personal tastes and has become more minimal as my practice has developed. I invested in a brush pen and ink a few years ago which transformed my drawing style. I used to work in much greater detail which I found wasn't particularly suited to the tool. Inspired by East Asian ink wash painting, I experimented with the use of simple sweeping lines and mark making. I am always striving to strip back the detail, which is harder than it appears. I often find I get the best results through sketching the same subject quickly and multiple times, changing the composition slightly each time. This way of working frees up my drawing practice, creating a flow of energy and a sense of balance.
Did you study art or did your career as an illustrator develop organically?
I studied art at school but did a drama degree at university. Having taken a break from drawing and painting, I began keeping a sketchbook in my early twenties. I rediscovered my passion for drawing and found it therapeutic. I continued to create and develop my practice, experimenting with different mediums. While living in Bristol I began selling greeting cards and prints at local markets and from there had some products stocked by independent retailers. My career has grown organically at a steady pace and it has been a learning curve. I now take on commissions, exhibit my work and have recently started teaching brush illustration workshops.
Has becoming a mother influenced your work at all—in how you approach your day to day tasks or has it changed what you want to create?
Becoming a mother has been both wonderful and exhausting! My daughter Enid is six months old and It is incredibly challenging trying to juggle taking care of her with creative work and housework. I am lucky to have such a supportive husband. As I am generally quite an efficient person, I have had to learn to let go and accept that I am not able to get everything done. I've found it useful to tackle a few tasks on my list per day and feel satisfied with small accomplishments. I try to do some sketching and admin when I get a little free time while Enid naps, though I have had to slow everything down lately as she is my priority.
You live in the Cotswolds, in what ways does living there influence your work?
We moved back here earlier this year after spending seven years living in Bristol. It is a real contrast to city life, much more peaceful and has a slower pace that I like. The Cotswolds is a naturally beautiful area with many walking trails, hills and quaint towns to explore; I find it very charming. The landscapes are picturesque and walking in nature is restorative. I always come back from a walk feeling inspired, full of creative energy.