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Meet Rose Wilkinson, the arts graduate creating mesmerising, historic illustrations


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Rose Wilkinson, originally from Hereford and now living and working in London, is an illustrator and artist with a penchant for quirky historical characters, colourful illustrations and sourcing inspiration from the natural world around her.

Image courtesy of Rose Wilkinson

A graduate of the Cardiff School of Art and Design and having just completed a Masters at Camberwell College of Arts, Rose’s current base in the Big Smoke is a little different to the quiet countryside villages of Herefordshire. “I feel very lucky that I grew up just outside of a very small village called Madley… it’s a very inspiring place that lead me to explore themes of nature throughout my artwork, even after moving to bigger cities later in life,” she says. 

Sleepy cafes, local greengrocers that know your friend’s mother’s cousins and plenty of fields make up this idyllic English shire, but it’s the “historical houses, arts college and events such as Herefordshire Art Week and The Hay Festival” that really ignited the artistic flame for Rose in her early years.

Moving to Cardiff was a big change for the illustrator, but one she took in her stride. She says: “It felt huge! But I was so lucky that I was on a really supportive and inspiring course with amazing tutors…the illustration course pushes you to think outside the box and to see illustration not simply as drawings or paintings, but as any form of visual communication.” Be that cartoons, performance, lino print or traditional styles, Rose never felt stifled to fit into one box or confined to a certain set of rules: “In fact, the term ‘style’ is banned on the course!”  

'Melusine' by Rose Wilkinson

It’s easy to define yourself at a young age and narrow your framework to focus on one aspect of your craft very well, but Rose kept her eyes and her mind wide open, particularly around her family members. “History has always been a big interest in my family, particularly for my Pop who grew up finding interesting objects, cataloguing them and charging his friends and family to visit his ‘museum’.” Taking after her grandfather’s spirit, Rose grasped for influences accessible to her – from historical characters digested in flashcards and post-its during her A-Level Early Modern History class to the National Trust houses dotted across the UK. 

Since finishing at Cardiff, Rose has worked with the likes of Lord John Bird (the founder of the Big Issue), BBC History Magazine and Honest History Magazine, based in LA, among many others. And despite her career steadily turning upward, she’s keeping her head firmly planted on her shoulders: “The only way I got these awesome commissions was by pushing myself and not expecting to ‘be discovered’ as we can often be led to believe we will after our final degree show.” 

'Digger' by Rose Wilkinson

It's easy to believe that everything will eventually fall into place on leaving university, but in the arts sphere - a community constantly having its funding cut by the government, something that Rose discovered during her Master's degree in London - it's important to weave your web of contacts far and wide. "Make good connections with fellow art students," she says. "You can support each other over the course, and more importantly, when it's finished." Rose also advises all of you currently avoiding 9am tutorials to get your butts in gear: "Make the most of the time you have with your lecturers, particularly during tutorials. They have so much wisdom - you'll realise how valuable it is as soon as you leave!" 

A career in the arts is by no means the easy route - it means chasing commissions, invoices, the prospect of potentially not landing any work at all, but as Rose echoes, it's "extremely important to our society". Art is "in everything we do" from "traffic signs or medical diagrams" - those small forms of communicative arts all tell a story, for a purpose or purely for art's sake. Rose's path is a murky one, but one thing's for sure, she'll be the one shining the torch at the front of the group. 

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