Start with a pinch of pop culture and surrealism. Add folklore references, sprinkle some cowboy influences and mix with a good measure of vintage 70s aesthetics, and you’ll get arose.garden, an Eden of creativity for its founder Betsy. What the self-taught artist describes as a “tiny slice of respite from reality” began as their happy place, and, with a lot of care and hard work, blossomed into a creative business.
We met Betsy to talk about their inspirations, how they started their illustration business, and the importance of believing in your work as an artist.
Tell us a bit more about yourself. What inspired you to launch your own illustration business, arose.garden?
I’m a self-taught queer artist from the English countryside who loves anything 1970s, folklore-ish or cowboy-inspired. Arose.garden existed as a small Instagram account where I posted photos of my artwork and illustration process. It was a tiny corner of the internet for me to post my weird sketches and people seemed to like them.
After getting some freelance opportunities and advertisement projects in 2019, I decided I would finally take the plunge and set up a shop to sell prints of my artwork. The bulk of this happened in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I felt discombobulated enough and thought what the heck, starting my own business can’t make things much worse. I have always wanted to be an artist, and although my parents have fiercely encouraged me to pursue whatever made me happy, I found that my experience in school had convinced me that “artist” was not a viable or responsible career path. It was really my peers and those that followed arose.garden from the beginning that gave me enough confidence to try things out properly.
Did you face any challenges in your journey as a self-taught artist and entrepreneur?
There seems to be a strange culture within the creative community that assumes everyone has had some type of formal training. If you don’t, like myself, there is a habit to undersell yourself and doubt why someone would hire you or buy your work over an artist with a degree. I was personally terrified of having my artwork rejected after building up a really positive community via my Instagram. I didn’t want to be labelled as a “struggling artist” and be perceived as a slacker.
Self-doubt was huge for me, but the only person who could turn this tiny dream into a reality was myself
I think there is an assumption that artists are inherently lazy and pipe dreamers and, in the hierarchy of occupations, academic-driven careers will always be viewed as “superior”. I just wanted to be able to share what I loved doing most with people who seemed to love it too. Self-doubt was huge for me, but the only person who could turn this tiny dream into a reality was myself. Everything was very much DIY, and I just hoped that with enough research and persistence I would manage to pull something together.
Your art seems to be a vibrant blend of vintage advertising, cowboy culture and surrealism. How did your style evolve over time?
That’s very kind of you to say – I couldn’t describe my style better myself! I’m a very obsessive person, so naturally my current interests bleed their way into my artwork. If you were to look back through my archives you could probably guess what I was pining over in real life at the time.
Every now and then things take a creative shift and something new is born
My style is constantly changing, and I don’t think that will ever stop. My art has mirrored my interests throughout my life, so every now and then things take a creative shift and something new is born. I have a handful of art signatures that are always present now: crooked noses, four eyes, horns and hands, a lot of food, and some groovy retro undertones. These things are like an anchor, and I allow the rest to grow when it feels right.
The influence of pop culture is evident in your artworks. What are your main sources of inspiration?
I have a lot of love for a lot of things. Most of the time, I see something that I think is an interesting concept and I sandwich it with something else that is currently on my mind. I love the 70s and how it was a period of so many styles and genres. I like how limitless it seems, and I try to translate that into my artwork, which is why most of what I make looks very retro. I have a somewhat Frankenstein approach to illustration and will often weave multiple niches together until I’m happy with what I’m working with. Cowboys, aliens, vintage horror films, folklore and conspiracies, mythology and biblical iconography, rock ’n’ roll, 1920s dinner parties, goblins and psychedelia — I have a bank of past interests that I dip in and out of to create.
Your art has a fun, whimsical feel to it, and you’ve even described it as sarcastic. What do you want people to feel when they see your illustrations?
I don’t take my work too seriously because I don’t expect anyone else to. Art doesn’t have to be serious or have a deep meaning in my opinion, so if someone enjoys it for the sake of enjoyment then that’s cool with me. A lot of my subjects are strange and not necessarily relatable, but I’d like to think they spark something. Even if it’s just to remind someone that you can like something for what it is without having to have a long list of reasons why, then I’ll take it.
I hope that for some people my work is a tiny slice of respite from reality
I personally like seeing things that stop me for no good reason at all apart from the fact that they’re visually pleasing. I hope that for some people my work is a tiny slice of respite from reality.
You often play with typography and composition in your work, and you recently took on punch needle embroidery. Do you have any tips for artists looking to incorporate more experimentation into their work?
I would say follow your gut and try not to hold back so much. If you’re worried that people aren’t going to like what you make, then I’d say you’re not creating for the right reasons. It took me a really long time to realise that I was in charge of what I made, and, if I wanted to try something new, then I got to make the executive decision. Change is good, even if it seems terrifying, and a lot of the time your best ideas come from allowing yourself to grow.
Change is good, even if it seems terrifying, and a lot of the time your best ideas come from allowing yourself to grow
Having multiple mediums is also a healthy way to channel your ideas. Not everything will translate onto paper, which is why punch needling has become a kind of retreat for me when my traditional methods aren’t producing what I need.
Could you tell us more about how you designed your unboxing concept?
I’m personally a total sucker for lovely packaging! I think it reflects the care and love that an artist has for their work when it’s shipped nicely. It makes the whole experience even more special for the customer and almost ceremonial. I use 100% recyclable packaging and wrap all my prints in tissue paper that can be repurposed. I add a handmade lino-printed thank you card to every order and a free mini lino print, too. I try to incorporate my art style into my packaging too, so you know as soon as it comes through your letterbox it’s from the garden!
How do you use MOO for your creative business?
All of my prints are MOO Flyers. When I first started looking for printing options, I was completely overwhelmed with terminology I was unfamiliar with. That self-doubt goblin cropped up again because I felt out of my depth. I loved that MOO offered a sample pack to see what was right for me and my business before committing to anything. Though the flyers aren’t technically marketed as art prints, I love the quality of the paper and the custom options available. It’s kind of funny because I’m a big advocate of DIY when it comes to business and finding what works for you. It doesn’t have to fit the brief to be a contender!
Which pieces are you most proud of to date? Any projects coming up you’d like to share?
That’s a hard question! I’m most proud of my prairie girls collection which is ever growing. It’s an amalgamation of my favourite themes, and I love that they’ve become identifiable to my brand and a kind of mascot. On a personal note, I’m super proud of my Billy F. Gibbons illustration because it shows off my skill set and my Bella print because it was my first best-seller! I have a ridiculously exciting project coming up with my glorious Pal Antonia from @af.illustrations. We’re working together to build a Tarot series based on both of our art styles, which we will hopefully (universe, are you listening?) turn into a physical deck at some point. It’s something we’ve both wanted to do for a long time, and I’m incredibly honoured that I get to fulfil a dream of mine with someone I admire so greatly.
Any advice for young creatives trying to make a living off of their craft?
You absolutely do not need to have the fanciest equipment or biggest following to get started. There is a lot of pressure to have mounds of personalised packaging and free stickers and everything in between. Start small, know your worth, and remember that your artwork has come from YOU — to compare yourself to another artist would be a disservice to your creations. Lastly, I would say that the value of your work can only ever come from you, as long as you recognise what you’re capable of, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Beautiful things grow from persistent people, treat yourself as a garden and feed your craft with the love it deserves.
Whether you’re into vintage 70s aesthetics or minimalism, grow your creative business with MOO Flyers.
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