Step into this artist's 'dark and wondrous' world
Drawn here by Anglia Ruskin’s world-famous Children's Book Illustration MA, Texan artist Rachel Bostick has just moved to Cambridge. Known for her love of folklore, fairytale and the Gothic, Mill Road Cemetery is already a favourite haunt, as she tells Alice Ryan
Let's start at the beginning: how and when did you discover your artistic talent?
Like many other artists, I was drawing a lot from a very young age. I started watching Studio Ghibli movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service when I was around 5 or 6; those films inspired me to start telling my own stories through art. I spent pretty much all of my free time as a kid drawing and making little illustrated books and comics. For most of my life it’s just been part of who I am.
You're known for your illustrative work. How did your style come to be?
My style is just a hodge-podge of everything I enjoy most. I spent a really long, frustrating period early on in my pursuit of a professional art career trying to nail down a distinctive “style”. Forcing it didn’t work for me, and it doesn’t really work for anyone, I think. I had the biggest breakthroughs in my style when I stopped making the work I thought I should make and just started drawing things I felt like drawing. I’m influenced by the artists I admire as well, and I’m constantly finding new art that infuses fresh elements into my style. Rovina Cai’s essay on artistic voice, and all of the insights and exercises from the Creative Pep Talk podcast, were also hugely instrumental in my development.
You take much inspiration from folklore, fairytales and things Gothic. . . What is it that attracts you?
A lot of that probably comes from the things I was influenced by growing up. My favourite movies when I was little were things like The Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, anything Tim Burton, and I also watched too many horror movies, probably younger than I should have. I read all of the Brothers Grimm stories and my most-loved books were all about fairies, especially The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks and Tithe by Holly Black. As I got older and more interested in history, I started devouring anything from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, which led me to Gothic literature. There’s just something magical about things that are strange and a little mysterious. And there’s so much room for depth and metaphor in the stories we tell about the dark and the supernatural.
You've illustrated so many books! Are there any projects in particular which stand out?
It’s hard to say if I can single out one project over another; every time I get the chance to make art for a book it’s like a dream come true! It never gets less exciting. So, I suppose the project that stands out most is pretty much whatever I’m currently working on. Recently I’ve been working on covers for a trilogy with author Emma Hamm; each book is a romantic spin on a different classic Gothic novel. I almost couldn’t believe I got offered such a perfect project! It’s been so much fun to work on.
You've just moved to Cambridge from Austin, Texas - welcome! What made the ARU course, in Children's Book Illustration, worth trotting the globe for?
There are lots of schools with programs in illustration in the US, but the course at Anglia Ruskin is the only one in the world that’s specific to children’s books. The programme also allows for a lot of individual interests and doesn’t try to force all students into one type of work. The children’s book industry is so much more than just picture books! All of the work that comes out of the program is of such a high calibre, and you can see how much variety there is in the directions students take and in their artistic voices. Not to mention the faculty is incredible!
This just seemed like the most amazing opportunity to get to really focus on my craft and learn as much as I can, and live in England on top of it. I visited the UK a few years ago and have wanted to come back ever since. I’m obsessed with historic architecture and big mossy trees, and there’s an abundance of both here!
Are you settling into the city? Any favourite haunts - or sources of artistic inspiration - to mention yet?
It’s been quite an adventure getting settled, that’s for sure! Unfortunately, my first couple of weeks here were mostly spent on the oh-so-fun task of finding a flat, so I haven’t yet gotten to explore as much as I want to. But I have ventured out some, and I’m already in love with all of the history and beauty of this city. Strolling past the rows and rows of pretty Victorian houses along the River Cam, and taking in all of the amazing historic structures near the University of Cambridge and the quirky little shops and restaurants on Mill Road have been such wonderful experiences. I think my favourite so far though has to be the Mill Road Cemetery; it’s right next to the art building at ARU, it’s so peaceful and visually stunning, and the fact that it’s a 19th century cemetery converted into a park is just too perfect for me.
We're guessing you're a Hallowe'en person. How do you celebrate?
I 100% am! It’s the best holiday, no debate. My family always had lots of Hallowe’en traditions growing up that we still do now, like carving pumpkins together while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. I genuinely enjoy just hanging out in pumpkin patches, and going for walks on crisp autumn nights. I love getting in the spirit with music like the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, and cozy, spooky decorations - it’s never too early to decorate by the way; I usually start in early September. Lots of horror movies of course, especially with a steamy mug of homemade hot apple cider. I dress up every year too even if I’m not going anywhere, and I always like to put my costumes together from scratch.
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