Rosie Barker creates sunny, retro vibes in her crisp illustrations

Inspired by comics and Ukiyo-e artists, Barker uses 80s-like gradients and sunset hues to create illustrations that allow the viewer to fully escape

Feeling as though she was steered toward academia at school, Rosie Barker found herself at Goldsmith’s University studying English Literature, thinking a career in journalism would be the path she’d follow. “My idea of becoming a writer came crashing down when I started attending lectures. I quickly realised that reading Victorian literature or in fact any literature was my idea of hell and found myself endlessly jealous of my flatmates who were taking art or design-based courses,” Barker tells CR. “I then decided to drop out and spent the remainder of my student loan on a short fashion design course at LCF in an attempt to see if that was a path more suited to me.”

Though she enjoyed the course, it was the drawing aspect that intrigued her the most, so she did some research into illustration as a career. “Without an art foundation I knew I needed to impress so I spent my breaks while working at a cocktail bar creating a portfolio and working on my application. I was over the moon when I got into all my [university] choices and I think this initial struggle really made me fully invested in wanting to make illustration a career,” says Barker.

Top: Roadtrip. Above: Dreaming of a Holiday. All images: Rosie Barker

Having worked her way onto the BA Illustration course at Brighton University, Barker enjoyed the playfulness and the experimental nature of the course. “I did a lot of terrible work at times but the freedom of the degree really gave me the time to explore different avenues and understand my work and practice in more depth,” she explains.

“It also taught me how to work effectively and fast as unlike other courses we often had two week deadlines – which are realistic if not generous to what real work is like. I learnt to trust the process, as long as I got to my desk and put pen to paper it would all eventually fall into place.” 


Since graduating, Barker has remained in Brighton and taken on an array of personal projects and editorial commissions. She describes her style as a “dreamy clash of influences”. Inspired by the likes of comics artist Jean Giraud for his clean lines, and Ukiyo-e artists such as Kasushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro, Barker’s main interest is in colour and light. “I am greatly inspired by fine artists James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson. I think some of this interest in light also comes from my frequent visits to Seville, where my boyfriend works and the sun reigns supreme,” says Barker.

“There’s often a beautiful sunset in both Seville and Brighton. My subject matter is often inspired by my own strange dreams, the human psyche, liminal space, memories and surrealism. The slightly blurred line between reality and somewhere else is what interests me most.” 

Carnival in the Future
Social healthcare for a better future for Noema Mag

When working on a new project or brief Barker typically takes a walk around the city and takes inspiration from what she comes across. “In Brighton we have a lot of vintage shops crammed with odd and interesting objects and I often take pictures of anything weird that I am drawn to. With the restrictions of the pandemic however I began to look at the work of photographers instead, taking surreal landscape and fashion photography and combining it with my ideas,” she says. 

Barker then begins working in her sketchbook, and her drawings take the form of rough compositions. Once the idea is solid, she moves on to Procreate on her iPad to make a neater version for the client and then it’s time for colour, her favourite part. “Sometimes I have to put some colour over my sketches before this point to get a feel for the atmosphere I am trying to create,” she says. “I love the almost 80s retro feel of a gradient fade and love to experiment with bright colour palettes and light. I then place a rough textured paper layer on top. I like to create texture in my work to bridge the gap between slick digital art and a more analogue style.”

Sunset House
Thrillest x Campbells Soup

Aiming to create works that make people feel happy and relaxed, being freelance gives Barker the freedom to work on projects she loves and think of new ideas. Yet she says that being her own boss can be a difficult balance. “Often I work too much and don’t know when to say no to clients even if I already have a pile of work to get through,” she admits.

“However, I am learning to create boundaries between my work and life as taking a rest and completely switching off at the weekend can actually mean that I am more creative and productive the following week. I am getting better at knowing when to stop and have a rest and when I can push that little bit harder.”