thortful x Rosie Johnson Illustrates

Well hello there! This is very exciting! I mean, I’ve got my own blog, but I’m pretty sure only my mum reads that … so I’m very chuffed to have been invited to write this one instead!

My name is Rosie Johnson from the imaginatively titled Rosie Johnson Illustrates. I do exactly what it says on the tin (obscure Ronseal ad ref for you there.)

I have been illustrating full time since 2016, having left my previous life as a primary school teacher. I don’t have any formal training in art beyond a frankly exceptional A* GCSE in …ehem… 1995. I’m not known for being particularly fearless or adventurous, but for some reason, I heard the siren call of creative self employment and thought,

“Yeah. I want a bit of that.”

Drawing has always been my go to as a way to relax, as a form of expression, joy and recently dissatisfaction with the world. I absolutely love word play and simple silly illustrations which can capture a feeling. 

I began the Thortful side of my business slap bang in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. Like many independents, almost overnight, many income streams dried to dusty puddles. All the little shops which stocked my cards, prints and accessories closed their doors and I desperately needed a lifeline.

My unexpected saviour was one Mr Dominic Cummings who rode to my rescue, via Barnard Castle, at just the right point for me to design a cheeky, topical Father’s Day card.

Being a bit of a Thortful noob I uploaded my design then carried on about my (floundering) business for several weeks before checking on my sales. I remember running to find my partner and screaming at him,

“it’s sold over 1000!” In fact, that design went on to sell over 6000 copies. It is no exaggeration to say that the Prime Minister’s former adviser paid our mortgage for two months straight. (Please do not start a public enquiry, Thortful royalties are all above board.)

Since then, I’ve absolutely loved the freedom and flexibility Thortful gives me to make topical, responsive cards that I would never dare to get printed in bulk and try to sell from my own website. I can take risks, be mega niche and really enjoy the process. Because, if it doesn’t sell it doesn’t sell! No trees will have been felled on my behalf. No boxes of unloved stock will sit, judging me from the corner of my studio. 

I’ve been asked quite a few times what makes a successful illustration for cards. I don’t bloody know, mate. No, really. Sometimes it’s just capturing a mood and that’s so hard to advise on. For me, it’s going beyond getting someone’s likeness or following a trend. Cards (or anything I’ve designed) that have been successful have combined a bit of clever or silly word play with a bold image. If it makes ME laugh or think or want to share that sentiment then I know it’s worth trying as a design. I always draw the cards I’d personally like to send. I know lots of people are very successful with cards that are highly topical and I certainly advise keeping abreast of all that stuff, but I only design those kinds of cards when they feel like my style and match my interests. Authenticity feels important to me, so people can tell that it’s a ‘Rosie’ card. 

When I start a design, it usually begins as a note on my phone. Why do good ideas hit when I’m in the supermarket, out for a walk or just about to fall asleep?! They’re usually triggered by something in the news or a pun that occurs to me. Sometimes, like with my teacher cards, I think about what I’d have liked to receive when I was a teacher. Then I play around in Procreate on the iPad, trying out colours and trying to make my writing neater than it usually is! When I’m happy with the design, I’ll pinch the screen to minimise the image, making it as small as it’d appear on someone’s phone. If it’s too detailed and doesn’t catch my eye, I try and edit it. No-one’s going to click if they can’t make out the pic!

This last year (and a bit) has been so tough for so many people. I really love that I can help people stay in touch and feel connected through something as simple as a card. I’ve felt part of the lovely community of Thortful creators who are such an imaginative, supportive bunch. For anyone new, who’s just starting their journey as a creative freelance type person, I highly recommend joining a network of likeminded people. Look for Indie Roller and the Just a Card campaign on Instagram for companionship, understanding and excellent advice. 

You can find me at www.rosiejohnsonillustrates.com and Rosie Johnson Illustrates on all the social media things. Come and say hello, I’m very friendly and love procrastinating on my phone rather than getting on with my work. Shhhh, don’t tell my mum.