Meeting Four Marks artist Rachel Hudson

PUBLISHED: 11:31 12 June 2018

Rachel Hudson (Rachel Ulph Photography)

Rachel Hudson (Rachel Ulph Photography)


Inspired by the local wildlife on her doorstep, Four Marks artist Rachel Hudson captures the character with her bold and intriguing illustrations

The challenge of creating images which simultaneously portray simplicity and realism relies on each mark capturing accuracy and atmosphere. The results are pure, unfussy, even childlike in their appeal. But because naïve interpretations are both dependent on, and limited by spotlighting every angle, nuance and characteristic, the job of the artist to reflect authenticity while working to a minimalist approach suggests this style is at least, if not more, tricky to achieve than others.

Well, if this is so, Rachel Hudson shows no sign of pressure. On the contrary, the East Hampshire artist is so in tune with her genre, the notion of her producing anything other than her signature, quirky images defies imagination.

“I’m interested in an animal’s character,” the 44 year old smiles. “I particularly like the work of Charley Harper, a US artist. He said he didn’t count the feathers on a bird, he counted the wings. I’m not interested in minutiae; more shape, movement and behaviour. And I like an underlying sense of humour.”

Rachel’s fascination with her subjects first came to light during infancy. It was at a “tiny” primary school where she adopted a Norwegian teacher’s appreciation of nature and poetry which sat neatly alongside influences at home.

“Although he trained as a scientist, my dad was very artistic, he used to do linocuts. I’ve always loved William Morris wallpaper and fabric designs and my parents often took me to exhibitions. I learned recently that my great-grandmother designed for William Morris. She lived to the age of 103 and in the last few years shared little gems of information.”

With an early interest in journalism vying with art, Rachel swapped Art College for Art History, studying for a degree and Masters. This was followed by gallery work in America then a marketing role for Oxford’s Museum of Art before embarking on an illustration career. Relocating to Hampshire in 2013 inspired her growing business.

“I’d moved into writing and designing publications for a nature conservation organisation and took on a few jobs for other conservation charities. Working for someone who has a clear cause is good, bringing me closer to my love of nature. When we moved here I became freelance full time. I enjoy illustration the most and I love Hampshire, the landscape and wildlife. Living here is one of my main inspirations.”

Initial contact with a client involves transforming a creative brief into pencil drawings. Changes may be suggested but then, once the idea is agreed, Rachel develops the required sense of colour palette before providing full cover artwork. Conservation organisations make up the majority of her client base and an affinity with their causes means she understands the issues they are trying to get across to their audiences. The brief from one of her latest clients, for instance, focuses on a well loved species.

Herring gulls and sailing boatsHerring gulls and sailing boats

“I’ve just been commissioned by BBC Wildlife Magazine for a double page spread on hedgehogs in the suburbs. What I wanted to do came naturally to me and they were happy with my concepts.”

Sometimes, Rachel confesses, a short deadline corners her into producing ideas quickly. On the other hand, if a long, drawn out deadline is in danger of evolving into a “painful process,” going for a walk provides breathing space or social media may inspire or lead to other, previously unconsidered, ideas.

Recently the mother of two has been bringing more texture into her work and in terms of scale, digital capability means she can produce images ranging from floor to ceiling wallpaper for House of Fraser, to a 6m long war mural, T shirts and something much closer to home.

“I was asked by the Festival Committee in Four Marks to illustrate a new village sign. We have a steam railway line here and they wanted the steam train to be represented as well as the hilly nature of this, one of East Hampshire’s highest settlements. Also the pond, which once won an award. Those were the three elements, and wildlife too. The village started off in the 1890s with little colonial plots for ex servicemen. It’s full of self employed people which I like. One of the country’s first observatories once stood in a lane along from my house. There are rare orchids here and we’re right on the edge of dark skies so any new development needs to have low lighting.”

Conversation continues around conservation and community and the excitement at seeing a long eared bat in the garden when first coming to view the house, an old cottage and former village shop where her studio, a “terribly messy” north facing room, with numerous pinboards covering the walls, is divided into two well defined areas: a clean space which includes her computer opposite a “messy work bench.” Shelves of natural history books inherited from her grandmother are complemented by children’s picture books, the latter reflecting a future ambition as a way of getting younger generations excited about wildlife.

One of the country’s most common, and popular creatures is the blackbird. If you’ve ever observed one in your garden, then you’ll appreciate the character that Rachel replicates. The turn of the head, the leg action as it darts around, a sort of beauty and cheekiness rolled into one. I sense these are one of Rachel’s favourites?

“Yes, I’m looking all the time, absorbing their behaviour. When working on pencil drawings I use a bendy ruler which graphic designers used in older days to bring in curves and break down the shape. My flattened stylised forms have a rhythm to them. I’m not interested in static subject matter. I try to get across liveliness; my creatures are always on the move.”

Another artist Rachel admires is Mary Blair, a prolific Walt Disney animator of the twentieth century. The American’s “amazing sense of colour” continues to influence Rachel who sells cards, gifts and prints through her online shop, and runs an online illustration class which attracts artists worldwide. She is also a member of the Association of Illustrators, valuing their guidance from prices (“I like my work to be affordable for a lot of people”) to licensing agreements as well as workshops. While her illustrations of colourful, local scenes can be seen at a doctor’s surgery in neighbouring Medstead, “To cheer people up.”

Wild garlic, Ashford HangersWild garlic, Ashford Hangers

As we discuss the importance of meeting up with other Hampshire creatives, and combining motherhood with a constant bubbling of ideas, Rachel confesses to the never ending lure of art.

“I’ve got to the point, if I’m not doing it, it feels rather odd. When I walk past my studio to the kitchen, there’s this pull on me. I absolutely love it. I take my sketchbook on holiday but also know I need a bit of a break.”

Bold, colourful, intriguing and timeless – Rachel’s images encompass a universal appeal of animals, from a sideways glance of one of our most well known garden birds, to the distinctive gait and mannerisms of less visible wildlife. Her style may be paired down. And the impression projected one of effortlessness. But that sums up the skills behind the success of this personable illustrator who, in combining personal passion with a creative calling, fulfils every artist’s ambition.


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