Please meet Natalie Toms! Today I'm excited to share with you a very special studio visit. This summer I had the chance to do some traveling around England and spent a fair bit of time in Cornwall. I had 'met' Natalie via Instagram, and when I realized that her woodland studio was not far from where I'd be staying, I thought we just had to do a studio visit. You can probably tell by even just glancing at her art, that Natalie and I are creative kindred spirits. She too is infinitely inspired by nature and looks to the animals around her for her subject matter.
So, I took an hour long train ride through little towns nestled in the British countryside and made my way to Lostwithel where Natalie met me at the train station. We drove along narrow roads where the foliage of the trees formed a bright green tunnel, straight out of a British storybook. She welcomed me into her cute studio that overlooks a meadow and we chatted about art, inspiration, business and creative life. It was such a treat to take a look into her studio and to find an instant new friend so far from home.
Q + A with NATALIE TOMS
Studio Visit: July 12th, 2017
Introduce yourself. How would you describe yourself as a maker/creative? How do you spend your days?
I create flora and fauna inspired drawings for prints and cards and botanical jewellery and keepsakes from my little studio that looks over a meadow in South East Cornwall. I usually get as much of my admin-based work and order packing out of the way in the morning and spend my afternoons creating and observing the quiet flurry of wildlife that lives along the hedgerow around my studio. I have an affinity for the relationships between nature and those living in it. I strive to create detailed depictions of flora and fauna inspired by the Cornish woodlands, meadows, hedgerows, and coast. I use a technique known as stippling to build up detail in my work, with black pigment fine liners and Indian ink brush tip pens on cold press watercolour paper.
Briefly describe your journey. Were there some pivotal things that helped propel you to where you are now? (Perhaps there were some struggles that you see, in hindsight, helped you get to where you are now?)
It's difficult to pinpoint where this journey of mine began, really. I only started to take myself seriously and make active steps towards a change in my career when I got a job in the gift shop at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, here in Cornwall. There was a small summer house near the plant sales area which became a 'Makers' Workshop' during the summer months. I used to sit there once a week, working on my current drawing and customers would come by to watch and have the chance to speak to me about my creative processes and inspirations. One day a couple came past and after seeing my 'Barn Owl' piece under way and they left me with their email, asking me to get in touch once the drawing was complete because they were interested in purchasing it. With the drawing taking in excess of ninety hours, I didn't even dream that I would actually be able to sell the drawing for what it was worth but nevertheless I sent the price over to the couple and to my sheer surprise, they said it was entirely reasonable and committed to buying it! I was over the moon. That sale provided me with all of the confidence and the financial boost that I required to create my first batch of prints and greetings cards from my existing portfolio. Around about the same time, The Lost Gardens of Heligan were taking my products in the shop on a sale or return basis and now I am still selling through them but as a wholesale supplier which suits me a lot better. I left my job at Heligan earlier this year as my studio in the garden moved ever closer to completion and I am now pursuing my career as an artist and maker full-time. It can be tricky at times but when your job and your passion are the same things it's more than worth it!
You seem fascinated and delighted by the natural world (I can relate!) Has nature always been the inspiration for your artwork?
Absolutely! I can remember my childhood summers and marvelling at the trees and little creatures in the fields behind my grandparents' house. I would build little dwellings, create drawings and collect natural ephemera found on my wanderings – it's not far from how I spend my time now if I'm completely honest! Having a little creative space right in the middle of rural Cornwall means that I am never short of inspiration and botanical supplies.
Do you have any rituals or a routine that helps ground you and primes your creative mind?
I like to listen to music while I work and I often find myself singing away while I draw or arrange dried flora. I have a bookcase full of nature and reference books which I love to pour over as well.
Fear and uncertainty seem to be an innate part of the creative process. How do you confront your fears, instead of letting them stop you?
It's not always an easy thing but it's very important to remind yourself of your achievements along the way. We all get so bogged down with the pressure of producing work and juggling all of the aspects of being self-employed that we almost forget the reason we started on this journey in the first place. It feels a little funny when I say it even now but it's important to start calling yourself an artist or maker when people ask. It's a legitimate career and the more you say it, the more others will say it when they speak of you. It's always so wonderful to be recognised for my work that has been spotted elsewhere.
What kinds of activities/interests do you have outside of your actual art practice, that you feel informs or inspires your work? (or maybe just contributes to a richer life)
I have just signed up for a Ramblers membership, actually! I absolutely love wandering my home county of Cornwall, discovering new secret spots and wildlife havens. I take a lot of photographs when I'm out and about (perhaps, too many) and I use a great deal of them to influence my detailed drawings. I do my best to use as many of my own photographs in addition to reference books and the internet when creating new drawing compositions as possible.
I’m a sucker for good quotes. Do you have a favourite you’d like to share?
I have so many! As it came up recently in a conversation I was having, I'd like to share a small line from the wonderful film 'Dead Poets Society':