Botanical Artist, Lizzie Harper, talks about her inspiration

Lizzie Harper is a botanical artist in Hay-on-Wye. Her exquisite work features in books including The Hedgerow Handbook and Foraging with Kids and has also featured on postage stamps, in art exhibitions and on our lovely fine bone china screenprinted hops mugs.

Q. You're clearly inspired by your environment, what is special about Mid-Wales and Herefordshire and how does it inspire your work?

A. I do indeed take a lot of inspiration and joy from the natural world, so living in Hay-on-Wye is perfect.  In part it’s the abundance of plants to draw that makes me love this area so much; but it’s also the expanses of sky and cloud, the rugged hills and tiny streams, the lush grass and heathery limestone outcrops grazed by sturdy cattle and hardy little sheep respectively, lone oak trees in meadows or golden wheat, spying on egrets and herons in the river…. There’s so much beauty and variety round here that it’s hard to pinpoint the most precious parts of it all.  I do a lot of walking, and living here is the perfect place to lose oneself in the changing beauty and variety of the stunning scenery we’re lucky enough to be in the heart of.

Q. You have a beautiful sense of style, choosing to wear bright and sparkly fabrics and accessories. Could you tell us a bit about your relationship with fashion and having your own individual style?

A. As a kid I wore polyester trousers, a bowl haircut and national health glasses (it was the 70s, after all). As a teenager I vowed never to wear trousers again, so until my early 30s there were a lot of ludicrously short skirts.  Then I wanted to wear clothes that made me feel good about myself (looking saucy becomes less interesting when you have infants), and also that I could wear for ages without having to change my “look”.  I’d always loved the 1950s full skirts, and luckily around this time companies started to produce cheap and fun dresses in this style.  I also found sources of cheap brightly coloured high heels. The rest is history.  

The sequins have been consistent since 14, I’ve always been into enormous costume jewellry (the cheaper the better), smearing my face with glitter, and wearing stupidly high sequinned heels.  I spent a lot of time in gay clubs in Washington DC in the early 90s and learned all I know about dressing up for a night out from the glorious drag queens there.  I still believe I’m a drag queen trapped in a straight woman’s body.  It’s a cross I have to bear.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into being a botanical artist and whether you feel part of a movement or community of artists and makers, either locally or online, or both?

A. I followed my Zoology degree with a course in natural history illustration.  My earlier jobs tended to be animals not plant-based; but over the years there’s been more and more call for botanical subjects.  The more I learn about the plants I draw the more intrigued and passionate I become.

Yes, I do indeed feel part of a community of illustrators on the internet; there are lots of incredibly talented botanical artists online and we do sometimes meet up at shared exhibitions, although most of the interaction is on Instagram, Facebook, and various forums.  I feel very lucky to be in amongst them and inspired by them, and can merely aspire to the extraordinary work that many of them produce. 

I’m also in touch with a fabulous selection of botanists and biologists on Twitter; not only do they post properly fascinating information but they also answer questions and provide me with reference for my projects.  I adore them.

Locally, there are lots of wonderful artists working in a whole array of mediums.  During Hereford Art Week, if I’m not doing it myself, I love going and seeing what everyone else is producing.  For such a comparatively rural and small area, the amount of creative output, and the high quality of so much of it, is something quite extraordinary.

Q. You use social media to communicate your artwork and also to bring people together - such as local businesses in and around Hay-on-Wye. What role does social media play in your life and how important is it to you, for work and/or leisure?

A. I use social media a lot, and run a lovely local group who meet monthly and explore developments and ways of using social media to help expand and promote our small businesses.  However, I certainly have reservations about social media, and regard it as a necessary business tool rather than something I am naturally drawn to.  The self-confidence needed to shout about your work, and hubris required to believe that anyone out there cares, sit uncomfortably with me. 

Saying that, I see an enormous amount of people’s work that inspires me on my social media accounts; have made friends both locally and online as a result of these platforms; am able to reach out and support up and coming illustrators if they want advice about the industry; have fun playing about with new things like stories and film clips; and have got commissions as a direct result of my posts.  These, coupled with the help it gives in promoting my website (and thus my business) means, on balance, it’s worth enjoying and investing time in.

Out of the context of work, I tend to avoid social media as it devours time that I don’t have, and I’m not sure it gives too much back.  I’m no big on sharing details of my (incredibly dull) personal life online as I know it wouldn’t interest anyone at all; similarly, I don’t tend to engage much with my friends and family online, I’d much rather pick up the phone or go and visit them for a weekend.  It is useful when it comes to staying in touch with my friends in the USA, however (but so are letters and emails!

Q. Tell us a secret or something we might not know about you.

A. I’ve been part of two expeditions which have led to the establishment of two separate rain forest nature reserves.