Roma is a talented local Illustrator & Designer operating under the name
Roma May Design. She has been working as a freelance artist for the past 11 years and is based in Southsea, Hampshire. Roma is an active part of our local art community here in Portsmouth and has a successful worldwide online shop. She is also a qualified college lecturer and has taught creative subjects at local colleges.
I grew up on Hayling Island; a tiny island just east of Portsmouth and Southsea. My family moved from Wembley when I was young in order to find more peace and space as myself and my siblings grew up. My love of nature was really born on Hayling, where we lived a stones throw from the seafront and beach lands and had multiple ecosystems and habitats spread across the island to explore.
'Cairns' - Roma May Design
I started illustrating nature from a very young age, and my interest was further piqued by watching nature documentaries with my mum (namely Attenborough) and being gifted books and encyclopaedias about the animal kingdom and wildlife on birthdays and Christmas.
I spent most of my time in the back garden or at the beach as a child, and most of my games and interests revolves around animals and plants; whether trying to create my own alchemy and potions from plants from our garden, to imagining I was a fish when swimming in the sea and spending as much time as possible underwater, searching the seabed. Some of my favourite memories involve walking the Billy Track trail path on a Sunday, which was an activity focused on learning about tree identification and hunting the shoreline for critters and mudlarking for trinkets and pieces of history exposed by the tides. I spent a lot of time at a local family owned livery yard, where I got to be around horses and livestock frequently and begun being able to traverse the seafront and shores on horseback, which added to the desire I had to be wild and free.
Your illustrations are rich in nature references, alongside themes of fantasy and folklore – where do you look for visual or textural inspiration?
A lot of my visual inspiration comes from a combination of aesthetics, from the line work and tonal values from artists such as Gustave Doré, to the rich compositions of the Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite era classical paintings, mixed with botanical illustration from artists such as William Morris. As I studied art I discovered more contemporary artists who inspired me. Literature, poetry and my own dreams often inspire a lot of my work, and using keywords can help me build my illustrations. Folklore and occult tales from around the world are an enormous source of inspiration for me, as a theme of fantasy runs throughout my work (my favourite literatures are often fictional/fantasy) so I am often taking inspiration from tales and exhibitions of ancient practices and imagery. Apart from this, a lot of textural inspiration comes from first hand observation and exploration through nature, seeing how things grow and from symbiotically is probably my biggest source of visual reference.
'Pure as the driven snow' - Roma May Design
'Shaman Skull' - Roma May Design
Being a creative and nature enthusiast in a densely populated city, how do you feel that impacts your practice? What are some spots in Portsmouth that you feel most connected or nature? What about further afield?
'Woodland Fairytale' - Roma May Design
I actually read very recently that Portsmouth has one of the lowest tree counts for such a populated city, which is a fact that I found incredibly sad. I often have to escape Portsmouth to find the environments I want to have peace in, but that is not to say Portsmouth doesn’t have some beautiful spaces! The Harbour and Langstone are beautiful areas of conservation, and you will often find abundant wildlife there on the shore. The Rose gardens and botanical areas spotted all the way across the seafront provide some lovely areas to observe nature, but often I will travel towards the Forest of Bere, Hayling, Chichester or Farnham to find my favourite places in nature, or simply off the beaten track to explore.
Tell us about some of your favourite projects you’ve worked on? Do you actively seek out opportunities that involve nature themes, or try to work your style into whatever comes along?
A lot of my favourite projects to create are the ones with the biggest emotive reaction; often if a project has an ethical or emotional outcome, I enjoy them most. Currently I am really enjoying creating bespoke pregnancy portraits, which is a recent style and collection of work I am creating. These pieces often involve dense floral elements to represent fertility, alongside other personal elements that are specific to the clients. When being a freelance illustrator, you obviously need to be somewhat flexible in order to have steady work, and sometimes this does mean a compromise of being able to use themes of nature and wild within work, so not all projects I take on facilitate nature themes, but it’s always good to have a challenge.
'Standing Stones' - Roma May Design
However, when a commission or project comes along where I can focus on nature, I feel most at home with the project. I do try and seek out potential projects that will include the visual queues of the natural world, but if I do not succeed I can always continue to build my personal portfolio with work inspired by nature regardless!
What is one piece of advice you could give someone who doesn’t know where to start creatively? What did you have to learn to create your artwork?
'The Emperor' - Roma May Design
One big piece of advice would be to not get too caught up with comparing yourself to others on social media! I know this is such a hard thing to do, but just because someone else has more followers and likes than you doesn’t mean you are less talented in any way, and it absolutely does not show your worth as an artist. If you get stuck in a rut of looking at other people’s success you will never bother focusing on your own. Remember social media is just a tool to help a creative, but it is not everything.
Being creative should be a joy and a passion, and if you feel as though you are disheartened then take a break from social media and reassess, make some art just for the joy of it instead of for the exposure. But, if you are looking to expose yourself online and into the artistic world, my biggest advice would be to create a portfolio of work and identity that you are proud of! Somethings that speaks true about you as an artist, so don’t feel the need to conform, because originality will be one of your biggest assets.
Also take time to create a community of creatives; take time to build long lasting relationships with other artists and designers who inspire and support you. These allies will always bring you up in those times where you’re doubting yourself, and will understand your goals and passions as they are likeminded.
Ultimately, find whatever makes you happiest and keep doing it for YOURSELF, and you can pick up an organic audience and following from that alone. Over time you will naturally develop in style and content, but be true to yourself. Being present online is hard work, and often feels like an uphill battle, so just do what you can but make sure you don’t fall out of love with your craft.
What are you working on now?
Currently I have a few small commission pieces to finish up for clients, and one larger ongoing project where I have been asked to create a Tarot deck for a renowned medium/psychic. This project is super exciting as the themes very much suit my subject matter of nature and fantasy, however it’s a big project and will probably be in the pipeline for quite some time!
I have a nearly 5 month old baby, so juggling projects has become a new skill I’m balancing with motherhood, but I am considering guest lecturing in the new academic year and flexing my teaching skills again. Apart from that, I plan to really invest into my work and create more items for my shop and portfolio, as well as exploring more mediums of print. I have recently purchased a new printer and the materials for foil printing, which I am yet to explore thoroughly. Apart from that, just taking it day by day and enjoying the sun really!
'You and I in the forest' - Roma May Design
Where can we find you?
You can find me over on Instagram.com/romamaydesign where I am currently in the middle of an enormous overhaul of my account; I archived all of my previous work and started again from scratch. This is a classic example of what I was saying about making a portfolio you are proud of; I spent so much time mindlessly trying to appease the algorithms that I didn’t enjoy my body of work anymore and wasn’t giving it the platform it deserved, so went back to basics! You can also follow me on Facebook on my design page, Roma May Design or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for anything else!
'Common Toad' - Roma May Design
A NOTE FROM US HERE AT WILD CITY
Firstly, we'd like to say a huge THANK YOU to Roma, for sharing her incredible work and words, and of course for being our very first creative conversations feature! Go show her some love on her social media accounts and treat yourself in her etsy shop.
We search for people that demonstrate a significant connection to nature in their work and lifestyle. Here at Wild City, we believe that nature and creativity should be accessible to all ages, all backgrounds and all communities. All professionals featured are chosen to inspire and uplift urban communities worldwide, raising awareness and encouraging others to reconnect with their imagination through nature. Get in contact if you want to contribute!
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