Creative Business Interview - Ruth Thorp - Illustrator

I'm absolutely thrilled to bits that illustrator Ruth Thorp agreed to be interviewed for my series of Creative Business Interviews.  You will love her work, its full of colour and imagery that just takes you away to beautiful illustrated lands.  Her journey to becoming a designer is an inspiration to all aspiring creatives who are looking for a change of career. Ruth has some great advice, so get comfortable and enjoy reading about her business...

1. Tell us a bit about your business - what do you do? What’s your background. Why did you decide to set up your creative business? How long has it been going?

I’m an illustrator and designer based in Bath. Most of my work is inspired by the natural world and the spirit of adventure and I produce and sell my own range of art prints and cards as well as a range of illustrated books in collaboration with and published by our family run publishing imprint Raw Mixture Publishing (
I have a degree in Architecture from the University of Bath and I worked as an Architectural Designer in a Landscape Architecture practice for 10 years. Whilst I enjoyed my time here, I felt that it wasn’t really my true calling and so set about exploring new directions outside of work by taking a range of different courses from printmaking to dressmaking and finally found myself taking an online course called ‘The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’. After completing the course in 2013 and whilst still working in Landscape Architecture, I began producing a product line of illustrations selling them as cards and paper products online, in shops and local markets and gradually it grew until I was able to leave my job in 2016 to pursue Ruth Thorp Studio full-time.

2. What is your typical work day like?

I’m not really one for routine so I don’t have a typical day as such — I kind of just go with the flow a lot of the time which often depends on what mood I’m in, what the weather is like or if I have any specific deadlines! I guess my only set routine is coffee in bed every morning — the dangers of working for yourself means this can often stretch into mid morning, but once I’m up my days generally include a mix of making product, packing up wholesale or online orders, creating new designs or collections, working on collaborations or thinking up new products. On my less creative days I can make stock, keep up with accounts and admin, photograph product and manage my online shops and website, or research new potential stockists. We are also currently renovating our flat and I am working right in the middle of it so that’s a pretty big distraction at the moment and means I’m not really producing an awful lot of new work but am doing quite a lot of heavy lifting, drilling and painting!

In summer months I’ll use any excuse to go out in the sunshine so I love it when I need to go to the post office to send out orders. Otherwise I can just pop across the road into the park, or have a wander round town and quite often meet other freelancer friends for coffee, or take a daytime yoga class. I can’t say it’s the most productive time of year business wise, but it is very enjoyable and I always know that when Christmas season comes around I will be in non-stop making/packing/ wrapping and selling mode so allow myself the time to chill out a bit in the quieter months. I try to fit in some kind of exercise every day too. Dance, yoga and pilates are my favourite and I am spoilt for choice with classes in Bath.

3. How do you market your business and what works best for you? Do you use any good apps to help you?

I mainly stick to online marketing. I love instagram and have found twitter has been a useful platform in the past too. I have found taking part in campaigns such as #justacard or #handmadehour have been hugely beneficial to growing my business over the last few years. I also find that having my work in shops up and down the country has been great for not only expanding my customer base and sales, but promotion too. I took part in the BCTF trade fair in 2018 and it was a massive turning point for my business. I can honestly say that without the ongoing support of my stockists and their customers I wouldn’t be where I am today and it’s always lovely receiving e-mails and messages from people who have discovered or bought my work in one of those shops.

4. If you were starting your business again is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t think so. I’m a big believer in not having regrets and knowing that everything in your past: all the decisions you make and the experiences you have (both good and bad), lead directly to where you are at any given moment. I’m pretty happy with my life and business right now, so I can’t imagine changing anything about the journey so far.

5. What’s the best thing about being a creative business owner?

I think it would have to be the flexibility and having complete control over my life and creative work. It’s wonderful having the freedom to be able to decide when, how and where I work; what projects I want to work on; and being able to say no to jobs I don’t want to do, or take on challenges that sound interesting. I love that I can go to yoga in the middle of the day, work remotely or late into the evening when I need to and then take time off without having to ask permission. I think creativity is a wonderful gift and I feel so grateful that I am able to use it every day in both my business and life as a whole which happily blur into one most of the time!

6. What’s the toughest thing about being a creative business owner?

Probably all of the above! It’s hard to switch off when you run a creative business, even when you take time out for a holiday. The usual 5 day week doesn’t really mean anything to be anymore and no matter how hard you work, a feeling of guilt can creep in when you are not working between “normal” working hours. Having to make every decision yourself can be overwhelming at times and when you are creatively blocked (which can happen a lot) worrying that you will never come up with anything new or good again can be hard. You have to learn to be a bit more fluid as running a small business can be very unpredictable at times. It’s also easy to overwork and get burnt out when you go through busy periods and there is also the odd occasion where you have to explain to people that despite appearances you do actually work, it just may look a little different to a job they are used to!

7. What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I say this all the time, but talk to people! You never know where conversations and connections may lead.

8. What advice would you give other creative businesses starting out?

Don’t limit yourself with pre-conceptions: be willing to grow and challenge yourself! Ideas and views are never fixed and there is always room to improve yourself and your work and change your mind. Be generous with your experience, time and advice. We all learn from each other and we all need a helping hand at some point, so lend yours when you can. I recently read a book written by astronaut Mike Massimino and one part really resonated with me. He described how when training for his mission to fix the Hubble Telescope one of his crew members told him to remember that“Space is an open-book exam. You’re not alone up there. This is a team, and you can always get help if you need it.” I thought that was a pretty cool ethos to apply to life generally! So remember to ask for help when you need it, and reach out and be kind to others when they need it too. More than anything, stay positive. Negativity is toxic and I really believe there is no room for it in creativity or life in general!

9. Do you have any exciting plans for your business in the future?

I have started working on some new fabric products which I think could be an exciting edition to my offering. I have been wanting to work with my designs on fabric for a long time, so watch this space! If I can ever make decisions on colours that is - it could take some time!

10. Where can people find out more about you? Do you have any selling events coming up that you want to tell people about?

Instagram and my website are probably the best places to find out more about me and my work. I focus mainly on my online shops and selling through independent shops and galleries, but I will be doing a couple of selling shows in Bath around Christmas time.