Following the launch of our special edition new Elephant Family collection, Globe-Trotter spoke to artist Rebecca Campbell, who provided the colourful interior illustration, about creativity, conservation and A Cup of Rosie Lee.
You have worked with the Elephant Family for a decade and are also an ambassador. How did you get involved with this charity and what do you like about its goals and ambitions?
It began in 2009 when I received a highly unusual email from the Elephant Family asking if I would like to paint an elephant sculpture. I have loved elephants since childhood, so I said yes immediately. Many years before receiving this email, I heard Mark Shand give a talk at the Royal Geographical Society about his fantastic journey riding Tara the elephant across India. The elephant I painted was part of Elephant Parade London, which took place in 2010. I have taken part in numerous campaigns since then, and in 2015 I felt incredibly honoured when they invited me to be an ambassador.
What is wonderful about Elephant Family is that it has a massive reach and its resources are really spent on the ground, with local initiatives and conservationists who really understand the situation. It is currently working with 200 field projects in six different Asian countries.
As an artist, what I love about Elephant Family is its hugely imaginative and creative campaigns, all from the extraordinary vision and passion of (Elephant Family principal trustee) Ruth Ganesh. They capture people’s imaginations and through this it makes them aware of the plight of the Asian elephant.
Tell us the story behind the illustration used in the lining of the new Elephant Family Collection cases. It’s called A Cup of Rosie Lee — what inspired this painting and why the title?
I spent three months backpacking around India after art school. One of the highlights of the trip was catching a local bus which made its way across the Western Ghats, from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. As the bus descended the mountains, it meandered through manicured tea plantations and to my astonishment, I saw a herd of elephants threading their way through. It was the first time I’d seen elephants in the wild and also saw how tea was grown. The title is a reference to the tea plantations and also to the fact that tea is an essential part of the British way of life.
How have you enjoyed collaborating with Globe-Trotter on this project?
I was so delighted when I heard that Globe-Trotter was going to be making a special collection benefitting Elephant Family. They are such an iconic British company, I love everything about them, the fact that they are UK-based, they celebrate great craftsmanship and the exquisite attention to detail that goes into making their beautiful cases. When I saw my painting inside the lid of the case I was beyond thrilled and honoured.
How did you become an artist? Were you creative as a child?
I went to art school at 18 which was four years of heaven. After that I have to say it has been a roller coaster ride, never quite knowing what is going to happen next. But as someone once said, you don’t choose art, art chooses you. I was creative as a child. My mother painted and encouraged my sister and I to make things as well as doing art. We kept nature diaries – growing up in the countryside there were always new things to find and draw.
How do you approach a new painting — what is the process?
A new painting is usually part of a collection. When I have an exhibition I choose a theme and this gives a parameter for the paintings. Once I have the theme then (hopefully) the ideas flow from there. I have a sketchbook where these ideas take shape, drawing small boxes, trying to perfect the composition before I then sketch it out full size onto tracing paper and then to canvas. I have several paintings on the go because of drying times, so I can continue on one while another is drying. I find the process all-consuming and at times I feel like it's like getting blood out of a stone. However, at other times it is amazingly therapeutic. Also I know I have to create all the time to keep sane.
How has lockdown affected your creative process?
In many respects I have been incredibly lucky during lockdown, I've had work to carry on with and deadlines so that definitely focused the mind. I usually find inspiration from travelling, so this has been a challenge. However, one big commission I had was a painting of an Australian farm. The client sent lots of photographs of their stunning estate as well as drone footage so I have virtually visited New South Wales.
Have you picked up any new skills or hobbies?
I'd like to say I've learnt a new language, but no. However, and this might seem surprising to say as an artist, but I learnt how to use watercolours. I have always found them tricky but I had an amazing commission to design a dinner service for a company and it required me to use this. I’ve also definitely improved my cooking repertoire.
Globe-Trotting with... Rebecca Campbell
Where are some of your favourite countries and cities in the world?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say London as I live here but I think it is the most wonderful city. I’ve been here for 30 years but it is a very different city to the one I came to, it’s great to see how it has changed and developed and continues to do so. There’s always something new to discover.
To experience complete wilderness it would be Patagonia. And India is always a special place; Rajasthan with its colourful rich culture and then the calm of Kerala’s backwaters.
Oaxaca in Mexico is an artistic, laid-back place to hang out. Mvuu Lodge on the banks of the lagoon just off the Shire River, Liwonde National Park, Malawi, is an amazing place to watch wildlife from. Istanbul, where east meets west, and the heritage that has brought. I could go on!
What is your packing style?
I always like the idea of being super organised but it never happens. Definitely travel light, so you have room to bring goodies back…
Do you sketch or paint while travelling? If so, what do you like to draw?
I do sketch but I hardly ever paint. Quite often they are not necessarily a sketch of a complete scene but it will be something that has sparked off an idea for a painting. I also take endless photographs as reference, I know that is cheating but it is so easy.
What is the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
In 2017, over the course of eight days we were completely spoiled by staying at three different ITC hotels; Jodhpur, Jaipur and Delhi. I can’t pick one as each was a luxurious oasis. I took part in Travels to My Elephant II, an Elephant Family and Quintessentially Foundation fundraising campaign where 85 intrepid adventurers raced 500km across Rajasthan. After avoiding cows, camels, potholes and highly decorated lorries we arrived covered in dust and dirt. We definitely didn’t look like their regular hotel guests but at each beautiful hotel there was a joyful welcome including a brass band to play us in. Their hospitality, service and cuisine were all exceptional.
What is on your travel bucket list?
I would love to visit Japan for lots of different reasons. Their gardens sound like artworks in themselves. To see the cherry blossoms must be spectacular, I like the way the Japanese describe it as flower viewing. I would love to visit Kushiro Shitsugen National Park and see the cranes performing their dancing rituals, they are one of my favourite birds. Visiting old temples and then in contrast to see Tokyo and its fast-paced life.
What work of art do you think captures the spirit of travel really well?
Nichols Canyon by David Hockney. Just looking at this painting immediately takes you on a journey. At first the road is gentle, meandering through the cultivated countryside, but as the road snakes through the ever-changing landscape it feels like you are picking up speed. With every twist and turn the road takes, the surrounding area gets wilder and wilder. Finally the road disappears over the horizon and what is over the horizon? The possibilities are endless. With Hockney’s palette of vibrant colours and expressive marks, the painting hums with the spirit of adventure and life.