Hampshire artist designs striking prints for Liberty of London

Overton artist Jo South was chosen to create a piece of art for Liberty London

Overton artist Jo South was chosen to create a piece of art for Liberty London - Credit: Archant

Jo South from Overton has been selected to feature in the iconic department store’s print and fabric bible

Jo South

Jo South - Credit: Archant

Setting up home in Overton six years ago heralded the beginning of a personal and professional adventure for Jo South. New to Hampshire, this ever smiling artist quickly fell in love with the county’s topographical highlights where village life, with its festivals, sheepfair and wheelbarrow races perfectly suited the upbeat, nostalgic portraits for which she is known.

Yet although Jo’s whimsical treatment of local places and events is her calling card, the reason I discovered this energetic personality is due to the success her signature style launched on an entirely different subject in an entirely different location.

“I thought thousands of people would apply so there was no point,” Jo reflects, recalling the moment she heard about an Instagram post the iconic store, Liberty, had put out asking for illustrators and doodlers. The timing, coinciding with half term, also influenced her initial half hearted response. So what changed her mind?

“I did some research into the building, discovered the story of two warships whose timber was used to create the store, and a couple of mornings later woke up with a really good idea.”

The Liberty Book is iconic

The Liberty Book is iconic - Credit: Archant

The composition, linking Regent Street’s Tudor revival structure with the origins of its materials, hit the mark and in February this year Jo received an email congratulating her success on being selected for inclusion in the spring edition of the bi-annual, The Liberty Book.

Jo explains more about the concept of her idea.

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“The Fabric of Liberty brings in another dimension which is time, looking at the past. Both ships were from the 19th century and the length of the Liberty building is identical to the length of one of the ships. I did various sketches before working out how much of the building to include compared to the ships, and how to connect them together. There was no restriction on the size of the image; getting a decent hi res photo was more troublesome! I got in just before the deadline and was absolutely gobsmacked when I heard I’d won.”

An interest in technical drawings, to which she was exposed during childhood when her father, an amateur artist, was a structural engineer, is matched by the appeal of the intricacy and history of architecture. And then there’s a fondness for pen and ink.

Bombay Sapphire Distillery is another of Jo's beautiful artworks

Bombay Sapphire Distillery is another of Jo's beautiful artworks - Credit: Archant

“I love the quality of an etching and I like illustrations, an outline then a wash. For watercolours I tend to use smooth paper (hot pressed) for my main pictures with detailed ink drawings, using fine pens. For a more loose look the ink pen looks good on textured paper.”

At this point we are sidetracked by the subject of animal products. Jo is vegetarian and aims to buy materials which are animal friendly. With animal products often present in paper, paint and ink, however, this means considerable research and we joke about the need to start a movement to have artist materials’ ingredients listed.

But back to Jo’s style. There’s an attractive innocence about her work that suggest all’s well with the world. Given her Engineering degree and a previous career in Medical Physics for the NHS, how did her artistic instinct evolve?

“I always did art as a hobby but after my children came along we lived in Germany for a few years (they have amazing, beautiful places) where I painted pictures of a favourite café which a friend suggested I sell. They were for expats to take home with them. It was the start of thinking about becoming a professional artist.”

The occasional evening class helped with technical aspects of painting and being shortlisted to exhibit at Mottisfont boosted her belief in her creative talent. The National Trust property happens to be one of the family’s favourite destinations, along with the coast and the New Forest.

“Everything is really pretty around here,” Jo smiles, “and I love being able to walk to my allotment.” Meanwhile Jo’s prints are still sold in Germany and, more locally, at Winchester Framing, Overton Gallery and Daisy Down Gifts, as well as via her own website.

With her four-year-old Schnauzer, Eddie, jumping onto her lap, Jo expresses gratitude that her teenage children are “happy to be with me” and accepts that the planned celebration for her 50th birthday has been temporarily postponed. She also articulates a level of contentment which is, perhaps, the essence of her paintings.

“I really enjoyed doing the Liberty print. Rather than painting something that exists, this was different, there was a story about it. I would love to do things that have an extra dimension, to be more creative, more conceptual.”

Given her prestigious success, the standard has already been set so whether future subjects embrace Hampshire occasions, historic milestones or national celebrations, there’s no doubt Jo South is ready to bring them to life through her own artistic brand of nostalgia. See more of Jo’s work here

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