Inspired Ink with Rory Dobner

After searching for inspiration in all corners of the world, artist Rory Dobner finally settled in Hampstead. Heart Home was lucky enough to spend time with him in his studio and be taken on a tour of his favourite local spots that help to fuel his quirky imagination.

Rory Dobner

Rory’s Hampstead studio it is a creative haven with crisp white walls, striking bespoke black furniture and stunning industrial lamps. It is even complete with its own taxidermy hare, adorned with a neckerchief, waistcoat and glasses (naturally).  

He starts his daily routine in much the same way as the rest of us, “in the mornings I’ll get up, shower, brush my teeth and head straight to the studio, grabbing some breakfast en route” says Rory. However, the product of his day is more in keeping with Alice in Wonderland than Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five.

Rory Dobner

“I’ve just finished the biggest commission I’ve ever done; it was from a lady in Paris who is a writer. It reflects a combination of stories she wrote about two Canadian lobsters she bought for dinner, but ended up keeping, naming and setting free! The story also included polar bears that got married- oh, and a pole dancing octopus!” He laughs.

Rory Dobner

Not all of Rory’s briefs are quite so fantastical, meaning he will often have to search for his own inspiration.  He takes us on a tour of his neighbourhood to show us where he enjoys finding it. Our first stop, Flask Walk, is conveniently located on his doorstep and full of endless possibility.  Rory is completely at home browsing the antique shops, searching for that one item to fuel his next idea.

Buying frames in Flask Walk

Buying frames in Flask Walk

“I'm really fascinated in the details of most things, whether its animals, living things, plants, flowers or trees, but equally objects that I see - especially antiques.” He says, browsing.

One of the most striking things about Rory is his mind. It is a treasure trove of memories, trinkets, fantasy and humour, and if you are familiar with his work, it is probably not surprising to learn this about the man behind the quirky creations such as ‘Smokey Fish’ and ‘Bling Rabbit’.  His greatest love is detail, which he stores in his inspiration filing cabinet, otherwise known as his brain.

“I've got a bad memory- I’ll go to the shop for three things and come back with one. But for what I saw along the way, I'll remember every single thing!” He laughs.  “Like the weave in someone's jumper, the engraving in a women's gold earring.”

After banking some more visuals, Rory directs us towards the cosy Ginger and White café to get our mid-morning buzz. We sit with steaming cups and start to delve further into the roots of his business. 

Ginger & White Cafè

Ginger & White Cafè

“Rory Dobner just started from drawings I used for presents or cards” he confesses. However, an interesting stroke of good fortune soon propelled his drawings to bigger things.  “My wife Claire was studying for her Masters in psychology and was being interviewed for a magazine. She sat on the sofa with my ink drawings in the background. The buyer of Liberties, who was also studying psychology, read the magazine and called her. She got so excited as she thought there was interest in the interview, but she said- no, sorry. It's the ink drawings behind you I want to talk about!” He giggles.  “I was so grateful for the opportunity. I gave them ten to begin with, and three days later I received a call saying they’d sold out!”  

Next on our North London voyage is the pretty Hampstead Antiques Emporium.  We amble our way through a quaint alleyway stuffed full of antiques, followed by a gorgeous local fruit and veg shop boasting the latest seasonal goodies.  Completely beautiful, and completely British.  Something else that’s very close to Rory’s heart.

Hampstead Antiques Emporium

Hampstead Antiques Emporium

 “We are a British brand” Rory explains.  One that has expanded rapidly and now delivers a range of crockery, tiles and textiles. “Claire helps with the manufacturing; we use British suppliers, which not only benefits them, but it also gives us great control. The playfulness of experimenting has been really important to us.”

Our walk is making us a little peckish, so Rory takes us to one of his favourites haunts, The Horseshoe, with its rustic feel and hearty food. As we walk in he readily admits that he would usually take a sandwich to the Heath where he likes to sit under his favourite “rusty old tree” and dream up characters that he can bring to life through the power of ink.

Rory's favourite 'rusty old tree'.

Rory's favourite 'rusty old tree'.

“Drawings to me are things that are moving. They blink at me, they fidget. They come alive.” He says sincerely. “I imagine they have a background and I consider what sort of life, or what kind of attitude they might have.”

“I’m lucky because people usually end up saying to me- I trust you, use your imagination and go for it. And that’s what’s really nice - I don’t have to work within set parameters. They give me the ingredients, and I mix it up.”

Rory Dobner

Mixing it up is putting it mildly. His characters are strong, fantastical and innocent. Yet there is also something inherently sophisticated, grown up and British about them. His ink has many layers, and so does he.

To see more of Rory’s work visit Rory Dobner.

Article written by Liggy Griffiths taken from Autumn Issue 2013 of Heart Home magazine. Picture credits: Photography by Paul Craig.