Interview: Sara Blake

Sara Blake shows us design at its best. Her portfolio includes clients such as Marc Jacobs, Elle, Nike, and Bacardi.  Sara is heading to New Zealand in August to speak at We Can Create, a showcase of Art, Design, and Creative Technologies run by communications agency, The Church.

The latest drawings you are preparing for your upcoming mini exhibition are amazing, where do you get your inspiration from?

I think they are sort of a combination of inspiration from nature (creatures from the sea and from the air) as well as fashion. I love over the top fashion and since I dress very plainly, it's been fun to try to find a place for it in my drawings. Most recently I've also been adding things from my own dreams. My dreams are usually way to weird with very convoluted plots—too meandering to translate into a portrait, but recently I've been dreaming a few images that have stuck with me that will make it into the art.


What is the one work tool you can’t live without?

Pencils! That's all I need. I'll find something papery to draw on!


What is the first thing you want to do when you land in New Zealand?

I think that may all depend on the level of jetlag. Maybe find a quiet place to people watch and have a beer to recharge for a day in the outdoors! I definitely want to go to Waiheke Island. I'll probably be asking a bunch of strangers for the best things to do once I'm in Auckland. No one knows better than the locals, right?

Were you brought up in a creative family?

Yes and no. My parents did not have careers in the arts. My mom is in finance and my dad is a doctor. But they both are creative and love the arts, and were always supportive of my interest in it as a very young kid. I don't think it was until I got older that I saw how artistic they really were in their taste and curation. My sister is an amazing musician though. I'm incredibly tone deaf, so I guess it's a mystery how the creativity gene works in our family.

What would be your advice for kiwi girls wanting to get into the illustrating industry?

Just do your own thing. Don't look too much at what other people are doing. Don't try to draw things how they look, draw them how you want to see them. That's where you will find your voice.

You created some really powerful murals for Nike for their 34th St store in New York, how did you feel seeing them at the opening event?

VERY nervous. I've had never built an illustration that large before. And it's was incredibly satisfying to see something you've only seen finished on screen printed, especially when it's that huge in physical scale. However, the joy for me is really making something and then being done with it and then moving on to something new. So in some ways I think I was really relieved to have closure on it. I went to see it just once on opening day and after that I've never wanted to go see it again. I got kicked out of the store for taking pictures actually, which was pretty funny. I guess it's an exaggerated version of never wanting to hang my own art in my apartment.

How do you create your images, what techniques do you use?

Everything always starts with pencil. I don't really like to sketch or plan things when I start a drawing unless it's for a very specific space and needs to fit a space. I'll usually just sketch small sections at a time and erase the rough lines as I go. For portraits I usually start with a reference image from French Vogue or something and once I get the main features in place, I'll just sort of go off on my own tangent. I get a full pencil drawing down, and then add deeper shadows and lines with ink, and then watercolor in texture. From there I scan and add more texture and color in Photoshop.

You are based in New York, do you think the city reflects in your designs?

New York can be a pretty grungy, harsh city. I think especially recently that's been more affecting my use of color and texture. I'll color pick from old rusted industrial furniture or scuffed up pictures I've taken from the street. My pencil drawings are pretty textured as is, but for whatever reason, once I get them scanned, I still feel like I want to rough them up even more digitally. I like things that look like they've been through some trials and tribulations in their time.

Who do you look up to in the illustrating industry?

Hmm well I think my biggest inspiration in terms of work ethic is James Jean. He has such an immense body of work, and it's rare to find someone with such perfected digital and traditional skills. He has just such an insane amount of work in such a short period of time. He's only young 30s. But as far as illustrating style, I think I look up to Ernst Haeckel quite a bit. I'm pretty obsessed with old technical nature drawings, and again, just the huge body of work is very motivating. I also really love old Korean folk art right now. As far as illustrators working now though, the list is too large to recount. I try to keep in touch with a large group of illustrators from my collectives, The KDU and Depthcore. We are sprinkled all over the planet, but we keep in touch online and seeing their blog updates and new work always pushes me.

So, plans for the future? Where do you see yourself going?

Who can say. The ultimate goal is just happiness, but what achieves that seems to be ever-changing. I'm working on a series called "100 girls" which will be just that, and I'm hoping to finish that this year. A couple of group shows coming up as well. I'm also hoping to soft launch a proper concept store in the next year with prints and textiles. My interests have shifted more to fashion and interior design in the past few years, so I think the goal is to get a studio space in New York to share those creations. Who knows though. It's great to have goal to get you going in the morning, but life always has a different plan for you that you could never even imagine.

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    What wonderful talent. I feel utterly inspired by Sara's drawings and now I just want to go out and buy some pencils too!
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