Sara Blake

Hello Sara, please introduce yourself a bit, a short biography to our readers please.

Hello DA readers! I'm a New York City based illustrator and digital art director. I originally hail from Richmond, Virgina, but I moved here to study 7 years ago, and never looked back. I attended Gallatin's School of Individualized Study at NYU in a quest to fuse my interest in creative writing and studio art, and ultimately ended up in advertising—a serendipitous marriage of both. I lead a bit of a double life: I work full time as an AD at a big global ad agency but also aggressively pursue my passion for illustration nights and weekends. It's a challenging and often exhausting balance, but in the end I feel very lucky to be pushed in this way. I believe both disciplines help to inform and cross-pollinate one another.

Your illustration work is amazing. We would like to know more about your regular job and commercial work. How's it going? What are your feelings doing commercial work?

Thank you very much! My day job keeps me on my toes. Where with illustration it's easy to work in a vacuum, my job keeps me in check with other creatives. It not only continuously challenges me as a designer, but also as a thinker. Where at one point in my career I may have designed only to make things beautiful, I now try to design things to make them function better, to tell a story, and to convey a message. I work with a sea of ridiculously smart and talented people who are constantly teaching me things, showing me new Photoshop tricks, sharing new art, and dropping new perspectives. It's incredibly humbling and at the same time makes you want to work to be better. So although the foremost goal is always do good work for the client, I like my day job because I get paid to learn stuff from cool people. Also, in many ways, my job is to always be looking at new art and design for moodboards, exercises or whatever, which helps give a business context to my illustration ventures. My goal has always been to make illustration the full time livelihood, but currently I am in a good place where I'm still learning and working hard. And I can give my parents the peace of mind that their weird art loving daughter can make a living. So to finally answer your question: I think commercial work in the right environment helps us grow. It has it's time and place, all depending on what the end goal is for each of us.

Speaking about your art, what can you tell us about your style of work? It's awesome, I've never seen similar stuff before.

Wow, thank you, thank you! All my illustration work starts by hand with pencil and paper. I tend to do very little sketching, and just go for it. I usually describe it as freestyle. I like my illustrations to surprise me. I don't like knowing who they are until they are done. Especially with my portraiture, I like to discover my characters as I go. It's like getting to know a stranger. And likewise, sometimes the relationship blossoms into something beautiful, and sometimes it's an utter ugly failure, but I think it's a more exciting and fulfilling process for me. After I've gotten to a good place with the initial drawing, I add watercolor, scan, and color in Photoshop. I have a huge library of textures from around NYC that I've collected over the years with my digital camera—sidewalks, broken glass, construction tape, graffiti—and I layer on tons of those into each drawing. New York is inevitably infused into each of my digital pieces. I guess it's an ongoing love affair with this city.

What can you say about that there is so much similar stuff over the world this days. I mean, people are doing same work, same styles, copy each other…

I think it's inevitable that there is repetition, but if you imitate and can still add a completely unique twist, you can stay fresh without copying. It's like a big visual game of telephone—the proverbial design joint—take a little hit and pass it on. And I don't see anything wrong with that. In fact, I think if you share what you know, more will come back to you. Design is growing and changing collectively. I don't think any of us can claim to be the original at anything. There is so much opportunity to adapt and do something new with styles that already exist, and adding that new perspective is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls.

What is music for you, while you are drawing?

I switch it up. Music is always a necessity to long bouts of drawing. I've been a huge Radiohead fan for over a decade, so that's always a go-to. Lately it's been a lot of instrumental stuff like Hammock, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, This Will Destroy You, Explosions in the Sky, Flying Lotus, and Mogwai—but I also love stuff like Broken Social Scene, Cold War Kids, Menomena, Bon Iver, XX, and the Silversun Pickups. I also love me some Chet Baker! Last FM is my best friend for stumbling across new stuff.

Your spare time, when you are not drawing, not working. What are you doing? Any other hobbies?

I'm working most of the time, but I make time to go on long runs. Other than my heart, it's my biggest passion outside of work. There are few more fulfilling experiences than pushing your body to it's limits. I'm a believer in punishing yourself so that the sweet is all the sweeter. It's also an ideal time to clear your head. And secondly, I'm not sure if you can call this next one a hobby, but it takes a lot of my time and has the same masochistic theme—I love tattoo art and spend a great deal of hours, energy, money, and pain adding them to my personal library. And food and drink with loved ones whenever possible.

Pen is your best friend? Could you explain a bit about the process of how you draw?

There is something very soothing about working by hand. It comes naturally, and I feel the most connection with the medium when I'm drawing. Most of my work in the work place is completely digital and entirely created in Photoshop, so drawing is a welcome change. I count pixels daily so it is refreshing to relish in all the variations and imperfections of pencil and paper. It's one of the few places in my design life where fuck-ups are a good thing and celebrated.

Graphic tablet or pen? Why?

Both! I mainly use the real thing, but I use a Wacom tablet for light airbrushing and accentuating shadows and highlights.

Mac or PC? Why?

Mac. I can't even begin to explain all the reason why…

Do you think to be a talented artist it's necessary to finish an art school or something? Thoughts?

Definitely not! I think everyone has his or her own story, and learns and works differently—there is no rule book for how to succeed, nor is there a concrete gauge of what is considered success. I took art classes in college, but I didn't go to a traditional art school, like Pratt for example. The main benefit of my education was exposure to new ideas, mediums, people, and methodology, but from a technical standpoint, I still consider myself all self-taught. I believe art school is what you make of it, and can be incredibly enriching and valuable, but I don't believe it is at all essential. Passion, drive, love, and determination are what get you the farthest.

Have you ever been stuck and uninspired, how do you manage this?

I get stuck all the time, and it's usually a direct result of sheer exhaustion or my mood. Unfortunately, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and if I am upset or brooding, I completely shut down creatively. Running helps, writing in my journal helps, mom helps, music helps, and an occasional alcoholic beverage or 3 helps.

What are your plans for the future?

I have my first solo gallery show called White Lies coming up in Sydney this September. I have a number of exciting collaborations coming up over the next year with some talented folks across the globe including Shadow Chen, Joshua Davis, Daniel Diggle, Max Spencer, and Magomed Dovjenko. I've got a couple other top secret projects underway too, but you will have to stay tuned on my blog to learn about those! (
Either all that or I'm gonna disappear, buy a hot air balloon, sail around the world and dock under the Northern Lights.