Back in August of 2010, our own Konahrtist presented us with the stunning and colorful art of Sara Blake. Well well well, now we get to delve a little deeper with an exclusive EMPTY KINGDOM Interview that she granted us!
Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, what you wanted to be when you grew up, about any invisible friends you may have had.
Hello Empty Kingdom! Thank you for inviting me! I grew up in Richmond, Virginia right outside the main downtown area in a kind of preppy, old-fashioned sort of area. It was a nice place to grow up, but I always felt like I didn’t fit in, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was a super weird kid. For example, I went through a several year long phase when I was little where I would wear nothing but wolf t-shirts and had the bedroom decor to match. I was sort of in my own world most of the time. I’m not sure at what point I actually started to think about “what you do when you grow up,” but my parents were always extremely supportive and open. I think they got a kick out of my weirdness! Art was always an interest for me though, and even from 1st grade I got a lot of support and my art teacher offered to give me private lessons during recess. As far as imaginary friends go, I had a green bead and a very small pink pebble that I carried around with me religiously and which occasionally got stuck in my nose. I had a little sister to torture so I didn’t need friends. Haha!
What parts of yourself do you see in your art?
I think as a person I try too hard to keep it all together. I’m a control freak and a neat freak, but underneath it all I’m really just a big mess. I think things through thoroughly and logically to a point of obsession, but in the end my emotions and heart always win. I sort of feel like that’s how my art turns out. My style and process came into being because I tried too hard to have everything perfectly laid out but somewhere along the way I just got carried away and chaos took over. I start with a plan, but once I’m knee deep, the plan goes out the window. With my personal work especially, it’s just whatever feels right. And I think that goes for most people, not just me…we tend to know what is right all along but we get clouded by what we think others want or what is supposed to happen.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
The answer to this is both always and only in the past 5 years. Since I was little I always wanted to make art and lively freely and creatively, but the idea of making a living as an artist was very abstract much into my adulthood. I thought being an artist meant living in a leaky apartment with holes in the floor and eating soup every night, wearing nothing but paint covered overalls and working by candlelight. It was very romantic and very imaginary. It wasn’t until I moved to New York and started working in the creative industry as a production artist that I fell in love with graphic design. I gradually started to learn a much broader view of what “artist” meant, and all the different things that they create and can make a living on. It wasn’t until I was several years into a career in graphic design and art direction in the advertising world that I realized it wasn’t for me. I don’t live in overalls or work by candlelight but it’s not glamorous either. I work from home in 300 square foot apartment, which yes, occasionally leaks. But hey, it’s NYC, that’s what we get!
Are you self-taught or did you study art in school?
I studied art in school only peripherally. I had more of a general liberal arts education. Painting class here, art history class there. I consider myself self taught. I had no technical classes in college, but it was during college that I started teaching myself everything on my own, most notably Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and bits of HTML, CSS, PHP, and AS2 here and there (but I really suck at coding). Going to school in New York City was very inspiring because everywhere I turned people were making things happen for themselves without classic training or an education in their field. I went to a teeny tiny department within NYU called the Gallatin School of Individualized Study which basically allowed students to put together their major from a combination of disparate disciplines if they chose. I can’t say I got it all figured out while I was still in school, but it allowed me to be exposed to a lot of different fields and narrow down my interests. When I was in school was also when I started getting tattooed heavily, and that really opened up my eyes. Tattoo artists are some of the best designers on the planet. A good tattooer has an air tight grasp of design, color, typography, and all while thinking on your feet and using an organic, ever-evolving canvas. Being around folks like Steve Boltz and Eli Quinters was a huge learning experience for a young person interested in art.
What was your favorite subject in school? Why?
Art! Duh! It was just always the only class I looked forward to and felt completely happy in. I mean who actually gets sad when a class is over! I’ll remember my art teachers until the day I die.
How have some of the themes or influcences in your work developed and evolved over time?
I’ve always tried not to over-think my work (even though I definitely do sometimes), but somehow over the years birds and girls have become a theme in my work. I love pattern and repetition and I think feathers and hair really became a place for me to play. I’m definitely not a photorealistic illustrator and feel much closer to abstraction than realism, so overall I think any place I can take a pattern or a form and break it down is a place a like to explore.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an artist?
This is a hard one. Well for starters, I feel incredibly lucky to do something I love for a living, but on the flip side, it is also something that is inherently very close to you. So making the transition from mostly personal work to mostly client work was (and is) a challenge. I think allowing yourself to really be pushed by a client is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. Generally speaking, the biggest challenges I face are when I’m treading in unfamiliar waters and do something I’ve never done before. My first gallery show was absolutely terrifying but one of the best things I’ve ever done, and my first big client job was back-breaking but ultimately confidence building and exciting.
How are you challenging yourself further? What’s next for you?
I think I’m going to start trying to work larger scale and building out much more intricate scenes. Bigger, better, and more detail. I’d also like to start combining more mediums before heading to the computer for the digital process. More paints, more inks, more pastels, that sort of thing. I’ve also been interested in doing something in a public place, but I’m still wrapping my head around that and deciding if it’s my place.
Where do you find inspiration?
Nature, texture, music, fashion. Everywhere really. Dreams have been a big source lately. They get more vivid and creepy as I get older and I’d like to start drawing out more scene-like pieces.
What messages are you trying to tell through your work?
I’m not much for messages. I’m more about imagination.
Who do you count among your influences? What has each of them taught you?
This list changes and evolves all the time but some staples for me are James Jean, Bison, Yuko Shimizu, Pogo, Non-Format, Sam Weber, and Tomer Hanuka. Joshua Davis has been a great source of inspiration both as an artist and as a personal mentor. As far as old masters go, Gustav Klimt is amazing. And lately I’ve just been blown away by Daniel Diggle, Sougwen Chung, Jeannie Phan, Darren Booth, Jose Mertz, and Ian MacArthur.
What are some artists/blogs you follow?
I always follow James Jean’s blog. I also follow and work with Russia’s Design Collector, and I really dig http://www.partfaliaz.com. Honestly, these days I have way too many artists’ blogs that I’m interested in to keep track of them individually on a daily basis, so Twitter really serves as my aggregator for keeping up with their updates and new work. Ffffound is my homepage and usually I just like to get lost on there and link out to random Tumblrs that way. It’s the best way for me to explore when I don’t really know what I’m looking for.
If you were a secret agent what would your spy name be?
I think ZSO works pretty well as a spy name too, right? I’m pretty into guy names for girls too. You can just call me Special Agent Rowan ZSO.