I was attracted at once to Sarah Dennis’ paper-cutting work when she sent me an email – and so I invited her to talk a little bit more about her process! I enjoy seeing how others interpret their style in various ways, especially if that means going for your strengths instead of measuring yourself against other people’s standards – like what Sarah has done.
Tell us a little more about yourself!
Well, I have red hair and I feel like the red fox is my spirit animal! I love orange, green and turquoise and seeing these colours together makes me just so happy. If you were to take a peek into my wardrobe you would find only these colours in different combinations. I feel like I can speak fluent french but in truth I can’t speak a word, I just like to pretend. I also like eating, cycling and dancing!
Where do you live? What stands out about living where you are, and what is your daily schedule like?
I live in Bristol and I love it here! I have just bought my first house with my boyfriend Tom, so it looks like I’ll be sticking around these parts. I moved in just the other day, so my daily routine is a little unsettled. In the flat where we used to live, I worked from home. I had turned the downstairs dining room into a studio, which was great, it was a nice big space with loads of light. Tom also worked at home some days so I didn’t get cabin fever too badly. Our new home is quite old and in need of some serious love, and I keep getting distracted sanding floorboards and digging up the garden, so I’m currently on the look out for a studio in Bristol. It will be really nice working around other artists again. Bristol is the perfect place to be a freelance illustrator, there are lots of artist studios and support networks with lots of opportunities to collaborate with other people in the community.
Are you a full-time illustrator? How did you begin finding work/commissions?
I am. It was initially quite hard to find enough work but in the last few years I’ve been managing to get by on my illustrations, which is great. For the first few years I had a part time job as well, but I never felt like I was fully applying myself as an artist, so I got my portfolio up to scratch and decided to dedicate all my time to making it work. I put a great deal of effort into sending out postcards, writing emails and connecting with as many people as I possibly could. Slowly the commissions started to come in and it all snowballed from there. It was a great feeling to be finally working on projects that I had dreamt about while at university. I still have the occasional quiet patch, it’s the nature of being freelance but it always passes and it gives me valuable time to set myself personal projects and work on my artwork.
Your portfolio is filled with paper cuts as your medium of choice – what led you to it, as opposed to other medias?
I have never been great at working with paint, I would always end up with more of it on my hands and on the floor than I would on the paper. I’m capable of making quite a mess so I like working with a materials that won’t drip or spill. The good thing about paper is you can make a mess but it doesn’t stain the carpet! And the result is very neat which I like. When I was at university I did more collage based work, I used to collect envelopes, wallpaper samples, old books or whatever I could find and would make my illustrations either digitally or by hand. It was after I saw a great exhibition at the Bristol Museum on oriental artwork, where I discovered Chinese paper cutting, my head exploded with inspiration. After this, I started adding more and more detail to my work and using a paper cutting technique within my art and illustrations.
What’s your favourite project so far?
Last year I was lucky enough to publish my first children’s book ‘Cinderella’. This book is like no other I’d seen before. I designed the book so that between each double page spread is a delicate paper-cut page which interacts and cast shadows over the background illustrations. It has always been an ambition to publish a children’s book and I was so thrilled to be able to combine my illustration’s with my paper cutting skill. Its was very satisfying to hold the final book and to see it in shops.
Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?
I do, although for my more detailed artwork I normally develop ideas on larger bits of paper to get the sense of scale right. But the sketch book for me is about about keeping a personal doodle diary and sketching down ideas that emerge at random times.
What or who inspires you?
I love nature, sometimes just watching a documentary will inspire me to create a new piece. I’m really interested in the natural patterns that emerge in nature: from the fractals in Romanesco broccoli to the flocking of birds and fish. I also love to think a lot about the incredible journeys that creatures make to survive. I have recently discovered an artist, philosopher and professor called Enest Heckel. In the 19th century he discovered and named thousands of new species. He has hundreds of detailed illustration of marine creatures. I have recently bought a selection of books all about his work, the detail, composition and alien nature of some of these creatures just blows me away. His work has inspired me to take an even deeper journey into the ocean.
What keeps you motivated?
I have done a few different jobs in the past, and I know that working freelance as an artist and illustrator is what I want to continue to do. I believe the harder you work on what you love the more likely you are to land your dream project and have success in your career. I also read a lot of design blogs and talk to other artists, friends and family who help me keep focused and motivated.
What’s your favourite tool?
The scalpel, can’t live with out it.
Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
I see myself in my new home, hopefully not surrounded by boxes but in a lovely space that I have created to live in. I hope to a have a new studio space thats large enough for me to start making large paper sculptures. I have recently started running paper cutting workshops and would love to have my own space where I can run classes and even have a space that other artists can use to teach their own workshops. I hope to be working on new and challenging illustration project’s as well as having my own shop on my website, not just selling prints, but lamp shades, cushions and cards.
What will be your dream project or collaboration?
I have starting planning a project where I work on a larger scale on a theme of jellyfish and light. My dream is to develop these ideas as part of an artist residency in Japan, I love paper and have begun a journey into finding the perfect paper to work with. I’m really interested in Japanese washi paper, I would love to learn the process of making my own. I feel that making the paper from scratch and knowing more about the material and its history would really benefit my practice and feed my knowledge of working with paper and progressing as an artist.
Tell us something random about yourself!
One of my favourite creatures is a kakapo, its a flightless bird which almost looks like a cross between a parrot and an owl. Its only defence mechanism from predators is to stand still pretending its invisible. Unfortunately this tactic has not worked out very well for the poor kakapos and they are almost extinct. I adore them, I have made myself a kakapo plush toy which sits in my room and looks after all my things.
Thanks so much Sarah!