I’m heading up to Australia next week for Supergraph 2015, and one of the artists who will be heading up a masterclass over there is Sarah Beetson, of whom I had the pleasure of interviewing! Read on about what makes her tick and how she ended up working with the fun people of Supergraph!
Name: Sarah Beetson
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Wongawallan, SE Queensland, Australia (I spend 3-6 months per year in the UK / USA)
An inexhaustive list of materials which I am constantly adding to, but often includes paper, wood, photographic prints or fabric, spray paint, tissue paper and collage, Pilot G Tec C pens, acryl-gouache, markers, gel pens, crayon, stickers, vintage magazine clippings, beads, sequins, letraset…. and more.
Tell us a little more about yourself!
I was born in Manchester, UK and grew up in Cheshire, Cornwall, and London before moving to Melbourne, Australia in 2006, then to my boyfriends’ family farm in 2009, where I live in a converted dairy and have a giant art studio next door. As a child, my ambition was to be a childrens illustrator like Quentin Blake, and I would make my own illustrated, hand written stories a little along the lines of The Munch Bunch and The Garden Gang, both of which were illustrated by young girls. My grandmother ran a pub, so my brother and I spent our weekends there occupied with colouring in books and sketch pads. I studied Illustration at Falmouth in Cornwall, where I developed my signature style, before moving to London and interning in the fashion industry, eventually securing 2 agents and moving on to freelance illustration.
Are you a full-time artist?
Yes and no! I earn 100% of my living from illustration, working part-time as a talent scout for my agent, Illustration Ltd, and the rest of my time is spent freelancing as an illustrator and creating art for exhibitions.
Where do you live? What stands out about living where you are, and what is your daily schedule like?
I live on a farm, which means I get to eat homegrown organic fruit and veg like avocados, macadamias, mangos, sweet potato, rocket and watermelon (and so much more!) on a daily basis! I have pet chickens who free range and will often spend the day hanging out with me in the studio (sometimes they even lay eggs in there, it’s a very creative place!) There’s also Mr Hoppity the wallaby who drops by daily, and a whole host of other wild animals like kookaburras, laurekeets, bandicoots and even the occaisional koala (on the downside, we also get snakes and spiders!) The climate is sub-tropical so we get sunshine most days, we are surrounded by rainforest and palm tress and the beach is a 25 minute drive. We are also really close to both Brisbane and The Gold Coast, so I have the best of both worlds in terms of city inspiration and uninterrupted peaceful working envoironment. My living costs here are low, which allows me to travel for 3-6 months of the year, usually to the UK but I also spend a bit of time in the US and Europe. My daily schedule begins with a yoga class, then I tend to work on my agency scouting job in the mornings, going into the studio in the afternoon to work on commissions and art projects.
Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start on a piece or a project?
I begin by brainstorming ideas and researching the subject in question. If possible, I will then do a photoshoot to get reference material to work with, or I will source images from my catalogue of photos, books etc or the internet. I always work from photographic reference – never straight from my head – I like to give myself all of the available information before beginning a piece. I will then create sketches, if for a client, once approved I will then beginthe final art by creating a background, working on paper, wood, photographic prints or fabric, often using spray paint, tissue paper and collage to form a background. I will then create the line work using Pilot G Tec C pens. The rest is a combination of an inexhaustive list of materials which I am constantly adding to, but often includes acryl-gouache, markers, gel pens, crayon, stickers, vintage magazine clippings, beads, sequins, letraset…. and more.
What’s your favorite project so far?
Among these have been working with Stella McCartney in the early days of her label, working with Mary Portas at Yellowdoor, illustrating for major newspapers including The Globe and Mail (Toronto), The Times and The Telegraph (UK) and The Miami Herald, winning the Creative Review (UK) Best in Book prize for illustration in 2011, being shortlisted for the 2012 Metro Award (a $50,000 Australian Art Gallery Prize), exhibiting at Somerset House, London, as part of Pick Me Up 2012, and being invited to exhibit “Rainbowspective” in Paris in 2012, showing the best of the previous 5 years of my work. Recently I illustrated Wonder Woman for Smithsonian Magazine which was a great honour, and completed a 3 month artist residency in Coney Island, New York. I am creating an ongoing body of work around Coney, my favourite place of inspiration, and I’ll be returning again briefly in summer 2015. I just finished a fantastic campaign for a very big client which I can’t disclose until July 2015 – but that one was also very exciting!
Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?
I don’t usually have a sketchbook as such, I’m not quite that organised – things tend to end up all over the studio in parts. I did however keep one during my Coney Island residency, and some of the pages from it have been turned into a colouring boom which I’m launching at Supergraph in February (image above!)
Would you care to share your studio space as well?
What or who inspires you?
I would say film is the greatest continual influence on my work. Particularly the films of John Waters have had a profound affect on my aesthetic, in that they have really encouraged me to find my own artistic voice and not be constrained or afraid to censor myself in any way. The 1993 classic True Romance has been very influential on me — I even named my Camden Market clothing label ‘Clarence & Alabama’ after the lead characters, back in 2003. It is the candy colored, sun-drenched, palm trees and cheap motels combined with Elvis, rockabilly and ‘white trash’ culture that has saturated my work the most. I try to take in two movies a day, and can often spend a day in the city cinema hopping and taking in five or six films.
Growing up in the 80s and early 90s definitely influenced my colour palette, saturated with rainbow, pastel and neon tones. I’m sure that the colourful cartoons and TV of the 1980s, like The Care Bears, Wuzzles, Popples, The Racoons, Teddy Ruxpin, Punky Brewster, Jem and The Holograms and The Garbage Pail Kids were a big influence on my later colour palette.
In terms of other artists, over the years I have enjoyed the work of Antoni Gaudi, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Julie Verhoeven, David Downton, Antonio Lopez, Jamie Hewlett and many, many more.
Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?
When I first started out, my style was definately a lot more loose. I developed it by bringing together all of the different art materials I liked to work with, and combining them using the blind contour drawing technique. So early results were quite squiggly lines, and the drawing was much more rough. In the years that followed I have definately tightened up my drawing skills, and as a result, my work has a tighter finish. Here’s a then and now look at the difference:
Here’s what I did in 2001/2:
And here’s what I did in 2014:
What’s your favourite tool?
Hmmm, a toss up between Pilot G Tec C and Maica pens and Holbein Acryla gouache.
What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
I am happy for people to interpret it as they please, but I hope that it continues to stand out as fairly unique in an internet image led world of saturated same-same art and illustration styles.
Tell us a little bit more about your show for Supergraph 2015. What do you have planned? How did you initially get involved?
I met Mikala whose brainchild is Supergraph, a few years back through our involvement with L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Week. We met up again whilst I was exhibiting at the similar Pick Me Up Graphic Arts Fair at Somerset House in London, and we both mused that Australia needed something similar. I exhibited last year at the Inaugural Supergraph and it was a great success, so it is something I hope to continue to do annually. Last year I gave more of an overview of my work; this year will have a focus on my Coney Island project. I’ll be exhibiting painted polaroids, as well as creating bespoke versions for visitors to order onsite. I will have a Coney Island capsule clothing collection, more original artworks, and my onsite sketchbook available as a printed colouring in book, as well as postcards, badges, print leggings, scarves, saucy playing cards, and a plethora of other goodies.
What’s next for you in the coming few years?
More travel, USA and UK this year, possibly more exhibitions with a focus on graphic arts fairs both in Australia and overseas, hopefully some delicious illustration commissions with exciting brands and publications, and developing my Coney Island body of work further.
Catch Sarah at Supergraph in Melbourne, Australia from 13 to 15 February 2015 at The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton – if you’re heading there, drop me a note and let’s meet up!