MB: Hi Sarah, firstly let me thank you for letting me pick your brains on your beautiful illustrations. 

Illustration brilliantly straddles fine art and the commercial world, in terms of your process does one always trump the other, what leads what in the naisency of the work?

SC: If I am working for a client I’ll usually start with sketches and then send a few options before I make the final image and work in a much more structured way. For self initiated work I am more likely to veer off and be more playful. I see fine art as quite an intellectual practice which can sometimes seem elitist, I’d prefer my self initiated work to resonate with people in some way and be relatable.

MB: Was it daunting starting out as an illustrator to find your trademark distinctive style and palette. What was the journey to landing on those specific hues? I love your delicate use of muted colours with vibrant and colourful themes.

SC: Thank you. It seems that for everyone it clicks at a different moment and for me it took a little while but I’ve always been drawn towards the same subjects and mostly used that as fuel. My process has changed a few times which had a little impact on my style each time but I'm quite happy with the way I'm working now. I enjoy muted colours from 70s imagery, especially the weird food styling. I like muted colours and pastels paired up with bolder colours and black. It helps to limit  it to 3 or 4 colours. After a while of playing around I created a swatch group of my faves which I use to help keep my language consistent.

MB: The narrative of your works seem to bounce around zany, comedic and aesthetically pleasing. Is this more reflective of the client, your physical inspiration or your mood? 

 

SC: Thanks! I like that description. Firstly I’m thinking about the composition, the shapes, the idea etc and I would say I have quite a dry sense of humour. When it comes to client work I would only use comedy where appropriate. 

MB: There is a frequent use of the figure in your work and even food seem to have human qualities. Are the unusually fluid and oversized silhouettes reflective of the personalities of your subject? 

SC: I like to keep the environments a bit more structured using more graphic shapes as they are in reality and contrast that with the figure being more dynamic and exaggerated. Im not sure if this would be to reflect their personality or rather to keep the emphasis of the work around the figure. I also love to draw really big using fluid lines, that's usually my starting point, sometimes I will use digital manipulation to make them even wobblier. A painter I really love is William Roberts, his work has very chunky figures and its sort of social documentation as well, I also love Beryl Cook. With the food the human touches are purely for fun, I don’t always add it though it depends what's going on in the rest of the image.

MB: Would you describe your work as feminist?

 

SC: I haven’t really made a conscious decision to do that, but maybe yes! Whatever our gender, most of us have at least one insecurity about our body. We all come in different proportions, shapes and sizes and thats actually pretty cool! Having more playful shaped figures can normalise it a bit or maybe even celebrate it I hope.

MB: Do you prefer working from life, photographs or your own sketches? And to follow that up, do you find translating life into the 2D rather than 2D to 2D effects the space in your work? You play with space and perspective in a really interesting way

SC: I work from my own sketches when it comes to the figure and then with more static objects ill use reference imagery, maybe specific designs to inspire me. I Went to a Jasper Morrison exhibition ages ago in Berlin and was obsessed with just the catalogue with Ikea style drawings of the designs but at the same time I love to draw from life. I go to life drawing quite often. Drawing from the figure is incredibly relaxing and practice probably doesn’t make perfect in my case but furthering my understanding of the anatomy really helps when I’m sat at my desk without having to use reference imagery, unless it's a really tricky pose then I might take a weird picture of myself to use as a guide. I find using reference for the figure can make things become too precious whereas if I can just loosely use my memory and just go for it the proportions will be a bit off but in my opinion that makes for a more exciting result. Illustrator is really cool because you can set up guides to help with perspective, but I do prefer to abstract it slightly.

MB: Instagram is such a huge part of getting out there today. Does the format of your work consider instagram as the final output, and in a world without instagram would your work still be made to fit squares?

SC: Thats very true - its so important now. I feel like its sort of changing our work a bit too, as our attention spans become shorter we need to be more consistent with what we make to be recognised. It is really great that it makes it so much easier from a marketing perspective. I see it as both a gift and a bit of a creativity killer/anxiety inducer but as technology evolves it can only be beneficial to adapt to this. When I graduated I didn’t have Instagram! Everyone was using Tumblr still so I’m trying to make sure I’m updating everything else regularly as well because theres a reasonable chance it might change again one day. Id encourage anyone to look at their favourite artists websites as well as their Instagrams and spend some quality time appreciating the work.

MB: If your works could be printed on any object, what would you go for? Do you make work exclusively to be viewed digitally?

SC: I want to do some screen printing when things are safely reopened, so satisfying! Would especially love to do some work with textiles, maybe I can make some weird pants. I love anything printed, magazines, papers, books, I’m a bit of a hoarder - to have physical printed work in something is very rewarding so I would love to do more of that. Digital is also exciting in a different way, so many possibilities - Im planning on doing some animation soon, could be really fun! I love both formats I think.

MB: If you were lent the Turbine Hall for the day to present whatever you wanted how would you fill it and who would you invite? 

SC: I love the idea of borrowing the Turbine Hall. Maybe I would build giant people and flowers and objects in my language, depicting something relatable, a giant fake scenario of something every day. I'd love to encourage people that don’t normally go to galleries and throw a big party, and maybe just observe the response. Would probably invite a few influencers as well let's be honest, to get it seen. Hopefully everyone would have fun!

MB: What would your advice be to those who want to jump into the world of illustration, do you have anything you wish you had known when you started out?

SC: If you can, keep making work, enjoy the process and be patient and if you keep doing the work every day it will improve and eventually you'll be a pro at your thing and there's no reason why you shouldn't succeed if you put yourself out there. I took a bit of time out from really pursuing Illustration as a career when I graduated which I wouldn't say is textbook career advice but I definitely don’t think I was really ready. I worked other jobs while I created a bit of work but also I had a few difficult bits to deal with so I wasn't really able to go for it and be super ambitious for a while. I wouldn't change it because I really believe that everything else I did and the people I met outside of the illustration bubble inspired me so much and fed into the work I’m making now. It's definitely important to take inspiration from other places than illustration and maybe it's fine to go off piste for a while if you’re not in the right space, it's important to take care of yourself!

https://www.sarahcliff.co.uk/

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