Fashion illustrator, Sarah Smart has done something many of us dream of doing... she has managed to turn a lifelong passion into a successful career. Having grown up in a family of creatives, her childhood love of drawing led to a degree in illustration, and Sarah now boasts a seriously enviable client list, which includes brands such as Hobbs, Bobbi Brown, Carven, Harvey Nichols and Vogue (to name a few!). We first connected with Sarah through our #IAmAnEssexGirl campaign. A proud Essex girl herself, she posted a brilliant illustration on social media in support of the campaign. We finally met with Sarah over a cuppa last week and chatted about pretty much everything; careers, stereotypes and sleep deprivation... This woman is honestly as fabulous as her drawings!
In our Mother Hub Meets interview with Sarah, she tells us more about her story and what it takes to build a successful career as an artist. Read on to find out more about the woman behind the illustrations...
Tell us a little bit about your background. When did your passion for sketching and illustrating begin?
Somewhere between spending hours on Fashion Wheel in the 80s and watching my Grandma paint. I've loved drawing for as long as I can remember, I just never knew you could make a career out of it. I took a foundation art course to figure out which "creative route" to take and decided to take illustration as a degree. When I got out into "the real world" I had my fingers burnt as I had no idea about contract and payments. As a result, I took a different path and ended up getting into fashion magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire and Grazia where I learnt about tight deadlines and got to understand what it was the Art Directors were looking for. I was always drawing in lunch breaks, evenings and weekends and then I got asked to work on a beauty range whilst working at Look magazine which gave me the confidence to approach more clients and it went on from there.
What top tips would you give someone who is considering taking the big step to leaving a job and setting up on their own?
Know that there is rarely "the perfect time" to take the leap. Confidence is a huge part of it but let's face it, we all have bills to pay so I would suggest building a solid client list or at least some good contacts before leaving and have some "buffer savings" to fall back on if you have a quiet month. Going from a salary to having to chase invoices is a big jump but totally achievable if you're sensible.
Having somewhere to showcase your work is essential and building your social media profile is also a really good way of making contacts.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Live drawing in Paris! I was sent over by Carven and was drawing on a podium in the middle of La Galleries Lafayette. It was absolutely buzzing, with crowds gathering to see me draw and queuing to get their fashion illustrations done. Being able to do what I love in such a fashionable city as Paris (at almost seven months pregnant!) was a real pinch myself moment!
What has been the biggest challenge?
The business side is probably the most challenging. I actually rather enjoy the challenge now as it's not something that comes naturally to me but obviously it's essential when working for yourself and something you have to learn very quickly.
What is your favourite quote?
"What if I fail? Oh but my darling what if you fly!" By Ernest Hemingway. My friend sent this to me in a little frame before my first live event which I now have hanging in my daughter's room.
What advice would you give someone hoping to make a career as an artist?
You can be the most talented artist out there but you'll struggle commercially if you don't strap your marketing and business hat on pretty quickly. It's something I didn't get taught during my degree which, in hindsight, was a real shame but it's a steep learning learning curve so you can pick it up pretty quickly.
Believe in yourself and don't shy away from new challenges. Most artists I know suffer from some sort of self doubt but if you don't believe you're good enough then clients won't either. I was petrified at my first live event, especially as the concept was really new at the time, but it had a domino effect and I ended up getting a lot more work off the back of it.
Hard work! It's a cliche but the work doesn't just fall on your plate. In fact most successful artists I know make their job look so effortless, yet are some of the most hard working people I know!