An Interview with ZSO (Sara Blake)
ZSO, aka Sara Blake is an illustrator, fine artist, and designer based in New York City.A graduate of NYU's Gellatin School of Individualized Study, Sara has has been working in illustration and design ever since, completing work for an impressive list of clients that includes Nike, Ford, Hurley, Vice, Marvel, Warner Bros., and many more. She also has a website that we think is the perfect example for aspiring artists. Oh, and we also dig her artwork so we asked her a few questions:
ZSO, aka Sara Blake is an illustrator, fine artist, and designer based in New York City. A graduate of NYU's Gellatin School of Individualized Study, Sara has has been working in illustration and design ever since, completing work for an impressive list of clients that includes Nike, Ford, Hurley, Vice, Marvel, Warner Bros., and many more. She also has a website that we think is the perfect example for aspiring artists. Oh, and we also dig her artwork so we asked her a few questions:
What was your first introduction to art? What initially captured your interest and when did you decide that it was what you wanted to do?
Sara Blake: I don't know if it's a thing I can pinpoint. It was something I've been interested in since I was very small, and tit just grew and got more serious in school. I used to take my dad's National Geographic magazines and draw all the animals. I was a shy kid and had really bad eyesight. I had eye surgery when I was two and have worn big glasses every since so I think I was self conscious. Drawing was kind of a safe haven for me, and I think I always respected people who could make beautiful things. Art was a quiet and creative and way to communicate without words. My family always encouraged art throughout school and by the time I was in middle school I think I already had a pretty clear idea that I knew I wanted to pursue visual creativity for a career one day, although I wasn't sure exactly how one did that in practical terms. I just knew I wanted to make things. My mom's in finance and my dad's a doctor, so it was a little bit of different path.
We're always curious about artist's experiences with school. Did you learn a lot at NYU and did you find it a rewarding experience?
I have to say, I loved school. But New York City was just as much my education as NYU was. NYC was just sensory overload. My parents always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, but they were also practical and really wanted me to get a college education. I actually wasn't really sure what I wanted to do in college and a creative career was just this amorphous idea. I was in a small department called Gallatin that let you create your own major so luckily I was able to explore all kinds of stuff. On paper I was accepted for a double major in creative writing and fine art, but I ending up taking everything from a class all about David Lynch, to lithography, to jewelry making, to painting, to graphic novels, to a class about Hiroshima, to a class about the Ramayana. Somehow, by the end of it I left with a general focus in graphic art and writing, which I suppose roughly fit me for a job in advertising (which I didn't know at the time). No one really knows exactly what they're doing when they're 18, and most of us are still figuring it out when we're 30, so school was a pretty big treat to learn about a lot of things at once and start to narrow it down. But it was from being in the city itself that I started getting into alt art, fetish-y photography stuff, and tattoos, and meeting all kids of people, which definitely shaped my interests. I couldn't have gotten that without being in NYC.
How do you balance your personal and professional work?
It will always be a challenge. From my early to late 20s the answer to that was "don't sleep" but now I'm 30 and I can't do that any more. I also don't feel creative if I'm exhausted. Now the logistical answer to that is weekends and routine. I have a full time job as a designer doing marketing and product design. Sometimes that involves illustration, and sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't I use my weekends for side projects and personal work, or I try and build in a few hours in the morning or evenings. I have an easier time feeling creative and free in personal work. There's no pressure to please someone, so it's really important to make room for that. I also try and always have some long term projects always running in the background.
You have a lovely website that makes it easy to find your portfolio, resume, and follow your blog. How important has that been for new clients to find you?
Why thank you. I have Squarespace to thank for my website and I definitely have the internet to thank for connecting with clients and opportunity. I've been steadily contributing to my blog and site for years. I found about about Squarespace in 2009 and used their platform to get a blog and simple gallery going. It's evolved since then, but overall I've been building off the same six year old skeleton. I think it's really important for creative folks to have simple, clean, usable sites where you can get an idea of that person's work in one click or scroll. Also a new-ish thing I'm noticing these days... good mobile sites are pretty important. How often are you chatting with someone at a cafe and an artist comes up in conversation—you really want to be able to share that person's work right then and there?
Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring professional illustrators and designers?
Don't be afraid to fail, don't give a shit if someone likes or doesn't like what you make if you feel passionate about it. Get off the computer, get off the internet. Make something in your own voice. Learn new tools, but don't get bogged down in them. Work as much or more on developing your eye and your taste level as you do with technical prowess. Learn about disciplines different than your own. And most importantly, give yourself time to smell the roses. That's when the best ideas, inspiration, and happiness hit!