Hi! My name is Sarah van Dongen and I was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands 26 years ago. Although I always loved drawing and creating things, I studied Comparative Literature instead of something more art related. It became clear however that I was at my happiest when I was making visual things. After several drawing courses I enrolled in the MA Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. Here I finally felt a true sense of belonging, and I knew for sure that a creative career was something worth fighting for. I started as a freelance illustrator a few months ago but I can already tell you that it is a struggle. Apart from that it’s hard to make money, the self doubt and creative blocks are sometimes very draining.
So what keeps me motivated during difficult moments? I believe that if you keep drawing and pay attention to what and how you draw, you will inevitably get better. Seeing how far I came in just one year is something that baffles me. Sometimes I look at one of my illustrations and I just can’t believe that I created it.
I’m inspired by daily life, nature, my childhood memories, and other artists. My concentration is at it’s best in my home based studio surrounded by my books and art materials. I have a small room at the top floor of the building I live in, which is just big enough for all my illustration related stuff. I also like drawing on location, in cafe’s or outside (when it’s not raining) But that’s more for fun/inspiration/experiments (sketchbook work) Final illustrations for customers are created in my studio.
I’m inspired by daily life, nature, my childhood memories, and other artists.
I mix all the colours of my work myself. I have two types of blue, two types of yellow, two types of red and white. By mixing my own colours I believe I can create a more unified image. I have a tendency to create images that have an Autumnal feel. When I had to create images portraying the other seasons during the MA (for my garden book) I almost abandoned the whole project. So some colour combinations come naturally to me, and others take a lot of effort.
I’m a sloppy and quick drawer by nature. This can make my drawings almost unreadable and not very subtle. So I try to work slower and more controlled, but this sometimes makes my illustrations life-less and boring. I’m always trying to find the balance between loose and controlled. To be honest I think this is something I will struggle with for the rest of my life.
The miniature drawings above were a challenge set up by the House of Illustration. For every day of September, I had to create a one inch by one inch drawing. The challenge is inspired by an exhibition by John Vernon Lord. I’ve never partook in a challenge on Instagram before and looking back I must say that I failed, since I didn’t do them every day. I liked the tiny format though, and also seeing many illustrator friends and creatives I admire make miniature works of art.
It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Illustration has been such a huge part of my life, it’s difficult to comprehend. I’m surrounded by a wealth of illustrative inspiration. My favourite illustration of mine personally though, is this one of my mum and I drawing. I like the bright colours and the big egg shape. I created the illustration after I showed my mum how to make stamps in our vacation home near the sea. It’s a nice memory.
Tips for pursuing or struggling creatives. Keep drawing! Always, even if it’s for 5 minutes. Everyday before I start working for I client I try to draw something (small) for myself. I keep a couple of things in mind while drawing. For example: It doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as I create my creative abilities will develop.
Keep drawing! Always, even if it’s for 5 minutes.
If you are having a bad day, just do something else. Take an afternoon off and go outside! And don’t forget to be kind to yourself; you’re worth it. If I could end on something positive words (and also a Mantra of mine): ‘I can do this and I want to do this’, which in moments of panic I say out loud over and over again, sometimes while crying. It works.