An Interview with Sarah Myers
We caught up with Brooklyn-based illustrator, musician, and overall multi-talented badass Sarah Myers at Woops! Bakeshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn over coffee and macarons.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, MI, Myers shared her experience with creative communities in cities and small towns, the act of balancing several creative pursuits at once, and the unique experience of meeting people through her work.
Canvas & Cassette: I’d love to hear about the girls that you draw and your experience with illustration as a whole. Did you grow up drawing? How did “the girls” come about?
Sarah Myers: I have always been interested in drawing, ever since I was a little kid. My mom was amazing and would always do craft and art projects with me growing up. My best friend, who is now my roommate, is also a creative person and her mom is a professional artist. I loved going over to her house all the time when I was little. It was the sort of thing where I loved being over there more than being in my own house, and she felt the same way about my house. There were art supplies at her place and her mom was just so inspirational to me. She drew children’s books and had such a pretty style.
When I was nine or ten, I got into the violin. I still drew and doodled all through high school while taking notes and I took art classes but it wasn’t a priority for me. When I went to college, I was split between art and music so I did a double major, but I always felt torn. I still feel that way—I’m not really practicing violin since I am focusing on my art right now. It’s kind of a balancing act but I feel like illustration has always been a part of who I am. I’ve always been drawing girls, weirdly enough.
C&C: Even as a kid, you were?
SM: I have a big box of drawings, going all the way back to high school, and most of them are girls. It’s still girls like I draw now, just a different style; you can see the style develop. So I don’t know, it’s a nice way of expressing my love for fashion, especially since I tend to buy a lot of clothes (laughs).
I really loved Urban Outfitters when I was in high school, I would go through their catalogs and Delia’s catalogs—I was obsessed with Delia’s in particular, because they had these little doodles in their catalogs. I remember going through them with my best friend, cutting them out, and making stickers out of them or something dorky like that. But that was very inspiring to me. For a period of time, too, I wanted to be a fashion designer.
C&C: Do you think of the girls as characters? Are they alternate personalities?
SM: They’re all kind of an aspect of my personality based on my mood. If I’m feeling more dark, edgy or disgruntled then I will draw a more edgy-looking girl. When I’m feeling more content and want to be at home reading, I’ll draw a cute homebody-type girl. I am also inspired by seeing someone on the street or on the subway.
For example, yesterday I saw someone who had cute glasses and purple hair. I just loved her look so I drew a girl inspired by her. My drawings usually don’t come out at all like the original person, but I am always inspired by something a person is wearing or a color combination. Poses are also very inspiring to me. I have a Pinterest board called “poses,” which has random pictures of girls doing different things. Its kind of like a life drawing Pinterest board.
C&C: I’m curious to hear about the paper dolls you make. How did they come to be in relation to your illustrations?
SM: Those started back when I was a kid. I used to draw an outline of a girl wearing a swimsuit or underwear. I would cover it in packing tape and then draw little clothes and laminate them with the packing tape. I’d also put double stick tape on the back so I would have a little sticker paper doll in my notebook. My friend would do that as well so I don’t know where the idea came from. My friend’s mom, the artist, would make clay dolls. The dolls had anthropomorphic bodies, a human body with an animal head, and she would sew a fabric body with clay arms and feet. Maybe the fact that an artist that I looked up to made these dolls and I was inspired by that. I’ve always loved working with paper as well so doing that made sense to me. What I love most about the paper dolls is that it brings my girls to life more. They’re a bit closer to three-dimensional.
C&C: I think about the dolls that I grew up with and these ones are so much more badass. There also seems to be a feminist element to the dolls, is that something that you consciously feel when you’re making them or is that just an interpretation?
SM: I wouldn’t say that’s something I consciously think about though I do love that interpretation and I don’t think it’s incorrect.
C&C: I also keep calling them your “girls.” Is it bad to call them that? I feel like there’s a specific attitude, a connotation to that word.
SM: Totally. I feel like for some reason maybe because I am a female, there’s just something more expressive to me about drawing girls and women. It just feels right to draw strong women.
C&C: And they are. I still think of them flipping me off as I’m looking at them (laughs) but in a way that’s really inspiring. A band of angsty women, in the best kind of way.
SM: I like that!
C&C: Your business name is Fawn & Olive. What does that mean to you and how did the name come about?
SM: Those are actually my cats’ names. Fawn is also the name of an artist I loved when I was younger—Fawn Gehweiler, she was a huge inspiration to me. She had this candy-colored pop surrealism that I’d never really seen before, so Fawn’s kind of named after her. And the other one’s a little brown cat, like a little black Olive. I’m definitely a cat lady and very much a homebody. Not that you would get that immediately without knowing they’re my cats’ names, but for that reason I like having my cats’ names tied into my business a little bit.
C&C: I want to know more about your experience with music and playing the violin. I love the contrast between playing the violin, I think of it as being a little more formal and dainty compared to your drawings that have more angst.
SM: I started playing violin because my best friend played first, so I was kind of copying her but I’m the type of person that will just got for it once they start something. My parents were great and provided a ton of opportunities for me. Our school system had a lot of alternative orchestras as well so I took all the advantages and went with it. It took up a lot of my time so I didn’t do as much art but it was always still a part of me. When I started college, I ended up playing in a band for a few years. That’s probably the most fun that I’ve had with music. If I were to pursue the violin again as a career, which I can see myself doing in a few years, I would want to do studio recordings for contemporary artists. I want to do the orchestra back parts that you would hear in a pop song or band. It’s kind of hard to get in that circle and there aren’t too many people who do that. One day I’ll get myself in there (smiles).
C&C: What kind of music did you play with your band?
SM: I’ve heard us described as baroque pop. It was kind of like an indie rock band but a lot of our songs had a mixture of all genres. That kind of freedom is something that I really appreciate about the art world. Violin was my way of expressing my brain and following how things are “supposed” to be and then art as a form of expressing whatever I wanted to do. It’s kind of the best of both worlds but it’s hard to build a career out of. That’s what I’m currently trying to figure out.
C&C: I feel like being a musician, especially with a technical instrument like the violin, you have to have a certain level of discipline. Is that something that bleeds over into your visual art as well?
SM: Yeah, totally. There are definitely certain aspects of visual art that I can use my skills or experience with the violin to help with. Something I really enjoy doing is fine line work. It’s just so satisfying to see the end result, and though it may take a long time, it’s a fun exercise. With music, you spend hours practicing in order to perform. You wouldn’t be able to just grab the violin and play a concerto. But with artwork, you can just make something and that’s the way it is. It’s interesting to explore these two aspects of my creative outlets in different ways. Sometimes it can be really difficult to focus and practice so with art it’s nice that I can just sketch something and be done with it. But it’s also nice to know I have the ability to have that discipline and practice. Its very rewarding in a different way.
C&C: What was your experience moving to New York and what brought you here?
SM: Just being in the same state I grew up in for so long. Michigan has a lot to offer but I had lived there for twenty-six years. It felt very repetitive. I definitely miss my friends up there but I feel like I’ve had a lot more personal growth moving here. In the past two years that I’ve been in New York, I feel like I’ve grown more than I did back home. In Michigan, and maybe in some other smaller states, people get weirdly defensive or overprotective of their community whereas in New York, we’re all trying to do our best here and there is room for everyone. I felt that automatically moving here, it was easier for me to break into art and music. There are just so many more ways to express yourself. There is also so much more exploration and freedom to be yourself. You can wear what you want and walk down the street. It’s very freeing to do what you want and not be super judged for it.
C&C: Which leads me to your tattoos—tell me about them!
SM: I’ve always liked tattoos and thought they were very cool. I got my first tattoo when I was twenty-three but didn’t get any more until fairly recently. There weren’t that many artists in Michigan that were great and I didn’t see many that I really liked. I’ve always liked the traditional style and I’ve just started going for it since moving here. I like them because they feel like a collection of artists that have their own style combined with my style. They are all custom-made and custom-drawn for me so that’s really special.
C&C: I remember you mentioning that people have asked to tattoo your work on themselves. What are you feelings about that?
SM: I really love it. It’s a huge honor!
C&C: Are there certain bands that you listen to when you’re drawing, or certain things that you listen to routinely to help you get into a creative space?
SM: My favorite go-to is chill electronic music with little to no vocals. I do love a lot of contemporary stuff too but I’ve been listening to a lot of 70s and 80s electronic music lately. It’s all fairly long electronic stuff that you can zone in and out of. I also like Stereolab when I’m concentrating, it’s kind of repetitive and there aren’t too many crazy volume changes so I can always zone out. I will also listen to podcasts but, depending on the topic, they can be upsetting or annoying.
C&C: Do you experience creative block? And if so, do you have a way of pulling yourself out of it?
SM: Definitely. There are some days where I am very creative and have so many ideas and can get my stuff done but then of course, I will have a few bad days where I’m not inspired. I found that the key is to not be too hard on myself on those bad days because trying to force it out just makes it worse and will prolong the creative block. I try not to take those very creative days for granted.
C&C: Was there any sort of hesitation or fear when you first started making your stuff public?
SM: Oh yeah. Definitely, definitely. It took me a long time to even start sharing things because for a period of time, I put way too much pressure on myself. I would compare myself to other artists that I was inspired by and wouldn’t think I could be as good as they are. Somehow, I forced myself to get over it. Moving to New York helped. Seeing artists and other artwork inspired me. It has been very therapeutic for me to just force myself to put everything out there.
C&C: What kind of materials do you tend to use? I notice you have a Pigma Micron pen.
SM: Yes, this is my go to! I also use copic markers. I haven’t done much digital illustration because I really like having the hand-drawn touch. I will sometimes use gauche paints but I’m more of a marker and pen type gal. Sometimes I will challenge myself by bringing only one or two markers with me. I like the look of work when you’re limited to a small palate.
C&C: What is your personal philosophy when it comes to doing the work you do?
SM: I am trying to continue to express myself. I feel like all of this creativity was inside me before and I am now letting it out. Its so rewarding that people come to me and when they see my art, I feel like they see the truest part of myself. When I was a violinist, I was expressing myself through music but, except for the band, I wasn’t writing my own parts. Naturally, it takes me a long time to get to know someone. I am really quiet and I am accustomed to people not understanding me. So when I meet people through my art, like you and Autumn for instance, I feel like those people see more of who I truly am and that’s so freeing for me.
- Marissa Passi