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Sandra is a second-year Animation and Illustration student from Sweden, currently attending Coventry University in Coventry, UK. She is a passionate, if not sometimes too eager, over-thinking, compassionate, ambitious, but sometimes aloof, aspiring illustrator, concept artist, animator… It’s still yet to be seen.
She was born in October 1995 in Nairobi, Kenya. Her parents were media teachers in Tanzania at the time, but moved back to Sweden when Sandra was two. Since then her family has lived in Stockholm, Limassol in Cyprus and Arusha in Tanzania. She showed an interest in art early on, but her main passion was reading. When it was time for Sandra to choose high school, she picked an international school and studied civics, with the sole reason being that it was a broad program (she was actually much more inclined to pick art). Sandra graduated high school in 2014 in Södermalm, Stockholm. Two years after graduating she had had enough of working in retail and pre-schools and moved to a small town called Hjo to study Concept Art and Illustration at a county college. County colleges in this sense don’t give out any grades or degrees, but Sandra was incredibly happy with her year there, and learned a lot. Now ready to start university, she decided to apply to schools in the UK, which is what landed her in Coventry.
Sandra has been drawing for as long as she can remember, but “began taking it seriously” around 2008, when she started doing portrait studies of celebrities. Even though she didn’t take any art classes (excluding the mandatory school ones) until college, and wasn’t sure what the future would bring, a creative-based career was probably always the goal. Celebrity-based portraits also became her first art-related income, when fans of the singers noticed her art online and started paying her (greatly underpriced to begin with, of course) to do studies of photos.
In 2011, when her family moved to Tanzania for a year, Sandra had to take up online studies for her second year of high school. While it wasn’t the best year socially, academically or mentally, it was a great year for her drawing skills, and she dove into sketching and style exploration in her illustrations. She bought her first drawing tablet, which held up many years, and started posting artworks on social media, where she quickly acquired followers.
Sandra would describe herself as a good observer, and believes she had a fairly good understanding of how the technical parts of drawing worked even before she started any education in it. After high school, having no plans for further studies just yet, she started working in retail immediately. For two years, she worked in different jobs, at one point having as much as three different jobs at a time and working 6-7 days a week. During these years she also moved out and into a flat in Stockholm with her best friend. She then starting the course Concept Art and Illustration in county college in a small town called Hjo in 2016. She considers it to be her favourite term year yet for many reasons, one among them being gaining a lot of knowledge in anatomy, perspective, and observational drawing.
Sandra has a strong will to learn, and a passion for her projects. Her strong suit are her human characters and especially faces. Her weakness in her artistic side is anything she hasn’t tried yet or worked a lot on. But mostly, her setbacks are created by herself. Not entirely confident in herself, she has struggled for years with anxiousness, depressive thoughts, and the struggle between always wanting to do her best, and the fear of something not turning out the way she wants it to.
“Every single project is a bit of a fight with myself. It’s usually all fine when I actually get into the flow of it, but everything before and after is tedious at best. I’m trying to fall in love with the process, and not the result, and I’m not quite there yet, but I think I’m making progress.”
Currently, she is developing her style, and working more with lighting and feeling in the pieces. Her current focus is to bring forth the emotions in her pieces as much as possible. Right now she is passionate about pinpointing the feelings that comes with deep emotions and mental states such as anxiety, depression, love and hopelessness.
Getting into social media in 2011, she started talking to other artists with the same interests, and taking inspiration from them and many others. Some, like Loish, Alice XZ and Beverly Johnson have been influences from the beginning. Beverly Johnson in particular was a huge influence for Sandra in choosing an academic path. Seeing the cartoon Avatar: the Last Airbender was also a massive influence for her, and has shaped the way she looks at storytelling. Dreamworks’ How to Train your Dragon and its artbook made her realize she wanted to work within the animation business.
It’s important for Sandra to be diverse in her work, and to show different sides to every story and different conversations. She is happy to learn about different stories as she goes, and receive feedback about it. Her focus is creating artwork that includes characters representing different backgrounds, difficulties, ethnicities, genders and sexualities. Having moved around a lot and experienced different cultures, she is interested in seeing these cultures displayed in stories. Stories like Tomi Adeyemi’s recent book Children of Blood and Bone, which is a fantasy story involving African mythology taking place in the African fictional kingdom of Orisha, means a lot to Sandra, as they’re a fresh take on the Fantasy genre, seen from another part of the world. Another recent influencer is Netflix’ reimagining of the 80’s cartoon She-Ra, titled She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Seeing outdated character designs getting a new life with fresh, diverse, designs, is a definite inspiration for her. Sandra also values the feeling of relating to an art piece, or other media content. She acknowledges that media has a certain power, and because of that, representation is important in reaching a more acceptable, including society. It’s important for Sandra to be part of that. Of course, good media representation isn’t the answer to the world’s problems, but it’s a great start.
“With all the hate that is seen in the world today, we need good representation more than ever. Media normalises things. There wouldn’t be so many abusive relationships if we didn’t show unhealthy heteronormative couples in media and called them romantic. There wouldn’t be so many crimes on black people in America if we didn’t show black men being aggressive and violent. We need to start normalising good things. Healthy romantic relationships in all forms. The beauty of different backgrounds and cultures. The importance of loving yourself.”
Sandra’s motivation to work starts with the chase of finding a workflow. For her, there is nothing else that sparks the same will to work hard and end up with a good result. What drives her is the fact that after completing an illustration, she will have picked up new skills, and found new techniques.
Sandra’s drawing style is a combination of realistic art and cartoon. It’s a style that would probably fit well in a graphic novel or comic book. Out of her role models she’d say her style is most likely reminiscent of Arielle Jovellanos and Babs Tarr. Sandra is a tedious worker with high attention to detail. The past years she has been working more with backgrounds and environments, and is rapidly getting better at adding her signature element to the illustration. Nowadays she usually works digitally in photoshop cc, but has gone through a wide range of mediums; pencil, ink, copic markers and promarkers, and her personal favourite, watercolour. Sandra stuck with traditional tools as long as she could, ending up frustrated every time she tried to draw on a tablet, but decided to break the digital block in college. She used digital tools to complete assignments, and found she was finally learning things in it. She has been complimented for her linework and the way she draws eyes on characters. They have pretty faces with soft colouring. Faces and their expressions are the focus of her illustrations. She likes to match the feeling of the illustration piece with the expression.
Her style is a refreshing contrast between rough, crayon-like linework and soft, clean rendering and shading and gives a bright, interesting feeling. Her colour palette often includes, brown, orange and yellow hues.
She would probably place her style in graphic novels, but she hopes it will work in stand-alone illustrations as well. She finds that the more her style develops, the more it stands out and works on its own. As Sandra would also like to work on animation projects, she’s willing to adapt to that as well, but right now it’s definitely leaning towards a more graphic, fun, cartoon direction than a 3D one, or a painterly one.
At the moment, she is drawn to the fun, story-centered illustrations in novels written for ages 9-12. She herself was a massive bookworm at that age, and knows how much those books shape your teenage years. She’s also started getting into the mindset of webcomics, but knows if she were to create one, it would be a while into the future. Right now she is more focused on promoting herself, creating a brand, and booking small jobs such as commissions. Last year she created a series of illustrations for a children’s program in Kuwait, depicting three Bible stories. It’s work opportunities like this that she’s after, eager to put them into her portfolio. Her resolutions for the upcoming year includes working on the dynamic of anatomy, and strengthening her story-telling abilities in her art.
The next step after creating a great portfolio, is, of course, to find great contacts. Sandra plans to do this with social media, clients, and with the help of her university. She is also reaching out to animation studios in the hopes of finding a mentor.
Her work being shaped by several inspirations, Sandra has a lot of possible career choices, and is still open to most of them. She doesn’t see a reason she can’t do quite a few. She does have a few goals she’d like to accomplish. She’d like to work in the concept department of a movie or tv show. She’d like to illustrate a book. She’d like to get commissioned by a magazine or journal. She’d like to work in a studio. It’s a challenge being an illustrator and you have to be able to work in a few different fields. But Sandra is up to the challenge.