Meet feminist zine queen and in demand illustrator extraordinaire Sara Andreasson
Swedish illustrator Sara Andreasson originally hails from Kristinehamn in the Värmland region but is a familiar face in Gothenburg, where she lived before relocating to London for a change of scene.
Andreasson’s work is a vibrant thing. Her illustrations deal with issues surrounding female empowerment, sexuality, and gender by using unconventional forms and a distinctive colour palette.
After studying at Gothenburg’s Academy of Design and Crafts, Andreasson exploded onto the illustration scene. Her work lit up going viral on Tumblr and Instagram, and soon enough Andreasson found herself picking up high-profile commissions from the likes of Nike, Apple, Converse, and the The New York Times. She even publishes her own feminist art zine called BBY, commissioning fellow illustrators to contribute work from female and queer perspectives.
We talked to Andreasson about her work ethic, the illustration game, and asked her to create a special piece of work for us.
What’s the Sara Andreasson story?
I’m an ordinary girl from Sweden-land. I’ve always been drawing, but I didn’t realise until quite late in life that I could make a living out of it. When it was time for me to apply for uni I fell straight into the trap of thinking I had to study something that would secure my future, so I turned to engineering. My best subjects in high school were programming, physics, and art, so it just made sense at the time. After that I studied furniture design for another three years—in other words I’ve spent a lot of time learning cool things I will never get use of [laughs].
Before graduating from uni, I took some time off school and suddenly started drawing a lot. Also, as the typical millennial that I am, I posted most of it online. Luckily some of it went viral on Tumblr, and eventually I got my first commission.
Looking at those early attempts makes me cringe but some of them still circulate on Tumblr and Instagram, so I just had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never get rid of them.
How would you describe your work?
Bold, colourful, and sassy.
Your color palette is quite defined. What draws you to certain colours and combinations?
I found a pile of drawings that my mom had saved from my childhood and I realized how my sense of colour hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Powder pink, klein blue, and mustard are my all time favorites, they balance each other out so well! This is going to sound corny, but you could compare it to cooking, if there’s too much sweetness you add some salt and a little bit of sourness until it’s balanced.
What’s is your creative process like?
With clients, it’s usually quite a linear process. They send me the brief, I think about it for a while, I freak out when I don’t come up with any ideas, give up, and take a shower–most of the time that really helps. After doing some sketches and having had them reviewed by the art director I just go straight for the final version, which is the most fun part. From that point on I can relax, play around with colour combinations, and get into details, which can be quite therapeutic. So half the process is me panicking and the other half is me recovering from that.
You work freelance, do you have any tips on freelancing or are you just a procrastinating mess?
[Laughs] Oh my god, I probably shouldn’t be saying this but I totally am a procrastinating mess. I’d say I’m a "time optimist", which means that I don’t always take into account all the hours of waiting, sleeping, and travelling that I will have to do in between the drawing sessions.
I’m very proud to say that I’m getting better at planning my time, but there are still so many unexpected elements involved in this job which makes it quite difficult for anyone working as an illustrator to be fully disciplined. Unless you give up sleep completely and work around the clock, which in my opinion doesn’t sound like much fun.
Which other contemporary illustrators do you rate?
The line between being an illustrator and an artist is definitely a blurred one, but those of my peers that I find most inspiring are Brie Moreno, Hattie Stewart, Monica Kim Garza, Hannah K Lee, Lynnie Zulu, Johanna Burai, Annu Kilpeläinen, Cynthia Kittler ... I could go on forever.
Tell us about the magazine you edit, BBY...
BBY is the lovechild of me and my best pal Josefine Hard-stedt. We started it two years ago and have managed to put out two issues so far. The magazine is all about celebrating other female/queer artists and writers out there, and also about building a much needed network of like-minded creatives from all over the world. It’s been a lot of fun, but at the moment we’re just trying to figure out what we want to do next.
There’s a big presence of female illustrators online at the moment, many of which are featured in BBY. Would you say there’s a specific female illustrator community/sisterhood?
I think so, yes. It could be a generational thing and obviously a result of feminism, but girls like us aren’t interested in competing with each other anymore, they prefer to see the strength of sisterhood. The feminist zine scene is constantly growing and I’m so happy to see girls younger than myself organizing themselves too.
Are sexuality, femininity and feminism topics you deal with in your own work too?
When I first started drawing, I didn’t really consider what I did ‘activism’, and I don’t think I had ever really thought about the moral responsibilities that come with producing images either. As I gained some experience in the industry I soon understood the importance of making informed choices and being aware of what kind of messages you’re sending out. It’s a constant struggle. I’ve had so many art directors telling me my characters were too thick, too dark skinned, or too queer, and that I needed to change it. The fact that things like these rarely come with a reason as to why this needs to be done, in my opinion says a lot about how ingrained some of these ideals are in our society. All the more reason to try and break away from the norm.
Any advice for people wanting to get into the illustration game professionally?
The short answer is: be lazy and keep doing the kind of work you enjoy the most. It’s a difficult business. The money’s not very good, at least not in the beginning, which means you will have to work a lot more than most people to have a reasonable income each month, so why not have fun while doing it? A lot of people think you have to be technically skilled to work as an illustrator, but whenever I give advice to students and aspiring illustrators I tell them to embrace what makes them special and go with the style that comes naturally to them. It’s really important not to be afraid of showing your work to people. How else will they know you exist?