Sabrina Smelko is an illustrator and designer from Milton, Ontario. She is currently attending Sheridan College to obtain her BAA in illustration. When she’s not attending to her studies you can find her working at the college’s student culture magazine Travis, where she works as a graphic designer.
Q1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with drawing faces, people, a snapshot of significant moments in the human life. I love detail – fine, meticulous detail – and well-designed, simple compositions. While I know I’m graduating an Illustrator, I’m just as passionate about design and writing – and mixing all three together.
Q2. How do you approach starting a new project?
I’d love to hang with the cool kids and say it starts with a good sketch, but that comes far later for me in the process. For me, it starts with an inspired idea. I do a lot of research and go inspiration digging – or running, in my case. Other than searching the interwebs for inspiration, when I start a project, I like to go for a run. Whether it’s the fresh air, the blood flowing to my brain or just being outside of my studio-space, something magical happens and I become so amped on my runs about the piece I’m working on, probably coming across as some crazed psycho-lady to the general public who are just trying to enjoy a nice walk around.
My brain starts churning and I become really passionate about the job- most of the time. After I get all hot and bothered about the idea- and from the run-, I whip out the sketchbook and begin writing feverishly, intermixed with undecipherable sketches to anyone other than me. I don’t have impressive sketchbooks with beautiful drawings; my sketchbooks are very personal, and I say that because what I put in there is for me to know and decipher and translate into the work- that, and I have terrible penmanship.
Q3. What is most important to you when working on a piece?
Being passionate about it. I’ve found that it really makes a difference to have a craving to work on the piece; they always turn out to be far better pieces in every way (duh). The work I’m doing for my Thesis is my complete dream job and I find I’m putting out my best work for it. That being said, we don’t live in Wonderland and won’t always get our dream jobs, so that’s why it’s even more imperative to dig until you hit that gold nugget of passion hidden in each job.
Q4. What’s the role of sketching in your creative process?
Like I stated earlier, I tend to do a lot of mental sketching and note-taking before I actually put pencil to paper. When making illustrations, after I’ve found my “nugget”, I tend to make five to ten small, non-detailed sketches to work out the composition and, by then, there’s usually an obvious winner. It has to work from a design standpoint as a composition of shapes before any details and content can be injected- this means alot of squinting to see if the shapes and white space “work”.
After I pick the winner, I make a larger more detailed sketch and scan this into photoshop – or illustrator – where I work out most of the kinks and do my line-work. Because I do a lot of design-work, I do a lot of my “sketching” on the computer. Everything has to be exact, line up and “fit”, so sometimes sketching it on paper isn’t conducive to really seeing if it could exist.
Q5. Weapon of choice (favorite materials)?
Other than graphite pencil and fine, black marker, the computer is the winner. The amount of custom photoshop brushes I’ve made can attest to that, not to mention the dozen illustrator “rough” files and pages upon pages of word documents and emails to myself with tidbits of writing.
Q6. Do you have a favourite place outside of your workspace that you like to go to sketch?
Other than bringing my sketchbook outside to draw, I’m not the coffee-shop or public-place-sketcher type. As for writing though, I can be anywhere. Writing and note-taking is far more productive in a social setting for me; the amount of reference for how people talk, interact and express themselves makes for a better piece of writing.
Q7. Your favourite procrastination pastime?
When I’m not illustrating, designing and writing, I spend a lot of time reading with my fat tabby-cat on my lap- just cracked open Klosterman’s ‘The Visible Man’; great so far,- and hanging out with my boyfriend. We have a mean, mutual love for good TV series’. A lot of my life can be defined by whatever series I’m watching (and obsessing over) at the time; right now, it’s The Wire, though I know I’m a little late. Being around me, you’ll hear a lot of references and jokes about such things.
Q8. What do you like to listen to while you’re working?
It’s a huge mix of contradicting genres of music. My itunes goes from Queens of the Stone Age and The Black Keys to alot of Jay-Z (Watch the Throne) and White Panda – for super productive nights-, to more folk sounds like Elliott Brood and Band of Horses, to mellow stuff like Feist’s Metals, Bruce Peninsula and Bon Iver. I also love The Hype Machine (www.hypem.com). It’s impossible not to find a song to become addicted to that you’ve never heard elsewhere.
Q9. What are some of your sources of inspiration?
People and their stories. For my thesis, I’ve written a novel and am illustrating, branding and designing the whole thing, and the inspiration for it came from reading a ton of great books- namely Larsson’s Millennium series- and watching a ton of great movies. Other than books, movies and people, other illustrators and creative individuals are hella-inspiring. One individual who inspires me is greatly is Douglas Coupland. He’s doing exactly what I want to do- whatever the hell he wants- he writes books, makes art, works in film and television, designs etc.
Q10. If you weren’t a professional artist, what would you be doing?
I’d be a novelist. I absolutely love writing and plan to chase that dream after I graduate, but I guess that could be considered in the realm of an artist, so other than that, I’d have to say I’d have chased an old dream of being a surgeon. I loved (and still love) biology, math and the sciences in high school. I actually took them all the way to Grade 12 instead of taking art!
Huge thanks to Sabrina for providing so many awesome photos and for taking the time to do this interview.
Don’t forget to stop by Sabrina’s site!
All images ©2011 Sabrina Smelko