Sarah Dennis Interview

Sarah Dennis is a freelance illustrator living in Bristol. She completed a BA Hons in illustration in 2008 at the University of The West of England. With an interest in narrative, drawing and collage, Sarah’s artwork is inspired by themes of nature and childhood. Her work combines traditional collage with contemporary techniques to create a bold unique and stylised imagery thats bursting with charm.

We caught up with Sarah to talk about her new series of paper-cut illustrations for an exhibition celebrating Edward Lear’s 200th anniversary called ‘Tales from a pea green boat’.

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Lady in Red © Sarah Dennis

Q1.   Can you tell us a bit about this project?

It all started when my friend Holly Clifton-Brown, a talented painter and children’s book illustrator, invited me to take part in an exhibition she was organizing. The exhibition illustrates Edward Lear’s literacy nonsense and celebrates his 200th anniversary year. It’s called ‘Tales from a pea green boat’.

I was already familiar with a few of his poems, especially The Owl and the Pussy Cat. I was particularly excited about this project as Lear’s poetry is so visual, it’s bursting with inspiration. It also a gave me an excuse to develop a technique that I have been using more and more in my work: paper cutting.


Q2.   What role, if any, did sketching play in this process? Is there a lot more planning you need to do before starting on such a work intensive medium as paper cutting?

Once I have an idea, I make a rough sketch of the composition. Then I draw straight on the paper that I will eventually cut. I try to capture the excitement and magic of a new idea as quickly as I can. Once the idea is formed, and I am confident with It, I boldly take to the paper with my craft knife and add the intricate detail.



Q3.    I really like the Old Man piece with all the animals living in his beard. What is it about Edward Lear’s work that appeals to you, and how did you decided which stories to illustrate?

It was a such a luxury to be able pick what I wanted to illustrate. I was spoilt for choice as all of Edward Lear’s poems are jammed packed with creative imagery, it was a complete joy going through the book. I ended up choosing poems that had emotion and humor, where an idea came to me instantly.

Q4.   What were some of your sources of inspiration?

I have always been intrigued by oriental artwork. I took a trip to Bristol museum one day where I discovered the most amazing Chinese paper craft exhibition. This work was the most intricate and detailed crafted imagery I had ever seen. This opened my mind to the possibilities of paper cutting. I have been inspired by artist called Sealee Oh. I discovered her in an article in Giant Robot magazine a while ago and found the artwork that she had created with paints and papers enormously heart warming and magical. I have recently been blown away by the technical ability of an artist called Elsa Mora she is a master of paper cutting and her work inspired me further into my own journey of paper crafts.

Q5.   What are some of the tools required to make paper-cut illustrations? Which are your favourites?

One self-healing cutting mat, a set of sharp blades, a good craft knife (with cushioned grip to ease the pressure on the old index finger), an array of acid free papers, glue and a mechanical pencil.

I love working with paper and I love discovering vintage/floral patterns, envelopes and wallpapers. Whatever I can find. It’s also a great excuse to make make lots of mess!

Q6.   Are there any tips that you can give someone just starting out?

Work in a medium that comes easily, don’t rush or compromise your work, be confident to share you work with clients, friends and art organisations. Don’t give up, be confident and enjoy yourself!



Q7.   Many of these pieces are wonderfully intricate and detailed. What were some of the challenges you faced on this particular series?

The piece Lady in White was the most challenging as I was cutting the design out of the paper rather than cutting away the background. I was terrified that I was going to make a wrong move and the whole piece would fall apart after days of cutting and an aching index finger. Lucky it all came together.



Q8.   What’s your favourite procrastination pastime?

This Easter I have given up facebook for lent. I know it sound ridiculous but it was a great excuse to live without it for a bit. I do love discovering new artwork, reading illustration blogs and buying old blouses on eBay. Also, I have recently got into pinterest: I’ve been looking though lots of the interior design pictures and visualising my dream home.




A HUGE thank you to Sarah for taking the time to do this interview.

Be sure to stop by Sarah’s site!

All images ©2012 Sarah Dennis

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