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Featured Artist - Sarah Allen

6th December 2021 Featured Artists


Artist Sarah Allen with her author-illustrated children's book, Jumping Joeys, published by Affirm Press.
Artist Sarah Allen with her author-illustrated children's book, Jumping Joeys, published by Affirm Press.

In our two years of printing Sarah Allen's native bird and animal illustrations, Sarah has been the model client with her organised file management and impeccably set-up print files.  As we delved further into Sarah's creative practise, it became clear the buck doesn't just stop there - over the last six years, Sarah has built a successful creative empire not just as an illustrator, but as an author, business owner, surface designer and educator too.

Sarah uses a blend of handmade collage elements and digital techniques to create a myriad of vibrant and charmingly offbeat birds and animals that she features on everything from greeting cards and tea towels to large scale public murals.  Her growing portfolio of projects showcases an impressive clientele, one project of note being a commission by Australia Post to design a collection of festive Christmas-themed postage stamps.

Sarah's love for nature has led her to use art as a way to educate young minds about native birds and fauna, dedicating a large part of her practise to in-school visits, running workshops, and recently completing a residency with Regional Arts Victoria for the Creative Workers in Schools program.  In 2020, her quirky birds won the hearts of many with the release of Busy Beaks, her first author-illustrated book which was shortlisted for the Children's Book Council Book of the Year - Early Childhood 2021.  

To add to her list of achievements, Sarah's exhibition Beaks of the Bay is currently showing at the Laneway Gallery in Laverton until January 3rd, which features a time lapse of the creation of Busy Beaks.  We couldn't think of a better way to while away a lazy Summer holiday afternoon!

Tell us a bit about your journey towards becoming a full-time professional illustrator. Were you working in a creative field before taking the leap into freelancing?

Sarah's collaging process
Sarah's collaging process

I studied fine art in the 1990s but it was more than 20 years until I began working as an illustrator. After university, I worked in a range of design and marketing jobs. Although they were creative, I always felt something was missing. In 2013 I put all my focus into developing an illustration portfolio and started taking on freelance illustration work.

After illustrating several books for other authors, you embarked on Busy Beaks, your first author-illustrated children’s book which has gone on to garner great success. How did the idea for Busy Beaks come to fruition? Did you find it challenging to make the switch from illustrator to author?

I was lucky to work with Usborne Publishing on my first few picture books and I learnt so much working with the experienced team there.

I've had an interest in environmental education for a long while and I love non-fiction picture books. One night, I was up late illustrating a unicorn book, and heard ecologist Professor Euan Ritchie talking on Radio National about Australia’s extinction crisis. The interview literally stopped me in my tracks. I put my pen down from the unicorns and thought... I have to do something about this. I set about researching and writing a book about marsupials. About the same time I had been drawing a lot of birds and I developed the text and pitch for Busy Beaks about Australian birds. Busy Beaks was published in 2020 and Jumping Joeys, the marsupial book, was published in October this year as a follow-up. I love being an author-illustrator. It means you can create your complete vision for the book.

Honey Possum - Sarah Allen
Honey Possum - Sarah Allen

Your cleanly designed website, professional presentation, and ability to turn your hand to marketing, business and a variety of design mediums is a clear indicator of your diverse skillset. Which skillset do you believe were the most crucial for building your success as a full-time illustrator?

'Gardener' by Sarah Allen
'Gardener' by Sarah Allen

I’ve worked in marketing, website design and web content creation. I am very thankful that this experience has helped me to build a small business as an illustrator.

Your creative practice embodies a number of community and education driven projects, such as your recent residency with Regional Arts Victoria in the Creative Workers in Schools program. What draws you to this path and what do you hope to achieve through your art?

As an illustrator creating picture books for children, I jumped at the opportunity to work as a Creative Workers in Schools through Regional Arts Victoria. I had just spent two years working full time in my home studio. It can be a very solitary life! As a creative worker, we got to share our skills and enthusiasm for the arts with students, exploring techniques and ideas and see how our arts practice relates to the wider world. It was a great professional development experience. Kids are so inspiring, insightful, and funny! Thank you to Deer Park North Primary School and Regional Arts Victoria for the opportunity.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

I’d love to see my work in games, puzzles and textiles!

Lack of structure can be a real sticking point for freelancers who thrive on routine, and between juggling creative projects and managing your online shop I imagine every day looks different! How do you structure your time to accommodate the changing nature of your business?

This is really challenging! I might need an assistant in 2022.

What next for your illustrative practice - do you have any exciting projects or exhibitions planned in the near future?

I have two new nature-themed picture book ideas that I’m in the early stages of working on. They will keep me busy for a while! I hope that I have time in 2022 to experiment with printmaking and create some more murals.

To purchase Sarah's range of prints, stationery, books and tea towels, head to her website at sarahallen.com.au.  To keep up with her latest projects and artist news, follow her Instagram page at @sarahallenillustration.  See here for more information about her current exhibition, Beaks of the Bay at Laneway Gallery.