Sabina Fenn a 20-something women's lifestyle illustrator. She works with clients and businesses all over the world to create stunning illustrations for various projects including store windows, marketing materials, product packaging and more. Sabina works using a mixture of digital illustration with hand-painted elements so each piece has its own unique flair. Aside from client work, she actively creates her own illustrations and sells them in various places online.
In June of 2017, she graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Design in Fashion Communications. Since then, she has had the privilege to work with brands such as Cartier, Saks Fifth Avenue, Montblanc and Links of London, and of course, La Petite Écolière, with the She Rex design!
INTRODUCE YOURSELF! TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
During the course of the Fashion Communications program at Ryerson University, we began learning about the art of fashion illustration, and I was hooked! I took all the illustration courses I could during my time at university such as Advanced Illustration and Digital Illustration, and I spent most of my weekends drawing away until the dark hours of the night. I read books, watched videos, bought prints I was inspired by and frequently visited the AGO in Toronto to keep the spark of inspiration I had found.
Often, when people see my work, they are quick to say things like “I wish I could draw like that” or “I wish I had talent”, and what I always tell them is that no one is born able to draw very well, but it is a skill that is learned and practiced. It took me nearly 3 years of drawing almost every single day to draw the way I do now.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Figure drawing was a really useful tool to learn, to sketch the human figure within a minute doesn’t give you much room to think about any of it, and you’re forced to rely on shadows to convey the shape of the human body. My illustration teacher was incredible, she constantly challenged my way of drawing and doing things and it helped me grow as an illustrator before I even knew I would become one.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Be humble. The fashion industry to some can seem daunting, unfriendly. I always take interest in what other people have to say, as someone who was accepted by industry professionals from such a young age, I feel that I have a responsibility to help those younger than I am to achieve their dream jobs as well. Being humble is one of the most important traits I feel that I carry as a human being. I care about others deeply and I never want to be seen as someone with an ego or someone who is unapproachable. No matter where my career takes me, I want to be able to connect with others and be a source of happiness to others.
WHO WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER?
Colleen! My illustration teacher, her and her husband Graham were a big part of the beginning spark that I got which led me to want to pursue illustration. Colleen taught me fashion illustration in my second (and third?) year, while Graham was my capstone teacher who allowed me to explore my skills further as part of my project. I am forever grateful for those two.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH YOUR CAREER AS A FREELANCER AND? DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR SOMEONE CONSIDERING DOING THE SAME?
I watched my parents grow their insurance brokerage from a young age, so I think the entrepreneurial spirit naturally got passed down to me a little bit. When I started really taking interest in fashion illustration, I would watch people like Megan Hess and David Downton on social media and other illustrators who posted on Youtube, and I dreamt of being able to create art for a living. I had a drive in me that knew if I worked at it enough I could make it and that I also knew I was ready to do whatever it took to get there.
For those considering a freelance career, in my experience, try to start slow. It’s best to stay focused on one area because it’ll be easier for people to remember you. After university, I had 2 part-time jobs to pay the rent and I saved whatever money I made with freelance gigs which wasn’t much at the time. Once things started picking up a bit, I quit one job, and then I remember in December of 2017 I got really busy with illustration work so I jumped into freelancing full-time and I haven’t looked back since!
YOUR STYLE OF ILLUSTRATION IS SO UNIQUE AND IS WHAT DREW ME TO WORKING WITH YOU. HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR STYLE? WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR CONTINUING TO LEARN AND DEVELOP NEW SKILLSETS
Many illustrators will say “don’t focus on style” or “it’ll come with time”, which I think is true to some extent, but I also think it’s important to have some resemblances between your pieces so people can identify them as your work. The only thing I can recommend is to draw a lot, like every single day. Even when I’m super swamped with client projects I always have personal pieces on the go because they keep my portfolio up to date and allow me to continue to learn and develop my skills. It’s good to try new things, when I work with different mediums I find new ways of drawing that I might not have thought of with my iPad. For example, I recently created a mixed media illustration by printing a half-finished drawing onto watercolour paper and then using a mix of watercolours, gouache and inks to complete it. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone, which I’m all for.
The only thing I can recommend is to draw a lot, like every single day. Even when I’m super swamped with client projects I always have personal pieces on the go because they keep my portfolio up to date and allow me to continue to learn and develop my skills.
WHO ARE YOUR PERSONAL ROLE MODELS MENTORS AND WHY DO YOU PRIORITIZE GIVING BACK TO THE ILLUSTRATING COMMUNITY BY SPEAKING AND SHARING YOUR SKILLS?
I looked up to so many illustrators online, and very few of them were open about the process behind the illustrations. When I say that, I mean the work they had to put in to get really good at what they’re doing and how they got to where they are career-wise. So when I looked at their polished work as a young illustrator, I assumed they had always been that good at drawing and things just unraveled easily for them, which is definitely almost never the case. It’s easy to see someone’s work online and assume they’re better than you or they’ve got it all figured out and they’re so successful etc, but being open about the process behind my work has really allowed me to open up to my audience and I’ve had great connections with other illustrators online because of it. Social media is great, but as younger generations are hopping on more and more, I feel that we have a bit of a responsibility to be more authentic online.
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’D LIKE YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY TO KNOW?
Don’t be afraid to dream. When I was little and being a little rebellious towards my mom, I remember her asking me how I’ll cope with having a boss telling me what to do one day, and I don’t know how I knew this at a young age but I just sort of looked at her and said “well I’ll be my own boss”. I always wanted to be an artist, and I had guidance counselors tell me to think about my career more seriously when I was in high school, so for a period of about 3 years I had completely given up the idea, until I discovered illustration. So many of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world were mocked and misunderstood when they first started being vocal about their ideas, people resent what they don’t understand. As I progress and succeed more and more in my career, people come back around to me and their whole opinions of what I’m doing has shifted. It’s not a “stick it in your face” kind of thing, but more listening to your heart and following what feels right to you. I believe our journeys in life are ultimately to unfold our inner purpose, and all the little things you do throughout your life will take you there, you just have to believe in a little magic!
I always wanted to be an artist, and I had guidance counselors tell me to think about my career more seriously when I was in high school, so for a period of about 3 years I had completely given up the idea, until I discovered illustration. So many of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world were mocked and misunderstood when they first started being vocal about their ideas, people resent what they don’t understand.
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW (OR FAVOURITE BOOK)?
I just finished reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, and my oh my, is it life changing. It talks about disassociating your ego from your true self and seeing the separation between them. Eckhart also did a 10-week podcast on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations and it was such a great follow up to the book. I love reading self-development books, I believe we should always continue to learn no matter how old we are.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
I learned to be present in everything that I’m doing. That being present allows full mental clarity and focus. In the podcast I mentioned previously, Eckhart said something along the lines of “Why worry about paying bills? You can pay your bills, but you don’t have to worry about paying them.” We often clutter our minds with so much junk that doesn’t serve us and takes away the little joys of our daily lives. Focusing on being present is a practice, but when you get those little moments of absolute clarity, it’s so peaceful!
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I wanted to thank Roberta for being one of my first clients! I loved designing the “She-Rex” icon together, and I’m so glad it’s having a positive impact on this business as well as the charities she gives back to.
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?
Thank you!! xx