Meet Sara Diesel, an award winning digital artist based in Columbus, Ohio. Sara grew up in a family where art was a part of their everyday life. In high school, she worked diligently to refine her skills, spending countless hours painting and drawing. She went to college with the plan to become a graphic designer, but fell in love with illustration and graduated with a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design in 2012.
Her work reflects her passion in all things fantasy and surreal, and it’s best known for using a combination of existing mythos and symbology while also utilizing her own short stories for inspiration. With vivid color, her artwork contains an illuminated quality otherwise lost in traditional mediums. She has recently worked for MONDO and other private commission clients, such as the Kevin Workman Foundation, and her work has been featured in both ImagineFX magazine and the Spectrum annual.
You can read more about her practice below and see more of her projects on her website here:
What does your workspace look like; do you have any collections or items you keep for inspiration?
I have bookshelves where I keep my ridiculous amount of reference and inspiration books. Also, because I typically work digitally, I have a Cintiq 24HD and a second monitor where I watch movies or keep up reference images while I work. I have a secondary space on my desk where I can work on traditional paintings and drawings when the mood strikes me, and I also have a flat file which is my favorite new thing I’ve acquired. It’s tremendous for storing artwork, prints, and materials in a dark, dry place.
I also have a lot of work that hangs in my studio space, including prints from Donato Giancola, Dave Rapoza, and Marald Van Haasteren. And, I have an ever growing collection of animal skulls, weaponry, and costumes I use for reference.
I see that you like attending conventions, do you have a favorite one and why? Is there any that you would recommend?
Probably my favorite one would be Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. I love going because it’s like going to a big family reunion. The sci-fi fantasy genre is a really tight knit group who are welcoming and generous to everyone. It’s a weekend in Kansas City where they have art oriented seminars and a show floor chock full of amazing art. I get to see people there I don’t see anywhere else during the year, and they have an amazing show to hand out the awards for that year from the Spectrum Annual.
For any aspiring artists or artists looking for conventions to meet art directors and other artists, go to Spectrum Fantastic Art Live or Illuxcon. You can make a lot of lasting friendships and connections at those two cons.
Where do you look for inspiration? Are there any books, tv shows, movies or blogs that you follow? Do you have any artist(s) that you look up to, what do they do?
I tend to look at fashion a lot for inspiration as well as photography. I also have a friend who is a writer, and her work inspires a lot of my pieces. It’s great to have a muse where the ideas are original and fresh.
I will watch anything in the fantasy or sci-fi genres. I grew up on great movies like Judge Dredd and Willow that still feed my obsession for those particular genres today. I am obsessed with Penny Dreadful right now, a great sci-fi and horror television series. It has everything I love wrapped up into a single show-monsters, a dark female lead, a little romance and a lot of gore.
Artist-wise, that’s so hard! There are just so many that I love and for so many reasons. Ruan Jia is probably at the top of my list and has been for the past few years. His use of color, especially in his shadows, is to die for. I also really love Kinuko Craft for her epic pieces. I saw a few of her originals in person and the detail and dedication she put into each piece is stunning. Yoshitaka Amano’s drawings to me have always been a source of such inspiring originality. Iain McCaig has also been another big influence from my childhood. His designs and storytelling are so effortless and iconic.
Could you tell me a little bit about what your creative community is like? How do you approach other artists for collaboration?
I got very lucky while in college and found myself a mentor in one of my professors. He’s been really influential in showing me the right paths to take for my career, and has also introduced me to other artists in the field that have become good friends. The Sci-fi and Fantasy genre probably has one of the most welcoming community of any group, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’ve just now gotten to the point where I feel like I have something I can contribute to those younger than me, so I try to help other inexperienced artists navigate conventions and give them advice when asked. It’s a good feeling when you can pay back a little of the help that was offered to you by someone else.
Could you walk us through the process of how you create one of your illustrations? Ideation, sketch phase and final illustration? I saw in one of your Instagram posts that you painted over a digital print, I thought it was really interesting! Is it common in your practice to combine mediums when creating illustrations? What is your favorite medium to work with?
Typically, I start by writing out ideas and making myself lists and lists of objects and known myths or stories that correlate to my ideas for the piece. I do a lot of research for each painting, because it’s important to me to get things right and to be knowledgeable about what it is I’m painting.
I work through thumbnails in my small Moleskine typically using a ballpoint pen. I was a noodler in college and would waste a lot of time trying to fix thumbnails, so pen helps me be a bit more precise and less concerned about the quality of the thumbnail and more concerned about the quality of the composition and idea.
From there, I do a loose drawing on an enlarged thumbnail to work out a few details. Before I go any further, I take reference photos, taking into account lighting and subject matter. Once I have all of the reference I need collected, including images for objects, materials, etc., I do a tighter drawing. I tweak and refine as I go, and take more reference if need be until I’m happy, and then I go straight into painting. As I mull over the piece in the early stages, I tend to get a color palette in my head that I know I’m going to use. I love to make vibrant pieces that suck the viewer in with their radiant color.
I was taught to paint traditionally in college, and it influences my work quite a bit, but I made the decision to go entirely digital a few years ago because I have a passion for the medium. Most people are stigmatized by the word digital, but to me and many other artists, it’s just another medium and another tool.
I have been working on finding a hybrid between traditional and digital because I miss the tactility of a traditional painting. I’ve combined mediums in the past, but I want to incorporate it into my process so that it’s a vital step in the outcome of a piece.
I see that along with your illustration you also create concept design, could you talk about their connection or if they influence each other?
For me, my conceptual work is just the preliminary stage to most paintings that goes unseen. I take the time to design costumes and hairstyles for each character, which is part of the fun. You have to take into consideration the story as much as in a finished illustration, because a person’s outward appearance can say a lot about them and help further explain the story on its own.
I see that symbolism is a big part in your pieces. Thinking about duality and the juxtaposition in artwork, could you tell me about what you are planning on creating for the Never Odd or Even exhibition?
For this show, I was really interested in the cyclical nature of the world, and how death and life are reliant upon one another. Because I like to use symbology, I’ve been researching known subjects and objects that humankind has used to represent each aspect throughout history. It’s always intriguing to me to see the differences or similarities across cultures. I wanted to represent life and death in a painting where they are separate, but connected.