Meet the Maker: Sarah Watkins
Sarah Watkins is an illustrator living in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales with a compulsion to sketch, draw, design and make, inspired by the woods, fells and rivers around her. Her vibrant designs and characterful illustrations often feature woodland motifs, creatures of the sea, flora and fauna, and a friendly bear or two. Sarah talks to fellow Folksy seller Harriet Ward from Eightfourteen Silver about the challenges of balancing her creative business with a full-time job, her evolving style and self-confidence, and why she believes we need to move away from mass-production and support independent artists, designers and makers in order to move the economy forward.
To celebrate being our featured maker Sarah Watkins is offering 15% off with the code INTOTHEWOODS15 – valid until Sunday 30th August. Click here to shop Sarah Watkins on Folksy >
Creating illustrations is such a release from what I do in my day job. It also allows me to be as creative as I want, without the added pressure of having to earn all my living from it.Sarah Watkins
Hi Sarah! I’m glad I get to ask you some questions – your Folksy shop is so fun! Tell me about how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been a graphic designer since I left college over 30 years ago. Our college end-of-year show was held at Salts Mill where David Hockney now has a gallery, but back then it was being renovated. It’s somewhere we visit regularly now and I never get bored of – it’s totally inspiring. It wasn’t until the company I worked for was offering redundancies many years later that I decided to take a very scary leap and work for myself. I set up a company making children’s furniture and accessories with the help of a fantastic local business who supported me. I loved it – it gave me flexibility when my son was younger, something we really needed at the time. It really was a great lesson in being inventive and learning how to think more creatively.
As my son got older I decided to go back into a corporate design job. I’m still there, and although I really enjoy it, I love illustrating and designing my own patterns in the evenings now too. The day job and the home job seem to work well together for me. Creating illustrations is such a release from what I do in my day job. It also allows me to be as creative as I want, without the added pressure of having to earn all my living from it.
I’ve never been the most confident person. I’m one of those people you find at the back of the room, but I’m slowly learning with age that it’s ok to move forward every now and again.Sarah Watkins
What inspires your illustrations?
I create illustrations from things that spark my imagination. I live in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and we often take long walks around the fells and rivers with friends and family. That gives me endless inspiring ideas – I really couldn’t find the imagination to draw without it.
I’ve also met some great people from all over the world because of my work. I like that it pushes me out of my comfortable place. I’ve never been the most confident person, and it scares me so much sometimes when I meet new people. I’m one of those people you find at the back of the room, but I’m slowly learning with age that it’s ok to move forward every now and again.
It’s easy to think that sales will be instant, but sales that grow slowly are much more sustainable, and those happy customers go out and spread the word.Sarah Watkins
What advice would you give to other makers who, like you, are facing the challenges of managing a full-time day job alongside their own creative business?
It’s really challenging running a small business while having a full-time job, but the two seem to help each other in a lot of ways. Everything is possible with good planning and realistic goals. It’s easy to think that sales will be instant, but sales that grow slowly are much more sustainable, and those happy customers go out and spread the word. It takes time for people to come to you, but when they do they tend to be loyal in my experience.
I’ve found Instagram a great platform to get my work out there and most of my connections have come from there. But whatever social media platform you use, it’s just being consistent and showing people what you are all about.
I honestly think I’ve only just got comfortable with my style and I’m trying to keep developing it.Sarah Watkins
I think I’m finally figuring out what my style is when it comes to making jewellery. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried a few different approaches over the years. How has your style evolved over time?
That’s such an interesting question, I have to reel myself in sometimes – I get carried away with trying new things and not working on the style I’ve developed. I mostly work digitally now – I love to use paint but it’s not as practical with me mostly working in the evenings. I honestly think I’ve only just got comfortable with my style and I’m trying to keep developing it.
I recently did an illustration for The Woodland Trust for an installation in one of their visitor centres, and it’s the first time I felt really happy with the result. That’s given me more confidence to push that style and run with it.
I love your ocean fabrics – the little pink shrimp is so happy! I have a few animals that I like including in my jewellery creations, including whales and the odd octopus. Is there a certain creature that you would like to feature more?
I love drawing animals, they can tell a story so well. I’m really fascinated with woodland animals and insects at the moment. During lockdown I walked in our woods every night after work. When you really stop and look at the area around you, you see there are hundreds of tiny creatures and plants, all intricate in their own way.
I would love to do illustrations that encourage people to welcome insects into our gardens again.Sarah Watkins
I would love to do a woodland insects range of illustrations, documenting the way each insect and plant affects our eco system, and how they interact with each other. Insects are on the decline, and that will eventually have a devastating effect on us. I would love to do illustrations that encourage people to welcome insects into our gardens again.
Grayson Perry once said: “Creativity is mistakes and if you can’t accept that, don’t get involved.” Do you have any experiences of something art-based going wrong that you can share? What did you take away from it?
I really love Grayson Perry – he’s one of my favourite artists. I loved Grayson’s Art Club, the TV programme he did during lockdown. I completely get where he’s coming from with “creativity is mistakes” and I probably make them with every drawing I do. I think everything I create teaches me something.
I think, if you love where you live, you owe it to your community to help when and where you can.Sarah Watkins
I read that you’re involved with your local community and have created art to support food banks and charities. Why is this important to you?
I feel lucky to be able to lend a hand to local charities. I think, if you love where you live, you owe it to your community to help when and where you can. It’s also given me a chance to meet some lovely people, and I’ve been so humbled by the time and effort people give.
I spotted something on your Instagram that reminded me of one my first Folksy sales: a necklace that I called the magic chicken. Tell me about your space crocodile…
I love the sound of the magic chicken. My space crocodile was quite a random idea. It came about when I spent a few weeks designing fabrics for children’s clothing. I’m not a great lover of dressing animals up, but space was a really popular theme, and I started drawing a crocodile and the two just seemed to merge together. I never ended up using it on anything, but maybe I’ll add something to him one day and make a collection.
We need to move away from mass production and appreciate what goes into producing an item – and pay a fair price for it.Sarah Watkins
I recently heard someone describe creative crafts as ‘counter industrial’, which really resonates with me because I think there’s a movement towards smaller-scale, more human businesses. Do you agree?
I absolutely agree and it seems a hot topic everywhere at the moment. I always look for the smaller independent businesses to work with and buy from, both for my business and personally. I believe as a country we can only move our economy forward by supporting each other. We need to move away from mass production and appreciate what goes into producing an item – and pay a fair price for it. Other European countries seem so much further on with this ideology than we are. We should be proud of what we are good at and capitalise on it.
Treat yourself to 15% off Sarah Watkins with code ‘INTOTHEWOODS15‘ (valid until Sunday 30th August 2020)
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Harriet Ward from Eightfourteen Silver. You can read more about Harriet in our Meet the Maker interview here and shop Eightfourteen Silver on Folksy here – https://folksy.com/shops/EightfourteenSilver