Last week we caught up with Able & Game about how they turned their creative passion into a successful business through Etsy. Our second creative in this series of profiles is the oh so talented illustrator, beloved Looper and super-popular Etsy seller, Sandra Dieckmann. Here she gives us a gorgeous glimpse into her working (and playing!) world…
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My story is 29 years young and started in a rural setting in the north of Germany. There, I walked across the rainbow, lived in the tops of evergreen trees and flew with the birds. I slept under a blanket of twinkling stars and swam in deep black lakes at night (or something like that).
Suddenly (and much too soon), I was older, mom had died, home wasn’t home and the world was waiting. I took a suitcase, then a plane, and in 2002 I touched down in London. I worked here and there and decided after a couple of years to wake up from my slumber. I studied fashion design, graphic design and some illustration, and graduated in 2009 after six years. But those are all statistics, and I don’t like statistics very much. The fact is, I’m still here and I never intended to stay. I’m glad I did, though.
The circumstances of my life have put me in a place that I love and that I call home. Here in East London, UK, I work from my home studio as a freelance illustrator. With my cat, Little Crumb, and my friends around me, I have built myself a colorful nest filled with animal faces, books and things that inspire me. It’s a good life.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I don’t think I ever stop creating, and it’s really hard to find anything else I do. My work is my life, and it doesn’t matter if I go away, try to sleep or relax – ideas just keep on flooding my head, and I’m constantly scribbling notes and making lists and staying up all night. It’s who I am. I dream of seeing places and try and go away as much as I can. Being somewhere silent and green with the sky above me makes me wonder why I put up with living in a large fast city, but in a strange way, living in an urban environment helps perpetuate my theme of nature and animals.
What would be the title of your memoir?
Life Is What You Make It! It’s easy, in a way, to realize that you only have one shot at happiness – meaning this one life – and believe that being happy means creating your life in the best way that you can. It’s the best form of motivation. Bad things will happen, but they don’t happen to tear you down and make you stop – on the contrary. There are positives and learning to be drawn from anything. Reality only exists in your own mind, and in a way everything just depends on your perspective. Change your mind and change your heart.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My work evolves around nature, wildlife, dreams, longing and observations, and is inspired by all that touches me personally – time and space, nature, friends, conversations, music and learning.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade to me means leaving a mark and, very essentially, being alive. It’s a proactive process of reflecting and putting something back into the world – shaping the story of our world. Just as cavemen drew on the walls of caves, it’s part of human nature, our culture and heritage. Some people have an urge to express themselves by creating and making, and others like organizing or helping or fill their lives in different ways. This rich mix is important to keep a balance in our society. One cannot be without the other.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
It’s not really who, it’s more what: having been exposed repeatedly to our limitations and mortality, and the realization that I need to “be.” I am, therefore I create. I have been lucky to be seen, but I know in my heart that I would do what I do even if it meant working in an unrelated job and financing the time that I had left over to draw and dream. The support I have received over the years has definitely been a big factor in facilitating my art.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I don’t really know what brought me to illustration. I never considered it as an option as a profession until it happened to me much later on. Creating was always a part of me – sketching, painting, making things, observing and having fun with imagery. I have always been a visual person. Even as a child, I could never remember numbers or names, but faces, the color of people’s eyes, what they had been wearing and how they walked and talked left an imprint in my mind.
I remember passing a biology exam; everyone had been studying for months. I had only reviewed a few hours earlier, and passed purely by remembering the position of the images and text in the book.
It was as if I had taken a photograph of it in my head. I translate my thoughts and feelings into pictures that communicate something, even if that is different to each and every recipient. It’s just a way of expression for me, and now that my work is out in the open and I’m receiving constant feedback, I’m reflecting more and more on my own process. I guess that in itself is turning me into a professional illustrator. I still have much to learn and understand, but life is long, and I’m not in a rush. It’s something I love doing and that grows with me.
How would you describe your creative process?
When I start a project, most of the time I have a brief from a client or a personal goal. I hardly ever just doodle. I try and imagine the image before I start, but often that doesn’t work completely. I talk about my idea and see how the conversation feeds the imagery, then I start. Most of the time, an animal or person is the central part of it. Depending on the situation and story of the image, a particular animal (or animals) will come to mind. I then go through my books and the Internet and my archives and fish out poses and expressions I like. Sometimes I find the perfect one, but often I puzzle them together.
I create the creature first, and while I’m drawing, the landscape or setting will slowly begin to form in my head. Once the animal is finished, scanned, edited and colored, I place it roughly on a page and set out to compose the background. It can all take a long time. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes terribly busy in my imagery. I enjoy this part immensely. I use collected papers, painted texture and all sorts of things.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Will you believe this is the hardest question to answer? Perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci. He came before the separation of art and science. I’m equally interested in both, and would have loved to be able to assist in in the dissection and first drawings of human/animal anatomy. He was a pioneer, artist and inventor in equal parts, and I’m sure knowing him would have filled a lifetime.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have a little red wooden heart box that my mother made while she was in hospital, before she died of a brain tumor. She painted a little mouse on it and inside is where I keep her ring.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
How do you get into creative ruts? Ha! Procrastinate, procrastinate and know that it’s not “doing nothing.” It’s part of the process. Be soft with yourself! I’m still learning that the hard way.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to find the end of the rainbow, walk up it and climb from there onto a mountain and slide back down through the snow. No, really!
I just want to have fun while working as hard as time and energy and health permit. Whatever life has in store, I’m ready! I think I can see a little house, water, many dogs and cats, a goat, a tiny horse, a boat, wind in the trees, someone I love, a calm feeling of accomplishment inside, and enough drive left to never stop. Oh, and I want to be healthy please. You can’t buy health!