Sara Feio

Illustration by: Mariana Cáceres

Interview by: João Miguel Fernandes

Occupation: Illustrator

Click here to read the interview in Portuguese


1 – Tell me about someone who influenced you a lot in your life.

My grandmother, no doubt about it. When I was a kid, I was always behind the scenes in the theatre, because my mom would take me to work, or at my grandmother’s place, because my parents worked during the weekend and then I stayed there many times. She was an art teacher, so I always had lots of art books and materials to make collages. Her living room floor is made of an easy-to-draw, tile-like material, so she would let me scratch the whole floor, things like that that were always connected to the arts.

From a more professional point of view, a teacher I had in London, Paul Bowman, influenced me a lot. He had a really specific humor, the Gordon Ramsay type. In Portugal there is a common habit of apologizing when you arrive late to a class, but for an English, this is unthinkable. They expect you to come fifteen minutes early and they won’t let you make an apology if you arrive late. And this teacher was quite rigid, you couldn’t fail at all. I was scared to go to school because I was afraid of failing at something, but when someone praises your work, it’s an incredible feeling.

2 – Tell me about a moment in your life that has been particularly challenging.

Coming back to Portugal was a great challenge. I didn’t exactly return because I wanted to, although it was my decision, I came back because my family. Until a little while ago I was always wondering if it was time to return to London. I like Lisbon very much, there are incredible things here, the social part, the fact that everything is more accessible, since it’s the culture in which I was born, but London gave me something professionally that I can’t find here.

The first question that my friends who live in London do me when I go back is what exhibitions I have been going to, while here in Portugal, my friends usually don’t ask that and that’s something I miss, this cultural communication. There are incredible people in Portugal, a lot of things happening, but in London, obviously, there are more challenges, it’s a different market, it’s different realities. In Portugal there is a great popular pride in the musical area, but illustration and photography are recent phenomena for the masses (the visual arts) , in London these two areas have been valued for much longer. People are more interested and curious in Portugal, things are happening, but of course we still don’t have the same habits and interests which countries like England, for example, have.

3 – Do you think that the economic crisis in Portugal boosts, to a certain extent, the artistic production? Do you think people find other ways when they are more limited?

I think the more you castrate the more need you have to express yourself, I mean, you have to find a more creative way of expressing yourself. It’s interesting that the crisis is not necessarily a bad thing, creatively. Maybe you have moments when you can’t invest in specific materials, but you can use recycled materials or other alternatives that boost your creativity. It’s not random that there was a big creative boom in music in times of crisis. It’s good not to be living in a vicious world where the big money manages the creative area.

4 – If you could rule Portugal what would you do?

On a cultural level, you have a huge number of tourists coming to Lisbon for being the city it is and for having the things it has, but there is not enough investment in the city’s genuine culture. It shouldn’t be only gourmet stores or handmade hamburgers that should open in Portugal, this is worldwide. It’s good to travel and to know other things, but it’s good to be proud of our identity and to support our artists. In other more political aspects, I don’t see why it’s even an option to discuss what I consider basic human rights, such as the adoption of children by homosexual couples, sex change, or other topics that belong to each individual’s life, such as abortion. How is it better to have children in institutions often without conditions, than having two parents or two mothers who will love, educate and protect them? People are afraid of changing, but change is often a positive thing.

“I don’t want to just do drawings within illustration. I like to explore other paths. I consider myself an illustrator because I think it’s a very comprehensive term that is not contained only in drawing per se.”

5 – Do you think that the concept of agency has still a purpose or the artist can do the same work as an agency?

I think an agency is very important, but with common sense. I mean, if you are going to be managed by someone who will take 50% of everything you do, I think it doesn’t make sense. I think that an agency can and has time to reach places when you don’t have time, considering that you are an artist you want to focus on your work and I speak from experience, because I waste a lot of time in bureaucracies. It also gets you frustrated, because if you get many “no” and you start to become unmotivated, while an agency deals with all this and helps your work. I don’t know many agencies in Portugal that do a job with the same quality as the ones outside, possibly because here there isn’t a demand as big as there and the budgets are not enough.

6 – How did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?

I don’ know if I ever decided to be an illustrator, I’ve always been a very hesitant person. I don’t think I’ve ever completely decided it, although I’ve studied illustration and always made drawings. I have always been very good at visual arts classes and less good at memorising stuff, so it helped me to follow a path. I studied at “Antonio Arroio” for a year and a half and at “ETIC”. At that time I was trying to decide between audiovisual and graphic design, but since you had to choose a specific area of ​​audiovisuals, I chose graphic design, because I knew that I couldn’t compromise myself to something so specific as, for example, just video. Then I ended up doing a lot of illustration within this course and when the possibility of going to study out of the country came I applied to Amsterdam and London. When I visited Amsterdam, I thought the city was very small, kind of the same size of Lisbon, and I wanted something more chaotic, so I chose London.

One of the problems I faced in London when I tried to look for an agent was that they were looking for people who knew how to do something specific and I work in various artistic areas. One of the replies I got at the time was that it didn’t make sense to promote my work because they were going to spend a lot of money promoting the various things I worked for. I haven’t been able to fit in very well because I don’t have just one area, but it’s part of me, it’s how I am, I can’t be still and do only one thing. I don’t want to just do drawings within illustration. I like to explore other paths. I consider myself an illustrator because I think it’s a very comprehensive term that is not contained only in drawing per se.

7 – Tell me a little about your experience in Los Angeles/Hollywood.

 

After the course at ETIC, we had the opportunity to do a 3-month internship somewhere and I spoke with a girl who worked on dubbing with my mother and I got an internship at a company that basically did all the Harry Potter mupis, Spider Man, etc. This internship turned out to be not official, because at that time the internships had to be paid and this implied a visa that was very difficult to obtain, so I ended up with a tourist visa and stayed with a friend of my mother who lived near Venice Beach. I was about 18/19 when I went there and this was my first serious experience living outside of my country and I hated everything. First, I hate to drive, I love to walk, and LA is not made for walking. Any normal road is a big avenue and things are far away, plus it was a dangerous city for someone so new to just walk alone. Secondly, I was always dependent on someone to give me a ride, I couldn’t search the city as I wanted, and I hate being dependent on someone and I was always dependent on it. Another thing is the fact that in Portugal I was used to going out and drinking and there you couldn’t drink under 21 years old, although there were specific clubs for those over 18 years old, but they were full of only 16 year olds with fake IDs.

From a cultural/social level I thought we were way ahead of them, there were a lot of people talking randomly to me in many places, but overall the conversations didn’t had any interest. It’s a city where you are dependent on who you know or who you want to meet and I didn’t like it. Luckily I knew two Brazilians in São Francisco and I went to visit them and I loved it, I found the city very relaxed and Lisbon-like. I didn’t learn that much, because I wasn’t very motivated. The most positive things were the fact that I visited San Francisco and went on tour with an emo band of a guy who worked with me.

“As much as you try to learn other ways of working it doesn’t mean that you are stealing their style, the content will always be different, no matter how you use the same technique. It’s not easy for people to relax, they are afraid that their work will be stolen, but there must be more teamwork.”

8 – Several of your work pieces revolve around scientific illustration. Is this something you really like or has happened by chance?

 

A few years ago I started a master’s degree in Fine Arts, but the university was really bad in terms of organization, so decided to look for something else. I ended up taking a course with Pedro Salgado, which is a big name in Portuguese scientific illustration, and with which I loved learning. Cláudia Guerreiro was the one introducing me to the course and she showed me some drawings and I ended up liking it a  lot. Then I did some research about related projects, which is something I like to do. In scientific illustration you have to investigate, research and I think this process helped me a lot. I think there is a lot of quality in Portugal in the scientific illustration area, a lot thanks to Pedro Salgado.

9 – How was the challenge with “Pernas de Alicate”? Given that it mixes music with illustration, something quite innovative.

 

I don’t think it’s as innovative as that. There are several projects that already do this, such as Octa Push, in the theater it’s also very common to mix both genres with visual projections. What I found innovative about the project was the process of rotating collaborations. It’s very rare to have a project where it’s the drummer that invites other musicians, and also the visual part is quite independent. Overall it was a great challenge, sometimes more frustrating for me than for BB because you have several magazines focused on music, but they ignore the visual part and this was tricky to process at first. Obviously I don’t need to be the focus, but you have to understand that illustration in this project was as important as music.

The problem is that I think there are few magazines talking about the visual side, or they only talk about street art (which is an incredible area) or more more contemporary art with a great concept. I wished that the visual side of the project had reached more people, for me to get criticism and learn more how to grow. But it was incredible to collaborate with other artists, some quite different. It was a challenge to mix music with images, but the bureaucratic part as well. BB does the music, I do illustrations, but then there is the website, the social networks, the texts, and this has taken a lot of time away from us. We were fortunate to have a lot of support from a lot of people, but we liked to have had more time to focus on creation. It was interesting to understand a little bit more how music works and to understand that sometimes projects fail not because of lack of talent, but because the path was not the right one.

10 – Do you think illustration, in general, has improved in Portugal?

 

I think there are new people with a lot of quality and the national panorama has had a huge boom in recent years. Portugal is having its moment, mainly thanks to street artists like Vhils and ± maismenos ±, that have taken the name of Portugal everywhere, or illustrators that have internationalized like André Carrilho and Braulio Amado. But I still feel lack of creative critical mass, other than just in the circuit of Fine Arts where your name matters a lot. First of all I think the visual part has to communicate something, to move you, be it good or bad, if it doesn’t move you it’s not worth it. The work should not be the artist, it should speak for itself. More technical tips should be exchanged, open debate, not only to pat each other on the back, but to evolve technically and to the level of knowledge. There is nothing wrong with getting together with people you admire and learn from.

As much as you try to learn other ways of working it doesn’t mean that you are stealing their style, the content will always be different, no matter how you use the same technique. It’s not easy for people to relax, they are afraid that their work will be stolen, but there must be more teamwork. I feel this is one of the reasons why a country like England works so well creatively because people come together, they openly criticize themselves in order to evolve without fear. It would also be important to discuss values ​​and budgets. Otherwise, I think people have done an incredible job and I feel that at the moment there is a great dissemination of national illustration. There is no longer that idea that only artists from outside are good. I’m very fond of the works of André Carrilho, Susa Monteiro, Mariana Cáceres and André da Loba, but there are many other incredible illustrators in Portugal.

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