Sarah Firth: Artist, writer and graphic recorder

Words, photos and podcast production by Jenni Mazaraki

Sarah Firth’s love of plants is obvious as leafy green stems trail towards the floor from the glossy black mantle and bookshelves in her home studio. The colour green features all over the Brunswick studio of artist, illustrator and graphic recorder, Sarah Firth. Green is in the artworks on the wall, small ornaments, folders and desk top.

LISTEN TO SARAH FIRTH IN THE PODCAST INTERVIEW:

 

Sarah’s love of natural objects is obvious. She collects natural objects, such as the large rocks that she picked up on a recent holiday which now prop her studio door open.

“I love my office studio, I feel very happy and comfortable in here,” said Sarah. With the room set up specifically for Sarah’s use, she has a couch, two desks, computer equipment and cupboards for storage. “It’s my optimal working space,” said Sarah, “This is like the cockpit!”

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The Brunswick home which Sarah shares with her partner, Jason is filled with treasures, reflecting their love of art, creativity and humour. As we sit down for a chat in Sarah’s studio, my eye is drawn to the abundance of colourful objects and images.

Books are an obvious favourite. On the mantle sit two piles of books, either side of a print featuring Lord Byron whom Sarah admires for his outrageous behaviour and unashamed expression of sexuality. Amongst the books are titles reflecting Sarah’s interest in all aspects of the human condition exploring philosophy, sexuality, gender and human frailty. Books by illustrator Maria Kalman are amongst the pile with the work of other comics artists such as Vanessa Davis, Roz Chast and copies of New Philosopher magazine.

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Sarah works across genres and has a broad skillset. With a background in Fine Art, Sarah has been drawing since she was a child. Sarah’s collection of precious drawing journals is stacked neatly on a bookshelf near the window. Her mother recognised early on that not only did Sarah have a natural ability but a basic need to draw, helping her to focus in class and at home.

Sarah creates illustrations, comics, animations and films for a range of clients and for herself. She also contributes to community projects such as the Wellsprings for Women refugee workshops where women told their stories through embroidered works.

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Sarah thinks deeply and broadly about her subject matter. “My work is often a mix of social commentary, philosophy, gender and body related concerns and questions,” said Sarah.

Drawing from personal experience, Sarah produces work with the aim of understanding life’s tensions and questions, providing an opportunity for others to connect with her work in a meaningful way. “I love work that makes people feel less alone and I also enjoy making work that maybe can connect with other people,” said Sarah.

“When I see any kind of maker, writer (or) artist talk very frankly about the challenges of living and being a human that we all experience, I feel such a sense of communion and love and freedom that is very powerful and I’m always very thankful and grateful for that.”

Sarah aims to integrate her public and private persona by authentically sharing her own experiences through her work. “I try to integrate those two things because it makes me feel more whole as an artist, whereas I know other people who have a very clear delineation between public persona and image and then the private.”

“As a creative, I’m always looking to challenge the things in me that I try to hide.” Sarah has found the response to the more personal work overwhelmingly positive, “I find talking about things very helpful.”

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Sarah is interested in the concept of anthropomorphising animals and the way that we soften, or deny an animal’s true base instinct and nature by choosing to look only at the cute, cuddly and palatable aspects. This interest is evident also in Sarah’s work which deals with human nature, the things we are capable of as human beings in relationships with others and with ourselves. “When we look at the world most of us have a perception of a thing or a situation or an animal or whatever and we see that as being the full story but often the reality is there’s a lot more,” said Sarah.

It is perhaps a timely reminder of this concept because, as we speak, Sarah’s cat, Prince brings a mouse into the hallway which Sarah saves and puts outside.

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Refugee women’s stories captured in embroidered works as part of a community project at Wellsprings for Women.

To allow her creative work to remain unrestricted by the need to make it a commodity, Sarah offers creative services including graphic recording. As a graphic recorder, Sarah is a professional listener, translating the content from workshops and conferences into a visual, illustrated form.

To remain engaged in her role as a professional listener, Sarah described practice as key. “It’s really like brain gymnastics, it’s just like if you want to get really strong biceps, you would go and do certain curls at the gym or if you want to get really good at running and push yourself past those thresholds and you just keep practising it.”

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Recently, Sarah has been working on her graphic novel and is in discussion with a publisher as she develops her format. Describing the novel as not having a traditional narrative but rather a looping thematic format, Sarah trusts the process will reveal the story as she works on it. “A big thing is just trusting myself and getting out of my own way,” said Sarah.

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Sarah is featured with other graphic recording artists in Graphic Recording: Live illustrations for meetings, conferences and workshops.

As she works in a seated position for most of the day, Sarah makes a deliberate effort to meet clients and friends for walks. The feeling of swimming, of moving through water is also a great nurturing activity for Sarah.

With a keen motivation to give back to others in the community and in the creative fields, Sarah has recently been involved with the Starving Artist podcast created by Honor Eastly, sharing her thoughts and advice on working as a professional artist.

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Sarah credits her supportive network of like-minded creatives such as Squishface Studio and the Comic Art Workshop as a great help when it comes to working on her projects. “It’s just so wonderful to have this network of insanely talented peers,” said Sarah, “I’m really amazingly lucky to find these people.”

See more of Sarah’s work on her website, Facebook or Instagram or in the recent publication Graphic Recording: Live illustrations for meetings, conferences and workshops.

 

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