Sarah talks Pinatas, period poverty and why everyone in her hometown calls her the ‘pub lady.’

Sarah graduated from Chelsea School of Art in 2018 after receiving an MA in Graphic Design Communication. “I’m still in contact with everyone now,” she tells me in an email, “Chelsea really has a friendly atmosphere.” The year flew by, but it was this fast paced environment that Sarah says helped her the most post-graduation.

Today, Sarah teaches Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography to college students alongside her freelance illustration brand, ​Studio Ess​ . “I’ve always been organised and a multitasker,” she admits, “but I’ve tried lots of planning programmes and none suited me, so I designed my own planner pads. To have it all in one place is a massive aid for me.” While most weeks are a balancing act between teaching and illustration, Sarah says the two worlds often collide: “I sometimes get to review a new design idea. They’re my best critics because they’re honest, and it also helps them develop how they review their own work.”

There’s a silliness to ​Studio Ess​ — poking fun at anything from her hometown in Kent to a petrified Pinata. “The process for ​Party Time​ came about while I was in a shop. I saw a pinata and instantly thought what it would be like if they had brains,” says Sarah, ​“my friend said I was mad to think about it. But these ideas often make the best designs.”

Detail of a piñata card illustration

For Sarah, observation is key in the creative process. “A lot of my designs are formed by me walking around my local area, observing objects, people and the humor that comes with those things.” she tells me, “I sketch out anything in my brain for a few days before developing that sketch into an illustrated design.”

But her local life illustrations, especially the ​Pubs of Faversham​ card, have earned Sarah a slice of hometown glory. “I’m known in my town as ‘the pub lady’, because so many locals have my pub in their homes.” She says, “I started selling my designs at Best of Faversham Market and, as you can imagine, the local designs sold out pretty fast.”

Nothing about ​Studio Ess​ is small-minded, however. “I love to work closely with small businesses and charities, especially those with the same ethos as myself.” Many of Sarah’s pieces tackle tough subjects like period poverty or the gender pay gap. “Using art as a way to speak out is super powerful,” she tells me, “combined with social media, it can be communicated around the world easily.” For Sarah, the visual-only nature of art enables important messages to spread further, transcending obstacles like language barriers.

Expanding commissions outside of Kent is already next on Sarah’s list. “I have plans to take a road trip to observe and design ‘Life’ and ‘Pub’ prints for all areas of the UK. I’d love for my little designs to spread joy across the world.”

Any advice for young creatives eager to start freelancing? “My advice is start with your friends and family. Even just for birthdays and Christmas. A lot of people still love gifts that are made for them.” Sarah says. “Don’t worry if you don’t win the first time. Things take time. I’ve been running ​Studio Ess​ for five years and am still learning in the process! If you’re ever in doubt, look in the mirror and say: ‘You’ve got this!’”

See products by Studio Ess