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Q&A with Sarah Tanat-Jones

Posted by Katy Bednarz on December 01, 2015 Post a comment

Chicken Shops, love them or loathe them, you’ve got to admit there’s something pretty eye-catching about those red, white and blue shop-fronts. Illustrator Sarah Tanat-Jones decided to pay tribute to these iconic London institutions, immortalising some of the best shop-fronts in her 'Chicken Shops of London' illustration. 

We instantly knew the design would make a great T-shirt, and it has since become a firm favourite in store. We have since also brought out The Old Pubs of London t-shirt, featuring some of London’s best loved watering holes, because let’s face it, nothing goes better with chicken than beer.

Katy caught up with Sarah to ask her a bit about her process and what she’s currently up to.

The first thing we notice looking at your portfolio is plenty of vibrant colour and layered textures, no doubt inspired by traditional printing techniques, did you get a chance to learn different methods of printing at College? 

I went to Edinburgh College of Art and, although during my time there they restructured things a lot and moved the print studio from its old space which meant it was out of action for a year, I did get the chance to try screenprinting in my final year and I took to it immediately and ended up making the majority of my final project using screenprint. It was quite a big undertaking for a beginner - I made two screenprinted books - with lots of layers of colour. I loved it and I took the methods and used them with photoshop to create a print-inspired work, but I do it digitally now - it takes less time and makes less mess, but I would love to do more actual printing. That's on my to do list.

Do you prefer working with a limited colour palette? 

Yes, limiting the colours you use usually makes the image a lot stronger. But it's taken me a few years to grasp this. I have to fight against throwing every colour into the image. It depends on what you're working on but limiting the colours keeps things looking sleeker.

What’s your typical process in making a new illustration? How much do you rely on digital methods? 

I always start my sketching out ideas in pencil and then drawing with an ink pen on watercolour paper. You can't replicate the energy of a hand-drawn line with a computer. Then I scan in my ink drawings and then colour them digitally. Sometimes I use a light box and create areas of colour by hand - that's inspired by screenprinting.

We can definitely see an appreciation for different types of architecture in your work and perusing your tumblr. Do you have a favourite building in London? 

I love architecture and am obsessed with all types, really - especially Jacobean architecture. But on the other hand I love the 70s brutalism - the Trellick Tower and this amazing clunky, concrete building I used to live in in Whitechapel - it decribes what people thought the future would be like back in the 70s. I really like London's oldest areas too, like the terrace on Newington Green that predates the Great Fire of London, and the buildings around Lincoln's Inn fields. 

We spy from your instagram account that you’ve been off travelling recently, where has been the most inspiring place you’ve visited?

I went to Rome, Romania, Ireland, Oslo and Berlin this year. It was the gap year I never had! It was an amazing time. A mixture of artist residencies, groups of friends, a music tour and solo travelling. I loved Romania the most. I was there for a month, and things were familiarly European, but also a bit strange - there's a feeling of separateness in eastern Europe, of things having been left alone, like this old train station that still used 60s technology, and the gypsies that were present all around the place, and the old folky plates and fabrics. I'm not saying that Romania is backward - it's very dynamic and exciting too. I really want to travel further east, to Central Asia and beyond. 

Alongside your illustration, you also create music under the moniker 'Tanat', do you find these two creative outlets work well together?

I've always been a musician and an illustrator. Other than being able to create the artwork to my exact specifications, they're not particularly connected for me. It's great that illustration is freelance so I can fit in music making during the quiet periods of illustration. I love doing them both but illustration earns my living which can be frustrating when you want to disappear and write an album. 

What do you like to listen to while you work?

I listen to podcasts, Women's Hour, and I watch nature documentaries on Iplayer. I have discovered this podcast called 'Gilmore Guys' which is where these two American blokes discuss the 2000s tv show Gilmore Girls and they're just really sensitive and thoughtful about the whole thing, it's amazing. And I listen to the Savage Lovecast because there is nothing more interesting that hearing about all the weird sex that people have.

What's your favourite commission you've done so far and why?

I love working for the Guardian, because obviously it's Britain's best newspaper but also they really support illustration. We've worked together a lot this year from political comment pieces to more generalised illustations for the summer and winter reading guides. This time last year I was gagging to be in the Guardian, so I'm over the moon that that's happened this year.

Any exciting projects coming up you can share with us?

I've just made a book called Beards of the World, and I'm launching it this week. It's a 28 page zine about - well - beards from all over the world and I've really enjoyed drawing it. It's going to be for sale and I'm hoping that people who have beard lovers in their life will buy a copy!

Spread from Sarah's Beards of the World book, available here 

Thanks Sarah! We're looking forward to checking out the Beards of the World book, and the Gilmore Guys podcast too..

'Chicken Shops of London' framed print, available in Sarah's shop.

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