We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Kiehle and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sarah, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Because I could! Getting paid to do what I love? Sign me up! Having the opportunity to make a living out of drawing and designing seemed too good to be true. Pursuing a creative career has provided the perfect opportunity to become an illustrator, something that makes me very proud.

Towards the end of high school, the only subject I truly enjoyed was art, but I was hesitant to consider a creative career. I didn’t know about the many options for majors, much less jobs, so I applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to see what would happen. Once accepted, I visited the campus and thought to myself, “you’d be stupid not to go here,” as the opportunities seemed endless. I didn’t know which major to choose, but I was assured I would have plenty of time to decide.

I have always been good at drawing and have always had an eye for design, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I was inspired to become an illustrator. While visiting my home for the holidays, I saw a cover of the New Yorker magazine illustrated by John Cuneo. His charming, clever illustration of Santa Claus consuming countless cups of coffee while the barista kept them coming and his reindeer waited outside the window opened up spaces for me to see myself doing the same thing. I thought to myself, “I want to do this too.” I was not high profile like John Cuneo, and I knew I had lots to learn, but it felt like my calling to actively pursue illustration and the publication market. I thought, “if John Cuneo could illustrate things as magical as Santa Claus and coffee, so can I.” Returning to school, my professor, Ted Michalowski, ignited my excitement by teaching me about more illustrators than I could imagine. I am indebted to Ted for initiating my illustrative itch and inspiring me to this day.

Since then, I have been searching for stories to share and inspiration to incorporate into my work everywhere that I go. I often include aspects of my own life in my illustrations, such as my love for animals, adventure, athletics, food, music, travel, and so much more. There isn’t much that doesn’t inspire me. One of the biggest benefits of pursuing a creative career is having the freedom to create in any way that I want. From materials to concepts, the options are endless! I love that my work can come from pen and paper or Apple Pencil and iPad screen. And, it can be about anything I choose!

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My art is unique because I am unique! That may sound silly, but I fully embrace the fact that there is no one else who can do what I do exactly as I would. I can mimic another illustrator’s style or take inspiration from other work, but no one can think and create from my personal perspective. My art is also unique because I use both traditional and digital mediums while working in several different yet unified styles. After a year of working digitally, I wanted to shift from screens to sketchbooks. I am now journaling, an exciting process that documents my daily experiences and inspirations through drawing and writing. Although working digitally has been challenging, I’m most proud of the projects I’ve produced over the past year. I have grown my portfolio with many new pieces and feel energized to take on more remarkable roles.

Pursuing a creative career comes with persistence, practice, and patience. I think confidence is key when it comes to being creative. I have to remind myself constantly that I can do it, I should keep trying new things, and I need to let myself trust the process. The creative process definitely comes with obstacles, but these challenges are imperative to the process. If every project was straightforward or simple, it wouldn’t be unique and there wouldn’t be lessons to learn.

Perhaps the lessons learned are some of the most valuable milestones in my creative journey. I’ll share a few of my favorites. Lesson #1: Balance is key! It’s easy to get overwhelmed with work and consumed by a project, but it’s so important to spend time doing other things. When I’m not working, I’m either out for a run or spending time with my friends and family. I take breaks and allow myself to be creative outside of my craft to avoid burnout and breakdowns. Lesson #2: Not every project has to be perfect; it shouldn’t be! I have always had a problem with putting out work that I felt was sub par, but I have learned that the goal is progress, not perfection. If I find myself hating a drawing or design at first, I may learn to love it later on. Even if I don’t love every piece of work, someone else may. My “less than perfect” work is a marker for how far I’ve come when I look back and compare it with future projects. I’ve learned that life can and will get in the way, so I have to do the best I can with the time I have. Most importantly, lesson #3: Find ways to have fun! As a working artist it’s possible to come across projects that may not be my first choice or may not be something that I consider fun, but there are always ways to make it fun. Listening to my favorite music when I’m working, I never hesitate to have a dance party. Changing up my environment also helps whether it’s going to a different room in the house, walking out to the park, or even stopping in to a coffee shop. Exercise, nature, and caffeine support me through the rough spots and make the project more enjoyable!

If there’s one thing I want the world to know about my brand and story, it’s that the details are the definition. Whether it’s the work itself or the story behind it, every detail matters to me. Focusing, almost fixating, on the details can be tedious, but I believe it is the core of my authenticity as an artist.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I could go on forever about all the fabulous finds Savannah has to offer. I could stroll down Jones street for hours, and if possible I stop to see Cottontail the cat, who can’t be missed. Forsyth Fountain is a must-see, and it needs to be followed with frolicking around the park. River Street is required as well, it’s perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth, shopping til you drop, and sight seeing like no other. My favorite sight is the trumpet playing comedian who teases tourists as they walk by because he never fails to make people laugh. As for food, Savannah is a coffee shop central. Between the best beverages and amazing atmospheres, Foxy Loxy Café and Vic’s Coffee Bar can’t be beat. For a delicious dinner, Frali Gourmet is indisputably the best Italian place, plus, it’s right down the street from the Public which is another great choice. I can’t forget to mention the main motivation behind my move to the city, SCAD! The school is spread throughout the town and has places with personality and vibe to experience.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are too many people that I can’t thank enough for supporting me, inspiring me, and joining me throughout my creative career. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them and I am grateful for their endless generosity.

I am incredibly lucky to have parents that not only support me financially, but also encourage me to follow my dreams. They may not always agree with every decision I make, but they have never doubted theirs of supporting me and for that I am extremely appreciative. Our friends Donna and Harry Miller also account for many of my successes and their mentorship means so much to me.

I’d also like to shout out all of my professors at SCAD. I was taught by none other than the best and believe that they paved the road for me to pursue my passion. I’d especially like to thank Arden Von Haeger. Arden is not only a prominent professor, but a mentor, friend, and #1 fan. He has helped me to know my talents and to believe in the process of creating work that matters. I am beyond grateful for his guidance.

Last but not least, I am fortunate to have friends and teammates who have been there for me through it all. Kristen Spencer and Chloe Hui have shown me what it’s like to have true friends. I know that a lot of my accomplishments come from their support. Another huge thanks to all my teammates at SCAD for the best years yet. From the early morning runs to the late night study sessions and everything in between, they have been incredibly kind and continue to inspire me.

I don’t know what the future holds. This is the time when I am enjoying the place I have found to follow my dreams; spending a lifetime creating, imagining, inspiring, and being inspired. Pursuing a creative career is scary and exciting at the same time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

Website: sarahkiehle.com

Instagram: @skillustration9

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahkiehle/

Image Credits
Seth Stomberger

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