Learning To Be Raw And Vulnerable With Illustrator Sara Rabin

Posted inIllustration Design

Sara Rabin doesn’t hold back.

When looking at the artist’s work, whether it’s her paintings or illustrations, it feels as though you’re taking a peek into her diary. The honesty, genuine insights, and passion come molded into each piece of work in a way that sheds light on human truths and feelings that feel almost too relatable. 

Not only does Rabin paint, draw cartoons, and design for textiles, she is most widely known for her illustrations. She has a degree in Fashion Illustration from SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology, proving that you don’t have to specialize in just one form of art to become a successful artist. 

Based in Brooklyn, Rabin’s work is irreverent and spontaneous. From her sketches of women’s feet molded and folded into the highest of heels to the shirt she designed for Supreme, Rabin has a true knack for finding art in the humor of daily trials and tribulations. 

Recently, we were lucky to sit down with Rabin and chat about her resume and where she finds inspiration, amongst other insightful topics. Just like her art, her answers are raw and unfiltered, which we now know is her specialty. 

Your work, to me at least, is the definition of “real art.” It’s raw, relatable, and tells the story of the life we all are living. Do you think you create to dissect your feelings, or is it more for others to consume? 

I’ve said this before, and I stick to this. Nearly everything I’ve ever made has been for me, except for a few specific commissions. When I’m creating, it has to be something that I would hang on my wall, wear, or laugh at; it’s for me. When other people like my work, or if I end up getting paid for it, that’s great. That’s like the cherry-on-top in a situation where I would be, regardless. So I am always making work. 

You’ve worked with massive brands ranging from Barneys New York to Vice to Supreme to Condé Nast. Can you share your experiences creating art for brands and how this process is different from conceiving your personal work? 

I’ve been at this game for a long time, so I’m lucky to have a well-rounded client list. Each job has a different team of personalities behind it to bring it to life. Sometimes it’s just one art director and me; other times, there are whole teams involved. Creating art for brands can be different from my personal work, but it depends on the job.

I’ve had jobs where I’m essentially a hired pair of hands, and I’m bringing someone else’s vision to life. Other times, I’m cut loose and told, ‘Do whatever you want, come back to us in a week.’ Both of those scenarios are challenging and rewarding. I don’t have a preference; it depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to be told what to do, exactly. Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with a good idea for a client. I do save my best ideas for myself, though. Also, I’ve been working non-stop since 2019, and I haven’t made the time for much personal work. I feel a little lost, but I’m just going to ride this out. I miss myself.

If you had to describe your art to someone who’s never seen it, what three words would you use and why? 

That’s hard—vulnerable, unyielding, figurative. Vulnerable because the work is almost always deeply personal. And honestly, it’s not always that good. 

You have to be vulnerable to share bad art. But bad art is art, too. It’s unyielding because there is so much of it, all different kinds, but mostly figurative. I like drawing people and animals. 

Who or what is your biggest inspiration? 

I’m really inspired by the movies. I watch movies all the time. In a live-action, I’m looking at set design and cinematography, costumes, and lighting. In an animated movie, I look for the layers that make a scene—I look at character design and motion-rigging. Before the pandemic, I was inspired by taking the subway and drawing people, but now I can’t do that because everyone wears a mask. I also like to look at vintage fashion magazines for inspiration. And my friends inspire me. I have amazing friends. Oh, and graphic novels and manga. Sometimes I go to a museum or gallery, but not much lately. 

Everything you make is highly personal, and you’ve even described your paintings as “emotional portraits.” Were you ever afraid to share your art with others? How did you combat the fear? 

I forgot about those paintings. It’s been so long since I painted, I want to get back into it. I’m not really afraid to share my art because who cares? Is someone going to tell me I’m a bad artist? And then what, you don’t like my work? Then don’t look at it. It’s not brain surgery; it’s supposed to be fun. It can’t be too serious. Life is already so tough and serious.

If you share your work, you might get a helpful critique or learn a new technique about the material, make a friend, make an enemy, or make a sale, get a job—lots of possibilities when you put yourself out there. But it can be scary. Being scared is part of growing. Additionally, there can be extreme value in not sharing your work—so it just depends on how you feel as an artist, where you’re at in your process. There is no right or wrong. I’ve been scared before; I probably will be again. 

What advice would you give to an artist who is afraid of putting their work out into the universe? 

Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen? Is someone going to die if you share your art? I hope not. But sure, not everyone is going to like it. But, hey, that’s life. It’s up to you if that potential negativity keeps you from putting yourself out there. It happens. Keep your expectations in check when you share your art, but it’s not going to be as bad as you think. Also, no one cares (the right people will care). Trust me. 

People mostly think about themselves and what others think of them. You need to care about your art. Sharing is caring.