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Sandra Russell talks creativity, art trails and the advice she’d give budding artists.
Sandra, thanks for making time to chat. Firstly, can you talk us through what you do, and how you established yourself as a professional artist?
I am a commercial artist, producing storyboards, visuals and animatic artwork for pre-production art studios that supply them to London and worldwide based advertising agencies.
I have always been a full time, 24/7 professional artist. My first day at work involved working on an ad campaign for a global bank for Yellowhammer advertising agency in London – I have been working for top brands and household names ever since.
You work collaboratively with your partner Steve I believe. How do you find this personally and professionally? Can you switch off when you need to?
Steve and I met when we were working for an art studio based in Soho, London. We work as a team or individually and we have done so for over 20 years now, so we know how to work very well together. Nowadays all advertising work is done digitally, mainly working for our advertising clients, but in-between that work we also design and paint private commissions, including Wild In Art trail sculptures since 2019.
And to answer your second question – no, I can’t switch off from work! There is no certainty or guarantees in our line of work. I have considered myself an artist since I could hold a pencil and I am always drawing.
You designed Tiger Morph and Pearly King Morph, which is now part of Whizz-Kidz and Wild in Art’s Morph’s Epic Art Adventure trail. I am pleased to say my company – Start Licensing – are sponsoring Tiger Morph. What was the inspiration behind this design?
I loved designing and painting Tiger Morph. Steve and I were approached by Wild In Art in 2021 and were given a few guidelines for the Morph In The North art trail in North Tyneside. It was December, and I just thought that children – and some adults of course – like wearing cosy onesies when the weather is chilly and that the tiger’s bright colours would complement Morph’s colouring really well. I added the hoodie and the tiger tail on the back view.
Steve’s design was Mighty Morph, who was a superhero, and we had two Morphs in the house for a couple of months until they were put out on location! It was great fun and Aardman gave great feedback at the design stage. I loved Morph as a child so it was really great to visit him on location an see people’s reactions to him.
And now Tiger Morph is part of Morph’s Epic Art Adventure London, so he’s enjoying the attention even more so!
Is it daunting working with a well-established character?
I don’t find it daunting at all – it’s a privilege! I still have an Aardman animation VHS reel with their amazing work as far back as the early 90s and I’ve been a big fan of Peter Lord and Nick Park’s since Morph and the Creature Comforts adverts on TV.
You mentioned working on a number of Wild in Art Art trails. Can you tell us a bit about your other work in this space?
I design and paint my own individual sculptures for the trails. It’s great to see how people engage with them, specially the younger children. It still amazes and delights me that people and families travel all over the UK to see every sculpture in these free and fun trails. But most of all the point of the trails is to raise awareness of the charity and to raise much needed funds. At the end of the trails, the sculptures are auctioned off and it brings the charities or organisations the monetary support they need to run their everyday needs. It gives me a great feeling of achievement to be able to help Whizz-Kidz, in the case of the recent Morph London trail.
How do you fuel your creativity? What inspires you?
I enjoy joining in online art challenges as it’s great to see other people’s interpretations on a theme and how many varied styles we all have. And we can appreciate them all, it’s not a competition.
I would love to paint more oil portraits as it’s such an amazing medium and I’m always inspired by going to art galleries. I also enjoy watching Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year and its sister programme, Landscape Artist of the Year.
How easy is it as an artist to market yourself? How do you find new clients?
I try to have a social media presence to showcase my work. This has brought in private commissions, including book illustrations, watercolours, portraits and oil paintings that are now in as varied places as the USA and Australia.
I work in advertising, so I know that companies worldwide have to advertise to get their brands out there. I also have several regular clients with whom I’ve been collaborating with for over 20 years now.
Along the way have you learnt any lessons that you wished you’d known at the start of your career?
Looking back, I wish I had been more confident at the very start as I was already producing work that would stand next to other more established artists of the time. But I also learnt a lot from the other artists and reps, or managers, that had been in the business for a while and that I had the privilege to work alongside.
“It delights me that families travel all over the UK to see every sculpture in these fun trails.”
The one thing about experience on the job is that you can’t just read about it… You have to live it and learn how to overcome problems. And most of all, do what you love.
If an art student asked you for advice in preparing a portfolio for the commercial world, what advice would you give them?
From experience I’ve known artists that have done very well being specialists in their fields with their own unique personal style, and others who are very diverse in style and multi-disciplinary; they’ve done equally as well. It’s up to their individual personalities. I would start by showcasing your strengths and the type of work you would like to be involved with.
Finally, if you could curate your own art trail, what location would you choose and which character would you base it around?
The first Wild In Art trail I heard of was Oor Wullie, the DC Thomson character, in Dundee. I pondered so much about submitting a design for the first time that I missed the deadline – so I still wish I could have done that trail! But I can’t go back now, and at the moment I have two Morphs in London and a six foot hare in Aberdeen! I have just painted a Shaun the Sheep for Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a Scottie dog for St Andrews, the Home of Golf, which I’m so happy about as I grew up playing golf. So I’m ticking lots of boxes as I go along…
What next? How about Mickey Mouse in New York? Obelix in Paris? Tintin in Brussels? Little Mermaid in Copenhagen?
They’ll keep you busy! Thanks so much for chatting Sandra.
You’re welcome, Ian.
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