Every so often an individual comes along that possesses both aptitude and skill coupled with enthusiasm and deep fervor.  As she talked about lack of sleep and committing to art daily, I was reminded of the great Thomas Edison.  In every way, creativity seems to be oozing out of her pours.  If we could bottle up Sara’s passion, talent and interest for art and humanity, and sprinkle it across the planet, the world’s problems would be solved.

“I am not overly impressed by the great names and reputations of those who might be trying to beat me to an invention…. It’s their ‘ideas’ that appeal to me. I am quite correctly described as more of a sponge than an inventor….” – Thomas Edison

I couldn’t help but think of this quote when talking to ZSO, aka Sara Blake.  Both her complex pallet for art and humble appreciation for her peers seemed to be a powerful force behind her work.

We had a chance to get into ZSO’s head recently and find some deeper thoughts on inspiration, the world and some of her work supporting DACS (Designers Against Child Slavery).

Interview: Keane, Photos/Art: Blake

Where were you born and raised?

Richmond, Virginia

Were you born with talent, trained, both?

I wouldn’t say born with talent but I would say born with interest. It was always something I wanted to pursue ever since I was a little gal. I kept up with making arty things from a young age even before I really knew it was a job or something you could study to make a career. Ultimately it was a focus in high school and I pursued a concentration in fine art and graphic design at NYU in their interdisciplinary studies program at Gallatin, but that quickly became more of a liberal arts education. All the skills I use now are really self taught, but school gave me a great appreciation and wider view of the arts.

Was there anything that steered you toward art? When did you first acquire an interest in art? Did you always know you had an affinity for art?  Was there a point where you decided this was you?

I don’t think there was a moment. It was always just a part of my routine and how I wanted to see the world and how I wanted to be connected to it. I have been a compulsive journal, scrapbook, and sketchbook keeper all my life. I think I’m actually the most relaxed with it now. It was always just part of who I am that over the years I’ve had to figure out how to embrace.

Tell me about a defining moment in your life.

Wow, this is a tough one. Well for starters, I am a person who learns by making mistakes, so I think every fantastic fuck-up of mine has been life defining and has made me a better person, as embarrassing and shameful as they may be in retrospect. I’m never going to be a person who lives a perfect life, or who behaves perfectly. I think about 2 years ago was the ultimate test for me, and when things actually ironically really started looking up in my life. I was in a bad situation where I was really and truly self dependent in every sense of the phrase for the first time in my adult life. I didn’t really have the support system I had relying on forever. I remember there being one weekend in particular where I had to find an apartment and move into it with an air mattress, start a new job, deal with a breakup, and started speaking to my father again after years of silence all in the same 48 hour period. I think after that I was pretty much like, “I can do this.”

You clearly inspire people, you inspire us –  Who inspires you?

People who work hard, and people who go after what they want. I have been just a massive fan of James Jean forever, not just because his work is gorgeous, but because you can truly see how hard he has worked over the past 6 years. I have never met him (but man would I love to) but from what I can tell he seems incredibly humble as well extremely generous. He sells his works for tens of thousands of dollars, who knows maybe hundreds of thousands at this point, but he sells $88 dollar prints in his store. He gives to charity pretty regularly, and he plays trumpet with David Choe. He just seems all around grounded and awesome despite his immense success. He is probably my number one contemporary idol. In terms of other artists, gosh don’t get me started. Here are a few others. Digital: Bison from South Africa. Yoku Shimizu, and Tomer Hanuka, Traditional: James Jean or course, Aurel Schmidt, and Jose Mertz Masters: Pablo Picasso and Gustav Klimt and lately ancient Korean folk art.

What other hobbies or interests do you have beyond art?

Art essentially consumes my life and most other interests of mine are an offshoot of it—going to look at art, researching artists online, taking pictures, etc. But my biggest purely hedonistic interests are running and eating. I’ve been a competitive runner since I was 13 years old, and over the years it’s just turned into part of my lifestyle and my way of meditating. I’ve also become a great food appreciator—there is no greater Saturday night than going out for some great food and beer in NYC.

Tell us about your lifestyle – what’s a typical day for Sara like?

It used to include sleeping very little, but now I’m back up to 7 or 8 hours (for now), making a breakfast smoothie, getting my coffee on Second Avenue, weeding my inbox for a bit and making sure all client work is going well and in order, then usually heading to the drawing table for most of the day. Unfortunately I have to be on the computer quite a bit. It’s a blessing and a curse. Keeping up with your own business is a lot of work, and I’ve found it eats tons of time in the most unexpected ways, so despite getting to take breaks when I want them, I usually end up working an average of a 12 hour day every day even if maybe only 7 or 8 are actually working on design or illustration. I end my days with a late night run or gym visit, and then usually hop back on the computer until bed time.

What scares you?  Why?

Idleness. I don’t know. I need to be working and making things. That and dying alone with 700 cats.

Tell us about your work with DACS.

The Designers Against Child Slavery founders got in touch with me last year before the opening show and asked me to participate. I was immediately blown away by the artist roster and was excited to help and raise awareness as well as incredibly honored to be included among such artists as KXX and Grzogorz Domaradzki. It was also the first project by DACS, and since they have taken off, raising quite a bit of money to help with relief for children in the sex trade, and they are already working on a second show that will open in NYC this summer. I will also be submitting to this chapter and I hope to continue to be involved.

How did you get involved with TED?

When I first left my agency job in October I worked out of the KDU (Keystone Design Union) offices in Brooklyn for a couple weeks. They are always working on cool things so it was really importatnt to feed off that energy while I was getting on my feet. Another KDU member, Daniel Leeb approached the KDU needing some custom art to present for the TEDx Brooklyn event which he was basically running the media for. I think it was a right place, right time sort of thing. It was a pretty great experience. Dan not only created a beautiful stop frame process video which played during the talks, but I also got to do a live drawing in the Labs and really get out of my comfort zone.

Give some advice on following your dreams, achieving your goals?

I think some more general advice is to make things easy on yourself and remove all barriers. Don’t tell yourself you can’t before you even get started. Just figure out what you want first and foremost and then figure out how to take steps to go and get it. If you do this, I promise you will end up ahead of where you even thought you would go. “Choose a job you love, and you never work a day in your life.” – Confucius

What accomplishment in your career to date are you most proud of?

Hmmm. This is tough. I’m not very good at being proud. I’m too impatient. As soon as I finish something I’m pretty over it and want to try to make the next thing better. I suppose if I had to pick something it would be my first gallery show—not necessarily for the work, but what it meant for my future. It allowed me to both see the world (I traveled to Australia for it) as well as to ultimately finally fulfill my dream of becoming an independent illustrator. The Friends of Leon Gallery definitely gave me the break I needed, and it’s changed my life immensely. Thank you Leon.

What have been the biggest failures and frustrations in your career?

The advice I give remains difficult for me to follow as well. I still have trouble not comparing myself to other artists’ work and success. I have to constantly remind myself that I should just be grateful to be doing what I love and focus on my own path, but regardless, I think I still constantly feel I am falling short. Every day is a frustration in this regard, but I don’t think I would change it—it’s what makes me want to keep working harder. I think also the pressure of being an NYC artist is tough. I live in Manhattan and so far I’m still not willing to compromise that, so there is always the pressure of having a paying job in addition to trying to advance creatively—which is often a personal journey that means not doing paying work. It can be a challenge to balance that, and fulfill both your landlord and your soul at the same time.

What’s next for Sara?

I have no clue! I’m working on some large scale animal pieces that are over 6 feet tall and I’ll be doing some traveling at the end of the year both to speak at some conference as well as to just have some fun. I’ve got a couple secret projects and collaborations I’d like to try out one of these days, but to tell the truth, I have no idea what the future holds.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I have constant anxiety about how we are just annihilating our environment. Can my one wish be a cure-all bandaid for Earth? If we don’t blow ourselves up first we’ll be suffocating from having destroyed our atmosphere. I could just be brainwashed and paranoid, but I’d really like my kids to have something left and lately I feel like I’m living in Blade Runner.

Who are you listening to right now? (music)

Radiohead is a constant. UNKLE, Junip, Yeasayer, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, NIN, Antony and the Johnsons, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Daniel Johnson, Bonobo, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, Loscil, Sparklehorse, Josephine Baker, Stars, Beach House, and on and on and on…..

Any thoughts on any current events?

Just when I want to complain about something, the events in Japan really put life into perspective. We are so small and really, as much as we want to control our lives and pretend to be the grand puppet masters of our lives, we really are at the mercy of greater forces. I’ve also been pretty overwhelmed with the positivity and generosity of so many people across the world, both public figures as well as many of my own colleagues. I’m trying to focus on that going into the future. And of course it’s pretty tough to ignore what is going on in Libya right now. I can’t imagine walking out of my apartment into civilian armies camping on my street or gunfire over my head, or missiles lighting up the night sky. It feels pretty surreal to be honest. It’s a harder situation to digest personally. Earthquakes and tsunamis are horrible, but I feel like there is something we can all do to help there, even as small as it may be. I feel so much more naive and helpless here. But if you can’t help in some areas of the world, I think we should all still do whatever we can to help the parts of the world that we can affect.

One Response to “HELLO ZSO”

  1. Annie says:

    I love and respect your work. I think in my soul I am an artist and have created, yet I lack your originality and unique expression in your chosen media. Your work is such a personal expression of the beauty in your spirit. Your passion and articulate perfectionism is spoken in the language of your inborn talent. I loved being exposed to your work today for the first time and thank you for a visual aid of authenticity. The part of you you shared made my heart smile. Thank You. Take care of you too.

Leave a Reply