In the works of illustrator Sara Hagale there really isn’t very much at all, which is exactly what makes it so fascinating. Always using just a pencil and the same perfectly off-white piece of paper, Sara holds a rare ability to craft a whole world in her precision-led but minimal works. The results are always calming no matter the subject – whether she’s shading a tiny, round scoop of Neapolitan ice cream or a timid character perched on the couch with a glass of wine – and it’s largely due to the ample space the illustrator leaves around her pieces, allowing them to breathe.
The reason behind the minimal nature of Sara’s work is threefold. First of all she traces it back to her education in graphic design (which she studied at Auburn University), “where the message is everything and anything that gets in the way of that may as well not be there,” she tells It’s Nice That. The second is the motivation behind why Sara draws in the first place: “The idea also probably goes back to what art/drawing does for me personally,” she continues, “it’s a calming act for myself as well.” The last factor is how Sara hopes her drawings will be perceived by the viewer, driven from the illustrator “wanting the viewer to be able to focus all their attention on one thing,” she says. “It’s funny, because sometimes there will be an element of a drawing I’m really struggling with, but then I stop and think ‘do I even really need this here?’ Most of the time the answer is no, which is a relief.”
In terms of process, this illustrative restraint Sara holds has developed from the artist being purposefully patient with herself. Within her pieces are often faint remnants of ideas worked out, erased by hand but still leaving a faint dent behind. “I like working things out on the page – measurements, relationships of figures, etc – and letting the ghosts of that process remain,” she explains. “I like showing that it doesn’t just happen spontaneously, but that there’s a process and that the lines breathe.” To some this may leave the impression that a piece could even be unfinished she admits, “but maybe unfinished is the most complete things should be.”
This stylistic tendency of Sara’s is rare in contemporary illustration, where the common idea is that vibrant colour combinations, gradients and textures are the key to capturing a viewer’s eye. Yet amongst this trend Sara’s work, in its minimality, has this desired effect. Scrolling through Instagram her illustrations offer a moment to pause and reflect, maybe laugh or feel slightly emotional. Because in such precision Sara is able to pick up on a relatable moment. “It goes back to capturing a moment, but a more physical one,” she elaborates.
At the heart of much of Sara’s work is also a central wide-eyed character, one the illustrator explains is actually based on herself. “This version of me came from sketching about my experiences – usually after a day of working at a computer and taking coffee breaks in my car narrated by the classical segment on NPR.” It’s still the process she adopts to this day, beginning by drawing a stylised version of herself with whatever haircut she has at the time (“currently a quarantine self-cut fringe and bob-ish chop”). The character will then be drawn experiencing a recent real life event from Sara’s own life, acting as her own journal or archive from being curled up in bed unwell, or hilariously waiting at the table in the back of a restaurant alone. “It feels really specific too,” she adds, “like a pod filled with a memory. I have maybe the most fun drawing these pieces because they are fairly quick and I allow them to be a bit messier.”
Recreating such everyday personal moments extends the relatability of Sara’s work and, since starting her art account on Instagram in 2016, she’s gained a huge following. “I am always really surprised by, and thankful for, the understanding and interest that I have gotten from so many people,” she adds on her work’s ability to resonate with viewers. “Most of the time it feels like this abstract, nebulous thing, which helps me not get too in my head about it. Other times it scares me because it’s just a lot of people.” Given the calming nature of her work, Sara also takes a backseat never offering too much explanation or interaction of her pieces, explaining how “I like the idea of letting my work be my work, while I just kind of exist next to it.” After all, one of the driving factors of her work is to create a safe space for an audience member who stumbles across it. “I mean, it’s always amazing when someone feels understood,” she concludes on the feeling she hopes her pieces evoke. “It’s like a two-way street. In a way I feel more understood too. Most of the time, though, I think I just want viewers to feel.”
Sara Hagale: Sleeved Heart (Copyright © Sara Hagale, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.