Sarah Alinia Ziazi is a Toronto-based illustrator whose vibrant and striking compositions feature a range of bizarre shapes, from phallic-looking dancers to dismembered hands and heads. Sarah’s decision to study at Toronto’s biggest and oldest creative university, Ontario College of Art and Design, came as no surprise to those that knew her: “I remember getting into trouble as a child for using my mother’s makeup as tools for drawing. I’ve always loved being creative, so I just kept up that passion. When it was time to apply for modular options, I decided to take illustration as my major,” Sarah tells It’s Nice That.
Vertigo is surprisingly a key influence in Sarah’s work. The artist sees a clear correlation between her repeated spells of disorienting dizziness and her strange creations. “When episodes of vertigo get too overwhelming your perspective will change even after you come out of it. You forget what you were thinking about and you are forced to put your thoughts together again from scratch,” Sarah explains. Her abstract pieces reflect these confusing sensations, which she explains, allow her to see the world through a different lens. The result is a series of distorted figures with lips for a head and disassembled eyeballs and bones lying among pills. Breaking away from conventional ways of seeing, Sarah’s illustrations are visual streams of consciousness that capture her vertigo-induced fragmented reality.
Phallic objects are another defining feature of the artist’s work. During her final year at university, Sarah developed a project, Miscontraception, that was inspired by historical contraceptive practices. “I wanted to adopt this angle to illustrate current sexual issues like catcalling and consent in order to inform viewers that these unethical social problems are still relevant,” Sarah says. This was the illustrator’s first attempt at political art, which had not interested her much earlier. “Initially, my intention was to create a project based around my identity, which is what I’m more comfortable doing. It’s easy for me to put my own experiences into my artwork. So I was super nervous when I decided to step out of my comfort zone and produce something I’ve never thought much about before.”
Sarah usually begins her illustrations by sketching spontaneous linear drawings and then proceeds with a preliminary layout on watercolour paper. “Precision is very important when I draw out the final composition, and for that I use various rulers to be as accurate as possible. Once I add the colour, I go ahead with the final details like lines and texture. I think about the small intricacies from the beginning stages and make notes beside the line drawings to get a sense of how well it will work with the colours,” the artist explains. Her art may illustrate the spinning chaos caused by vertigo or abstract symbols of sexual power, yet Sarah’s technique is neither spontaneous nor chaotic, but rather meticulously composed and thoughtfully executed.