Feast your eyes on Sierra Datri’s stylish editorial illustrations
The Toronto-based designer talks about designing editorial illustrations for Ssense and why designers can afford to take some time off for themselves.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 16 November 2020
The challenge with designing editorial illustrations is that the artist is handed the difficult task of distilling a complex article in a way that is complementary. Take a literal approach and you run the risk of being cliche. If you go too abstract, you might mislead the readers. You might also face the additional challenge of needing to stay faithful to the publication’s tone. How would you, for instance, illustrate a profile about an artist who planted three thousand red tulips to form a big red circle in Highland Park, Brooklyn, that all bloomed a month too early?
This is a task that Toronto-based designer Sierra Datri often faces when illustrating articles for SSENSE's editorial platform. “I feel happy with where I’m at for now, because I usually get to experiment with a range of creative freedom, especially on editorial work at SSENSE,” Sierra tells it’s Nice That. “I like to treat every project like it’s completely new every time, as if I’m being commissioned as a freelance artist for each project that comes down my pipeline.” The timeline for each project ranges anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on how fast the idea comes to her. “The editors for each article are mostly really open to letting the designers take the reins on the design direction, which is fantastic.”
Growing up in suburbs outside of Toronto, Sierra returned to her family home following a stint in Montreal after work from home policies started taking place. “Being on my computer every day can be consuming, so I find that it’s very important these days to make something out of the little things, even if it’s just working next to a friend,” Sierra says of her current working habits. It was also through her family that she was first exposed to the creative world. “My dad was a visual artist for most of his life, so I feel like I pulled a lot from him in my early years,” she says. He introduced Sierra to Adobe Illustrator while working on his own practice and “since my first year at OCAD, I really just stopped most of my classical drawing and painting practice and switched over to graphic design completely.”
Sierra describes her practice as all-consuming and constant, something that has become a foundation for her life and identity. “I like to work on projects that involve my other creative friends when I can and I really love working in collaborative workspaces with other designers even if we’re all doing our own separate thing, I like the sense of community,” Sierra says.
Putting this process into practice, Sierra points out a recent illustration she made for an article titled Pleasure Principles with Leilah Weinraub, an interview with the American filmmaker where she saw firsthand how she could start trusting her own design instincts. “I went through a lot of drafts on my own before I felt that I had anything worthwhile to show, only to circle back to where I started,” she explained. While working on this illustration, Sierra’s design director showed her how to set up photos for halftone printing in InDesign, deconstructing colour channels and exporting them separately on top of one another to achieve the halftone effect. “I loved how it looked and thought that it would be an interesting detail that also worked as a foundation for other graphics,” she explains.
“While I see the appeal of having a self-proclaimed style, I’m still trying things out. I think that versatility is important for growth and perhaps it’s too early in my career to streamline into something too defined,” Sierra says. Adding that she might not ever want to have a consistent style, Sierra stresses that for now her main focus is to try out as many things as possible before committing to a consistent stylistic approach. Perhaps this is a good way to evaluate one’s design practice, going back into the functionality of your work. Sierra adds one final message to the design community: “It’s absolutely okay to take breaks and time for yourself. Everyone says that but I think we’re all a little afraid of what would happen if we took too long of a break.”
Sierra Datri: L’Oeuvre, Print (Copyright © Sierra Datri, 2020)
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.