We spoke on 16th August 2021
Hey Sarah, first of all, how are you?
Hello Morgan, I'm well, thank you. How are you? (Great Thanks!)
For those that do not know who is Sarah Boris?
I'm an artist and designer. In 2015 I set up my art and design studio after designing and art directing for over ten years (in house) for Phaidon, the Barbican Centre and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. My studio commissions include visual identities, editorial design (books, magazines, zines), exhibition graphics, campaigns and website designs. Recent projects included designing the book for the 'Tokyo: Art & Photography' exhibition which just opened at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the packaging for a great natural soap (still in progress) and the redesign of a photography magazine.
Alongside this, I have self-published books such as 'Global Warming Anyone' or 'Le Théâtre Graphique'. Both are flipbooks, one contains tweets by Donald Trump on climate change and the other is a wordless graphic art flipbook which I'm hoping to release a new edition of this year. I am also working on two other books, one is a form of concrete poetry and ping pong of words between the two languages I speak (English and French). This is a hugely important project for me as it explores many things I love such as words but it's also somehow a personal exploration into representation and expressing one's identity through language. I am excited to share this soon (hopefully). I will release it as a pocketbook. The second book is about colour, I made this book during lockdown last year, I'm also hoping to release it this year but I am still trying to figure out how as it's quite complex to produce. All these books are artists books and I often sign and number them. I will be announcing details in the coming months on my Instagram which you can follow here: https://www.instagram.com/sarahboris_ldn
When I'm not designing for clients, I also make artworks and I collaborate with printmakers and artisans. Since setting up my studio, printmaking has brought a lot of joy and experimentation to my practice. Some of my most screen printed artworks are available here:
You recently came to the University of Bolton for a talk which I thought was useful. How important do you think it is to tell your story and what do you hope will come from those talks?
Thank you, It's nice to hear you found it useful. It's always an honour to be invited to do a talk and I enjoy giving them, especially in universities. I think it's important to share my story to give ideas of alternative trajectories. Part of my narrative includes talking about the hurdles I encountered and how these can be solved. I feel it's so important to talk about more than just our work and share the ins and outs of navigating the design industry so that students can be better equipped when graduating. I figured a lot out on the spot when I started working, talking with industry peers and people in other fields often helped me progress. I feel it's essential to share these learnings as, often, we are not taught the business side of design at university, this can include how to navigate pitching for which I wrote an article: https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/the-design-industry-needs-to-take-a-stand-against-free-pitching/
Furthermore, when I studied and in the first years when I graduated I was often exposed to 'one model/type of design studio' through talks or the design press. We'd see the same studios over and over again. It made the industry look very homogeneous from where I was standing at the time and often it gave you a sense that you had failed if you did not work for one of the 'star' studios. I was often made to feel like a failure when presented as an in house designer to 'studio designers'. It's taken me many years to embrace my own journey. Telling my story has allowed me to understand all this and be proud of my journey rather than shy away from it.
Today I feel a lot more independent designers and different types of design studios are celebrated. I am included in the recent book by Unit Editions 'Studio Culture Now' edited by Mark Sinclair, it shows the breadth of studio practices from around the world from small independent practices like mine to much larger ones.
I'm hoping that by telling my story, I could potentially help some students understand that they can design their own journey and ideal work model but also that they can each and all contribute to shaping our industry for the better.
I listened to the Creative Boom podcast that you were on, and you spoke about having anxiety before podcasts or talks, I relate to this and I'm sure a lot of others will as well. Do you have any advice for others who may be going through this?
My advice is to detach yourself from the fear of what other people might think although it's easier said than done. I think a lot of anxiety comes from being nervous about people's judgment and public speaking in general. Nothing really prepares us to be speakers when we study design. My advice is to think of the positive aspects of doing a talk and what you can learn. Don't think about what people might say about you but think about what you can share with them. Being given a platform to speak is unique and I've learned to embrace that more despite still feeling nervous before doing talks. I've received beautiful messages from people who listened to the Creative Boom podcast:
Be true and authentic. Tell your story as it is. No one else has the same journey and yours is to be celebrated as much as anybody's else's. From the moment you shift your anxiety to positive thoughts, it becomes less nerve-racking and daunting to put yourself out there and speak publicly.
You also spoke about the best clients are the ones where you’re allowed to show emotions or go through ups and downs, why is this?
I think creativity can be a very emotional, passionate process and to achieve great work, I feel it's important to be able to speak openly with clients and in general, speak up if something is going on that you feel needs addressing. If both sides are receptive when addressing an issue you can go miles together. There are many ways in which you can create a great working relationship and the first one is communicating / a form of openness. I would advise to simply state at the start of a project what you need, how you work best, scheduling, how you would like to receive feedback, and ask the client if they have any particular wishes or expectations on their part. The more you layout at the outset on both sides, the better. This also creates trust and transparency which are great foundations to kick off a project.
A quote that stuck with me was when you said “Just keep on being a human being before a designer” how important do you think it is to do other things than design?
I think generally it's really important to do other things than design. It can be anything from cooking, going for a walk or evening knitting (why not). I usually get the most inspiration when I'm actually not designing and when I'm far away from a screen.
Your work has been exhibited internationally, talk me through this.
One of my most important and defining exhibitions was in Le Havre as part of the design festival 'Une Saison Graphique' where the likes of Karel Martens and Ahn Sang-soo have been invited to exhibit too. The space I exhibited in, is the town's main theatre, which became my focus point to build the exhibition concept in which I staged my practice by building a fictional studio and remained present daily during the duration of the exhibition. I put an open call out in the local newspapers inviting locals to send in briefs. I also built a design confessional in the space where I would hold sessions during the time of the exhibition. Through this, I questioned and explored how art and design can be exhibited. It was a really great experience which I'd love to repeat in other cities. Alongside the theatrical exhibition set up, I also created screen-printed posters, a ten-year book of my works, the book 'Le Théâtre Graphique' and screen printed posters all of which were acquired by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Group exhibitions include: ‘Reverting to Type 2020: Protest Posters’ at Standpoint Gallery; ‘Man-Made Disaster: How Patriarchy is Ruining the Planet’ at Protein Studios, 'Hope to Nope' at the Design Museum and more recently 'Folle Année Graphique' at La Fenêtre, a contemporary art gallery in Montpellier, France. In the most recent group exhibition, it's been truly amazing to have a curator write about my work and see it presented digitally and in print. It can be hard talking about our own work so having an expert write critically about it has been really inspiring.
I'm always interested to know lecturers/former lecturers advice to students and young creatives. What would you say to your students to stand out?
To stand out, create work that you believe in, talk about it, show it and share it.
For my final question, what's next for Sarah Boris?
I have progressively shifted my practice so that I can collaborate more with artisans and local or small producers. I will be working with a stone carver in the Autumn and a winery which I'm really excited about. I'd also like to be outdoors more and spend less time in front of a screen. I am also releasing a new screenprint so be sure to follow me on @sarahboris_ldn :)