Today on the blog we return to the virtual EasternPennPoints Café where our Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, has invited illustrator Sarah Ryan for a chat. Sarah has recently embarked on an Instagram challenge in which she plans to draw 100 backyard birds in 100 days. Here’s what they had to say.
Berrie: Hi, Sarah. Welcome to the Café Chat. Would you like a cup of coffee or some bird seed?
Sarah: Thanks so much for having me! Coffee please!
Berrie: Why did you choose to draw birds for your 100-day challenge?
Sarah: I have always loved birdwatching! I look forward to seeing how many I can spot during the spring and fall migrations. I recently took a trip to the Edwin Forsythe Refuge in New Jersey and saw two short-eared owls; it was very exciting! My boyfriend also takes beautiful bird pictures, so I have plenty of references. (He’s on Instagram as @zgillespie215.)
Berrie: Where did you find the inspiration to draw 100 birds? Is there a hashtag for 100-day challenges?
Sarah: This is the second 100-day challenge I’ve tried. Last year I drew 100 butterflies, but it took me way more than 100 days. This time I’m trying to really get all of these birds done in 100 days. I try to think of the mantra “finished, not perfect” to get myself to post them in time. I think a lot of artists get caught up in perfectionism, but sometimes it’s good to just practice and produce. The hashtags I’m using for this project are #100birds #100dayproject #100dayproject2021 and #100daychallenge.
Berrie: Tell us about your art background and your favorite Eastern PA SCBWI events that you have attended.
Sarah: I started out admiring children’s books! I was an assistant manager at Barnes & Noble for five years, and I worked in a children’s library in Upper Darby for 10+ years. I’ve always drawn as a hobby, and I posted those drawings on a blog for fun. A friend of mine submited my drawings to a gallery without telling me, and they got accepted! That was the first time I realized that this could be a career.
My favorite SCBWI events have been the Portfolio 911 workshop (although I’m still working on my children’s illustration portfolio!) and Illustrator Day 2019; I met so many great people at both events! I also went to the New York Winter Conference in 2018. I learned a whole lot there, and one of my goals is to attend again when it’s safe.
Berrie: What is your advice for illustrators wanting to open up their own Etsy shop? What is your most popular item?
Sarah: I’ve had a lot of success with Etsy, but I think you have to self-promote first. There are so so many artists and illustrators on that platform, and your work can easily get lost in the shuffle. When you start getting some sales, then you’ll rank higher in Etsy’s search algorithm and customers will be able to find you.
My most popular items have been anything with my bat illustrations. Bat cards, bat garlands, bat stickers . . . you name it and there’s been a demand. Bat rescue groups and bat biologists have been some of my best customers.
Berrie: Last fall when I was visiting Cape May, I saw your illustrations for sale in one of the shops. What other stores carry your illustrations? How did you make this happen?
Sarah: I usually have work in about nine different shops, but a lot of them have been closed over the past year. Some of my favorites are VIX Emporium in West Philadelphia, Nice Things Handmade in South Philadelphia, and Art Star in Northern Liberties. The shop in Cape May in West End Garage is run by a friend who also runs the West Craft Fest events in West Philly.
A friendly email to shop owners is a great way to introduce yourself. I would never make an unannounced visit to a store, because a lot of these shops have a very small staff, and they can’t really spend time talking with you during retail hours. A lot of shops will ask you for a wholesale line sheet that lists your products and wholesale prices.
Berrie: You recently illustrated a book for the City of Philadelphia Recreation Department. What is the book about, and did you enjoy working on this project?
Sarah: I worked on a coloring book about Love Park for the Fairmount Park Conservancy. I did enjoy working on it! I had to shift gears and work in pen instead of my normal watercolor and pencil, so it was a challenge. The coloring book was given to children while they were waiting for their parents at the Philadelphia Family Court across the street from the park and was also sold at Christmas Village.
Berrie: I see that you post a lot of your illustrations on Instagram. What are your favorite hashtags to follow?
Sarah: My favorite hashtags to follow are mostly animal related, like #birdsofinstagram #wildart2021 #nationalparks . . . and (of course) #scbwi.
Berrie: You also sell your illustrations on cards, prints, garlands, and stickers. Do you have a favorite printer that you use to manufacture these items? Were you able to sell your illustrations at craft shows this year, or were they mostly cancelled due to the pandemic?
Sarah: I manufacture everything myself! When I started my business, I saved money until I could get a large format archival printer. I like that I can control the colors myself, and I can test out small quantities of prints. I also have a Cricut machine to cut the stickers and garlands.
I do get business cards and promotional materials printed by Fireball Printing in Philadelphia.
I didn’t participate in any art events or craft shows in the past year. I just didn’t feel it was safe for me. I did have work in the Virtual Art Star Craft Bazaar, but I really missed their live events! I am so grateful for people who found me online. Usually online sales are a third of my income, but this year they had to be 100% of it.
Berrie: Any other advice for our illustrator members?
Sarah: Support other artists!
Also, don’t take rejections personally. When you apply for jobs and juried events or contact shops, they could really love your work, but it might not fit with the exact aesthetic the store or project has in mind. It says nothing about you as a person if they say no. Send a thank-you note or email afterward.
Sarah Ryan is an artist and illustrator based in Haverford, PA. She’s fueled by ice cream and imagination, and inspired by comic books, vintage advertisements, and fairy tales. Her favorite tools are mechanical pencils, watercolor, and gouache, and her work usually features animals, elements of fantasy, and a healthy amount of humor.