Hailing from the west coast of the U.S., Sabrina Elliott caught our attention with Infinite Tenderness, her illustrations over the years compiled into a limited edition zine. Her work draws from a broad palate of influences, like pulp horror, classic erotica and pop art, with an overwhelming penchant for assertive, sharp-featured females. At once it recalls a hundred sources, even in specific characters, yet it never stops being its own distinctive entity. We spoke with Sabrina about her many interests beyond work, how she linked up with her publisher and the pinpoint details that distinguish progress.
Hi Sabrina. Where are you from, where are you based and what do you do outside of illustration?
I am from San Diego, California, and am currently based in Portland, Oregon! I actually moved to Portland to attend Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2008 and lived here for a couple of years before transferring to School of Visual Arts in NYC, where I graduated in 2013. I just moved back to Oregon some months ago and am very happy to be back on my home coast.
Beyond illustration, I like to read, find stellar ramen to eat, sleep in, collect vintage toys (mostly from America and Japan), play video games, watch anime, travel, and visit the forest. I am also developing a vinyl record addiction. Plus I’m getting back into painting and drooling over Holbein’s vibrant acryla gouache.
Is there any particular equipment you rely on or do you change around your setup?
I definitely have my go-to tools. For traditional, I’m in love with my Pentel brush pen, which I use over light pencil or red Col-erase pencil (which is an awesome brand of coloured pencil that you can erase). Pentel has ink capsules, but if I don’t use them I use black Speedball ink. I really like using Holbein or Talens opaque watercolour.
For heavier painting, I favour using gouache and acrylic on wood panel. I did printmaking while I was studying and loved it, but unfortunately I don’t currently have easy access to it. I also have a plethora of pens and inks that I’ll randomly use. I use Photoshop CS5 for digital work.
You depict influences ranging from pop surrealism to early rock’n’roll, were you attracted to how you could mesh them all together? How do these characters portray emotion for you?
It depends on the piece. Some will have more of a singular theme, like vintage Japanese horror; others will focus more on modern pop-culture motifs. But sometimes I like the idea of mixing them all together. I definitely know what I like and am visually attracted to, and sometimes these themes will mesh together in subtle ways. From Japanese fashion and horror to vintage erotica to visions inspired by 60s and 80s music, they all mix around in my subconscious and help me produce pieces that have vibrant, pop-y graphics, mostly with darker undertones. I’m currently really interested in dreamy pastel or vibrant technicolour palettes with heavier, subtle visuals.
They can be based around more of a feeling. For instance, all the aforementioned influences help give off a sense of melancholy, lust, anxiety, nostalgia, sadness, mystery, magic, and intrigue. I like to play around with these things most and try and show a more secret, inner world. “Make the work that you want to see in the world” is something I stand by. I don’t always know what it means at first, except that it evokes something deep inside of me, and it’s cool to hear others feel the same way and what they take away from it. A lot of it can be up for interpretation past the obvious visual and that’s what I really like.
As this zine serves as a sort of timeline of your career, do you see it as quite coherent or are there discernible stages of progress?
I would say both. As you look through it - the images are not in chronological order of when I did them - there are certain things that pop out as noticeably different. For one, I started adding a highlight to the pupil (of an eye). It comes to me naturally now whereas in the past, say a few years ago, I didn’t do that and just left the pupil solid with no highlight. For years I did that but, over time, grew out of it as I found they looked dull. I used a lot more tiny, detailed linework around the eyes too, which sometimes gave the effect of having a black eye. The eyes are just as detailed now, but no longer a mass of little chaotic lines. I still use crosshatching and detailed linework but it’s more fine-tuned now and only when I find it necessary.
Also, a lot of my female faces looked very similar to my own in the past. I think that’s kind of an issue that I still deal with, because my face is the one I see most, but I’m trying to push past that. I’m also trying to include a lot more male figures in my work. And more backgrounds (somewhat!). However, I believe it all still looks cohesive.
I have been told that I had a very strong “style” early on and I have mostly stuck with it while expanding and exploring new elements. I believe my work has gotten much stronger and more visually interesting. When I look back on my work, especially work before Infinite Tenderness that I did not include, I see that I’ve made a lot of progress. It makes me feel really good. I don’t want to be stagnant or do the same things all the time. I am really trying to push myself and I feel like in these last two years, especially, I have. I still have so much more I want to try and do but I realize I have indeed come a long way and it’s a great feeling.
How did you get linked up with Valley Cruise Press? They seem to be doing well currently, what’s it like working with them?
Actually, I believe VCP found me through Instagram! I got an email from them telling me they were big fans of my work and asking if I was interested in publishing a zine with them. They literally told me I could do whatever I wanted, so I thought a general anthology of my art would be a cool way to start. Ted and Ally are absolutely wonderful. They give absolute free reign and control on every aspect of the work being published. I had 100% control over my zines from front to back.
The quality of the work is phenomenal; the outcome is always gorgeous every single time. I did my second zine, “Yokai,” with them and will probably do another one in the future, and maybe some metal enamel pins as well. Pretty excited!
Anyone you’d like to shout out?
I would like to shout out some of my peers (and some who aren’t) who constantly inspire me. In no particular order:
Naomi Butterfield, Hellen Jo, Leslie Hung, Johnny Negron, Hikari Shimoda, Tina Lugo, Pari Corbitt, Jensine Eckwall, Natasha Allegri, Lauren YS, Ryan Heshka, Nomi Chi, Benjamin Constantine, Charmaine Verhagen, and Rebecca Dunlap, to name a few!