TheeBlog Q&A Sessions: ZSO

It’s Friday Treat time! And today I am proud to share with you a more in-depth look at Sara Blake’s (ZSO) work. I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing her as part of TheeBlog Q&A Sessions and I’m delighted to share this interview, hoping it brightens up your Friday!
It surely did mine ;)

After posting her work recently ZSO Good! I received tons of emails & questions and decided to contact Sara and ask her a few questions I also had as a fan of her work. (The ’sacrifices’ I have to do for you…ha!) It was truly a pleasure chatting with Sara and discovering that she is not only an extremely talented artists, but an awesomely nice, fresh and friendly creative too! – Thanks Sara! ;)


Hello Sara! Thank you for taking the time to share some stories and information with us. I am a huge fan of your work and this is a real treat for me ;)
Thank you so much! It’s such an honor to be asked to chat! And likewise, great work! I love your latest Locos Por Juana identity work —love seeing the behind the scenes stuff too.

Let’s get started!

You are an Illustrator, Designer, Interactive Art Director and more. But how would you describe yourself as an individual and as an artist?
Wow, getting right into the hard questions! I guess as an individual my personality is very shy, but also very intense and obsessive. I internalize and get consumed by ideas very quickly, and sometimes have a hard time expressing these things to others. I think these traits are a large part of why I need to make art as an outlet. Making things is some kind of a coping method to funnel a lot of nervous energy. It helps me make sense of the world and I really don’t know who I am without it. I feel like maybe I don’t exist unless I am creating something outside myself and putting it in the world.


Could you give us a brief description of your typical day?
I usually start my days off on a couple hours of sleep, have a beautiful walk from my apartment in the East Village in New York over to the West Village to my day job as a digital art director at an advertising agency. I work there until—well, whenever the work is done. Home. Go for a run to decompress, and then it’s back to work again on illustration projects until—well, whenever the work is done, usually between midnight and 5am. Rinse, repeat. (I have my off days too though—you need to recharge once in a while!)

There’s a certain influence of fine art in your work, and you have mentioned you did mostly fine art while in College. How and when did you make the switch to interactive?
I always wanted to be a fine artist since I was very young. When I finally got to college, I pursued these interests hoping to be a more traditional artist. I was a relatively late adopter of digital art, as it really was never much of an interest. Gradually in school it started sinking in that I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I had no idea how I was going to pay rent. Somewhere along the way I learned how to code and build websites, and for the next couple years I taught myself as much as I could in interactive design. Junior year I got an internship as a production artist with a really small fashion-focused digital shop. I pursued that until eventually they let me work there full time with a second job working my my school gym. I think ultimately there are a lot of people in interactive design and art direction who wanted to be painters when they were little girls and boys. But ultimately I feel very lucky for the way circumstance changed the way I work—I’m much more comfortable as a hybrid artist, and it’s helped me understand the industry all the better.


You Graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School of > Individualized Study. Do you think this style of education gave you an > advantage over a more traditional method?
Nope! I loved NYU deeply, but I think my time there mainly was just a liberal arts education. I took many disparate classes—from learning to code in Java to a private 3 student tutorial on graphic novels. I took a lot of workshops that revolved around long esoteric conversations about Baudrillard, Foucault, and Derrida. Today I probably couldn’t regurgitate one insight from those discussions. I loved my fine art classes but there was little focus on technique. I still consider myself a self taught artist, but school undoubtedly provided me with a foundation for thinking about art, and ultimately the opportunity to pursue it in a real way.

Do you have a style?
You know, I’m not really sure! Maybe you can help me answer that question? Sometimes I try to have one because I feel like you are supposed to as an illustrator, but ultimately I just draw whatever naturally comes out. Especially in the past year, I’ve been forced not to think too much about working toward a style—it has been a mere symptom of not having the time. Because I have a day job, when I sit down at night to draw I really have to maximize that time and just do whatever starts spilling onto the page. Most of my art is the first try—idea, and execution. I think my lifestyle constraints, if anything, have contributed to a style—and that style is essentially, freestyle.

Do you believe in styles?
I think many of my favorite artists have styles. It’s what they are known for and why we love them. I think style implies mastery of a certain kind of exploration. But styles can also get played out. I believe in style if it is something you are willing to evolve.


I know birds have a strong presence in your life, but what else inspires you? Where do your ideas come from and how do you bring them to live?
Music and fashion. And dreams. I often have dreams that affect me well into the next day and leave me a bit in a funk or haze. It’s like being stuck in a song all day long on repeat. Though I slack sometimes, I also keep small journal-like notes on my iPhone and in my gmail drafts to try and capture and articulate intense feelings as they happen throughout the day. It’s like a bank of emotion that I can tap into later if I’m feeling stuck.


How do you maintain inspiration? A a designer I must admit there are days when I feel I’m blocked and only some rest, a good read or even being stuck in traffic, among other rituals, seem to help.
I get design block all the time. I admit, most often its just from exhaustion, and I just gotta take a night and sleep. Sometimes I can get block too if I get consumed by something in my personal life. I will sit down to work and just grind gears so badly that I can’t get a thing done. Executionally I am much more productive when I am happy in life, idea-wise better when I am utterly miserable. Something that really helps me too is going for runs at night.

Are you a daily doodler?
Not really! I should though. I am embarrassed a little by that answer. I am a daily writer though, even if its only a few sentences.

What percentage of your work starts with a sketch? What is your usual production process if there is one?
It really depends what the work is for. Client work usually needs a bit more sketching because the final product needs to fit more specific needs. More open projects tend to just start with a couple reference images and a blank sheet of paper. It’s just “go”—no real sketching necessary. I always start everything by hand, draw until it feels right, then I watercolor on top of it if I feel it needs some texture, then scan, then color and fine tune digitally. I usually don’t know what a piece is going to be until it makes it to the computer, so I guess a lot of virtual sketching goes on there because I can undo my work and start over.


Are there any artists you admire?
It’s completely insane how many talented artists there are in the world! Utterly mind boggling. The answer to that is an emphatic YES. If I had to call anyone out, it would be my peers from the KDU. I love what they are doing: Daniel Diggle, Max Spencer, Shadow Chen, Si Scott, Daren Newman, Krzysztof Domaradzki, and Magomed Dovjenko, to name only a few)

Any wise words or advice you would like to share with designers and illustrators out there?
Don’t lose the child inside. Go on long walks. Fall in love and get your heart wrecked. Sleep just enough to live life to the fullest. Work hard. Stay passionate.


You are currently working with Joshua Davis. How would you describe your experience so far and when can we expect to see some fireworks?
It’s been really cool brainstorming with Josh so far because we both create work by such different means. But a lot of the thinking and integrity is very similar. Both our styles aim to achieve some kind of controlled randomness. We sort of freestyle within the bounds of some preliminary rules in our mediums. And that is pretty much all I can say about our collab for now ;) You’ll have to wait and see. I think Josh and I are really still waiting to see what this thing will turn out to be ourselves too!


I’ve read many interviews and followed your work for quite some time, but there’s a question I don’t think has been asked before and yes, I’m going there… Can you tell us about your tattoos?
Sure! I’m not sure how much there is too tell though. I’ve been getting tattooed for about 7 years now, and every tattoo I have is some kind of animal. I feel like I need to be covered. For me it feels like protection or some kind of shroud. I feel more myself the more tattooed I get.

Designers and Illustrators tend to be very critical, specially about our own work. Has it been hard for you to select what ‘makes it’ when it comes to your tattoos?
Agreed! But surprisingly no. Firstly I never get anything I draw tattooed. I only get tattooed by one guy now. I am very loyal and he does everything for me, concept, composition, and exectuition. His name is Steve Boltz, and he is amazing. There is a lot of trust in the process and relationship, and he’s never let me down. I basically go in with the next animal I want to get tattooed, tell him where I want it, and that’s it. Whatever he draws makes it. Permanently.


You’re having a solo gallery show in Sydney this year. How’s the preparation coming along?
The preparation thus far has really just been thought. This will be the largest cohesive body of work I’ve created for anything thus far. Despite my tendency to freestyle within a particular piece, I’ve been figuring out theme for the past 2 months, naming it, and figuring out its personality. That’s consisted of putting together a soundtrack in my iTunes of what I want it to feel like, and a couple dozen writeups of what the character I’m making would say, and sourcing a bunch of reference images and inspiration. Actually drawing it will be the last thing I do.

You’re collaborating with Joshua Davis, preparing a gallery show in September… what else should we expect from ZSO this year?
I’m doing the graphics for the spring women’s line for Hurley, collaborating with a bunch of my friends from the KDU, and various other top secret stuff! It’s already a very busy year!


Before I go, I received 14 emails since I posted your work two days ago asking me if you have an online store or if you sell any of your prints?
Wow! That’s so great to hear! I’m so happy there is interest! I’m working on getting one up this summer or fall, so be sure to keep checking back at There is will a “Shop” section on my website in the future.

Thank you again Sara! I know how busy your schedule is and I appreciate your time and friendliness. I wish you the best of luck and success in your upcoming projects!!
The pleasure was all mine, Diego! Likewise! Keep up the good work, your blog is fantastic and inspirational, as is your design work!


Have a great weekend!


  1. Thank you for posting this! Great interview and yes!… I am inspired now :P

  2. Her work is amazing. Nice interview

  3. I love her style. I checked her site and I am a fan now.

  4. Awesome interview. She is such a talented artist.

  5. i love her work and she’s good

  6. Thanks guys! And yes, her work is amazing!

  7. Seriously inspired by her work.
    My senior year HSC work is being heavily influenced by her style,
    obviously in love <3
    Thank you for the interview, it really helped :)

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