Featured Artist: Sarah Dahir

This month’s featured artist is Sarah Dahir, an illustrator based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sarah began her project Nawaal Illustrations a couple of years ago, her first experience with professional illustration after drawing for herself for years. Sarah is interested in the relationship between women (she grew up with three sisters), and especially Black women. She depicts her characters living their daily lives in a minimalistic style using warm colors, building a peaceful kind of representation, and creating a sense of community and empowerment. Sarah’s work has gained more and more attention on social media for the past year, revealing her as one of the most interesting emerging artists today. We asked her a few questions by email to get to know her better. 

How did you become an illustrator?

I’ve been illustrating for almost two years. It initially started out as a hobby, something to do in my free time. I started sharing my work on Instagram, and people started to reach out to me for commissioned work and prints. I then realised that I could do this professionally, so I started focusing on making it into a career.  

How would you describe your aesthetic?

My work centres around friendship and sisterhood. I usually paint my subjects relaxing and enjoying themselves. I aim to create a sense of calmness and serenity. I achieve this through composition and choice of colours.  

How did you find it? How has it evolved since you began illustrating?

I have always painted black women, and created a sense of community. I started adding landscapes and backgrounds to tell a story and emphasise the atmosphere I’m trying to create. 

What inspires you? Which artists have influenced your work the most?

I’m inspired by so many artists that I see everyday on social media. But artists whose work really shaped my art style are Matisse, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. I always loved how expressive their work was and how they used colour to create different moods and set the tone for their pieces.

How do you work? What are the different steps in the making of an illustration?

First it starts with me just browsing through Instagram or Pinterest or even just watching TV until I see something that sparks an idea. Then I just start sketching and painting as soon as I find that inspiration, no matter what time of day it is. 

What does a workday look like for you?

No workday looks like the next one. I’m still trying to find structure and a routine I can stick to, but I honestly don’t think it’s in my nature to stick to a routine. I mostly work in the morning, but a lot of my clients live overseas so the time difference has me taking meetings and working some nights. 

Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms?

Definitely! Right now my work is mostly digital, but this year I’m trying to experiment a lot more with traditional art and try different mediums, such as oil painting, watercolour, etc. 

What was your favorite experience in your career so far, or your favorite illustration you made? 

My favourite experience as an artist that I will never get tired of is seeing my work in people’s homes. Picking a favourite piece is hard, because the last one I create is always my new favourite, but the piece I would say is probably closest to my heart is ‘Power to the people’. I think that’s an important piece that speaks on unity and it resonated with a lot of people. 

Is there anything you’d like to achieve in your career? 

So much! I just hope to keep growing and to keep working with like-minded people, to create some dope stuff. I want to see all the places my art can be incorporated in, clothes, books, etc. 

What would you like people to feel through your work? 

I hope people feel a sense of peace through my work, and that it reminds them to take a moment to breathe and see the beauty in this crazy world. 

What have you been watching, listening to, and/or reading lately?

I need to read more books and watch more movies. All I do is watch series, sitcoms in particular. They play in the background while I work. 

What is next for you?

Right now, I’m working on putting my art on clothing pieces. Fashion has always been one of my passions and it would be great to bring those two dreams together. 

Is there a question you wish I had asked you?

Honestly, I feel like you covered it all.

Bio : Sarah Dahir is a freelance artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. All of her work is digitally made using Procreate and Photoshop. Sarah’s work centers around black women and sisterhood. She aims to create work that is easygoing and fun. She showcases her subjects doing regular things, like riding a bike or going on a road trip. Her goal is to show black girls enjoying themselves, living an easy life, and to create a sense of unity. 

You can see more of Sarah’s work on Instagram.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.