Zso, USA, Art director and illustrator

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Freestyle illustration by Zso

Sara Blake AKA Zso is an Interactive Art Director, Designer and Illustrator living in New York City. Zso developped a great style mixing traditional and digital medias with much hand-drawing and playful creative imperfections. Zso is also featured as one of 120 “most exciting female graphic designers and illustrators” selected from 39 countries around the world by the Curvy magazine in 2009.

April 4th, 2010

Hello Zso, how are you? Tell me what is your mood today?
Hi! Thank you for asking! Today is maybe the most beautiful day of spring New York City has had so far this year. Today I’m feeling very positive and blessed. Nothing but blue skies, literally. I’m trying hard to live in the present. And it’s Easter today, so I’m treating myself to some chocolate eggs!

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Could you describe yourself, tell us where did you grow up and finally how did you come to design and illustration?
I grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. I went to a small, Episcopal, all-girls school. I was with the same group of girls for thirteen years, Kindergarten through senior year.

I was always into drawing animals since I was very little and in grade school my art teacher Ms. Podd offered to give me private lessons—I’ll never forget her. In middle school and high school I spent a great deal of time in our school’s art and photography studios. I never thought I was any good, and my style was all over the place, but I decided I wanted to figure out how to make a living involving art.

That led me to NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study here in New York City where I studied a mix of studio art, creative writing, graphic design, and postmodernism. I was pretty lost in terms of a career, but somewhere along the way I learned to code and design websites. I got a job as an interactive designer fresh out of school, and eventually I landed as an art director in advertising, which I still do.

At night I found myself staying up until 3, 4, and 5 in the morning making illustrations and then going back into the office at 9. It was incredibly exciting and sleep deprived! I built a small reputation online for my illustrations, and have steadily been picking up gigs ever since.

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You said you’re a person of extremes, like… what extremes?
I tend to just jump right into things—I’m often guided by my heart much more than my head, and it gets me into trouble sometimes. I fall in love with people, ideas, and things very quickly, and I tend to never let go. I’m a neat freak. I’m a pixel counter. I only wear one color—black. I have to go for my daily runs even if its 2AM. I’ve steadily been covering my body in tattoos since I was 18, at this point more on principle. I think my obsessiveness and OCD is getting worse as I get older, but having a job as a designer kind of fosters those weird habits and behaviors…ha!

Old school or New school?
Old school design. New school techniques.

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What about New-York city? I saw in your blog that discovering Los Angeles was also having confirmation that you’re a New Yorker. How would you describe your personal New-Yorker way of life?
I spent most of my time in LA wanting to hide. I like the dirt and grime and snarl of New York. New York isn’t for the faint of heart and I guess I feel like I’ve worked so hard to toughen my skin and earn my rights of passage here. There is a special energy here that I can’t really put my finger on. I live in a 5th floor walk up apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village where I’ve set up my work studio. I can basically walk any place I need to go in my day to day life. There is rarely a still moment here.

By the way, what are your favorite design book shops in NYC?
Because it’s so easy to find design books online, when I’m out and about on the street, I really like the unexpected—books and presentation that you could never find digitally. There are a bunch of really weird galleries and thrift stores on Great Jones Street that are pretty fun to explore. Everyone raves about Dashwood Books on Bond Street too, but I’ve never actually set foot in it. I also really like this little Japanese toy and design bookstore in Dumbo right over the Brooklyn Bridge called Zakka Corporation. Forbidden Planet on Broadway and 13th Street is great for comics and design book too.

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You’ve recently joined the KDU network. How did it happened?
I didn’t know what the KDU was for years, but I kept noticing the keystone logo and KDU affiliation with many of my all time favorite artists like KXX, Bison Art, and Si Scott. I worked in solitude for about a year and a half and built up my book until I felt confident and then finally got in touch with them. It has been really cool to connect with its immensely talented members.

Inspiration. What and who inspires you? Where do you like to go for inspiration?
Music! Music is huge. I have some work that is aggressive and messy, and some that is detailed and precise—that may have to do with whether I’m listening to the Pixies or Sigur Ros. I also find lots of inspiration in textures, splatters, wear and tear, mistakes, and imperfections (New York is perfect for that). And finally, this may sound weird, but I go for long runs almost every day. Even though I’m moving, it’s the only time of the day when I am actually doing nothing—I can’t work, I can’t talk, and I can’t email—I just have to wait it out and be alone with myself. I usually go at night when the city is still and calm and the lights are twinkling. It’s ideal for mind wandering and idea making. I can’t imagine life without running. It’s so important.

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You said about personal work that you want to stop fighting censorship and start letting your mistakes do the best work for you. Please could you say more about it and about your freestyle experimentations.
While it’s important to approach projects with a plan and concept, I think in terms of execution, over-thinking can be absolutely deadly. I work traditionally because I like all the imperfections. I like shaky lines and smudges. In a culture where people pay good money to have their designer jeans distressed, I think people really appreciate seeing that something was created by hand and that there was real time dedicated to it. Fighting censorship means not only allowing yourself to try new things, but also not being afraid to mess up. Sometimes the mistakes don’t turn out to be mistakes at all. I mentioned earlier that I’m kind of OCD, so this is sometimes really hard for me because it means relinquishing control. But it’s always something I work toward. I also have gotten in the habit of taking time lapse screen captures of my digital process once I’ve scanned an original drawing. It helps me understand myself. Sometimes there can be hours of experimentation and freestyle that ultimately gets thrown out, but it never feels like wasted time.

What are your projects for the future?
So much fun stuff! I have nearly a dozen collaborations with some of my favorite artists lined up and in progress. I have my first solo gallery show in Sydney coming up this fall—and a number of other projects that are still top secret. There are always constant updates and work in progress images on on my blog too! (hellozso.com/blog)

It’s been a pleasure getting to share my work! Thank you so much Partfaliaz!

Zso illustrations
Zso Flickr
Zso Vimeo

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