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In Conversation With Dana Sanmar

last updated 21 April 2023

Interview by Rhys Stacey

We caught up with Dana Sanmar, represented by James Burns, and spoke all about her creative process, inspirations and advice. Read our conversation below.

Talk us through your creative process. How do you approach a brief?

Starting any project involves taking notes of important concepts that the art director wants to see in the sketches. Then, I read the manuscript, add ideas I would like to propose, and do any necessary research. I explore the concepts through small sketches with different compositions. Once one of the sketches is approved, I work on a tight drawing, focusing on characters and details and proposing various color schemes. After tweaks and changes comes the final stage, in which I work on the final image, either digitally or, in the case of The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía, on cut-out paper.

I loved the process of working on The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía. The story takes place in Colombia and references a lot of folk tales, so it was really exciting, as a Colombian artist, to explore ideas around those concepts.



Your work is aesthetically unique to you, how do you approach translating your ideas to the page?

I commonly have ideas that work in my notes or imagination but don’t translate well to a sketch. So it takes a lot of exploration and tweaking through drawing to make sure that I am satisfied with the sketch, but, more importantly, that it works with the story and vision that the art director has for it.

Who/What have been your key influences as an illustrator?

Conceptually, my influences are surrealism, magic realism, and fantasy. More aesthetically speaking, I love Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli. My technique was inspired by the paper illustrations of Britney Lee; it was thanks to her work that I decided to try the paper cut-out medium. Finally, I love things that make me feel they have some magic, and I try to replicate that feeling with my work.


How did you begin illustration? What was the spark of inspiration?

The spark started with my love for crafts as a kid; my parents nourished this. They also nurtured my love for books and the arts. Later, in my undergrad, I felt passionate about how much an image can communicate without using words. Ultimately it was a mix of my experiences, both as a kid and in my graphic design education, that led me to pursue illustration.


What’s your favourite part of the illustration process?

I love the end — working on the final piece, either digital or on cut-out paper. Concept, composition, color, etc is already defined at this stage, so to dive into the execution process and to just physically make something can be quite meditative. Yet I also really enjoy reading the manuscripts and coming up with ideas.


To an up-and-coming artist, what’s one piece of advice you would give?

Trust your process, your voice, and your unique way of seeing the world, and show it through your art. Always continue learning and nourishing your creative practice with activities not necessarily related to art.


What would be your dream brief?

I would love to illustrate a poster for a Ghibli movie or a fantasy book for The Folio Society.

To work with Dana, get in contact with agent James Burns here.

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