I’m an Etsy addict. There, I admitted it. But can you blame me? Etsy is home to so many unique pieces of arts, crafts, and objects. I love curating Etsy wish lists for myself as well as my friends. Recently, I’ve been on the lookout for unique artists on the site. That’s how I came across Sarah Graybill. She runs an Etsy shop called Tea Fox Illustrations.
I’ve fallen in love with her artwork. It has a unique twist on traditional Japanese art. What I love most about the pieces are their ethereal and otherworldly qualities. The color schemes are gorgeous and I love the representation of yokai, Japanese folklore spirits.
Realizing my love for her work, I contacted the artist to ask for an exclusive interview. I was thrilled by her willingness to comply. Therefore, without further ado, I bring you the interview.
TTK: Tell us a bit about yourself, your name, where you’re from, etc.
S: My name is Sarah Graybill and I live in rural Pennsylvania with my white German Shepherd named Sentry. Besides being an artist, I also work as a Sexton at a local church.
TTK: When is the first time you remember making art?
S: The earliest memory I’ve retained when it comes to making art is doodling on the inside of my coloring book covers. My sister often sketched animals or video game characters there, and many times I found myself trying to mimic her doodles.
TTK: What inspired you to pursue art and open your Etsy shop?
S: Since I was little, drawing has always been a favored hobby. Over the years I became better by developing my skills through trial, error, and experimentation. I decided to pursue art because it’s the only thing I’ve ever been truly passionate about throughout my entire life. I opened my Etsy store in hopes of sharing my work with others while simultaneously generating a modest income.
TTK: Your art has a lot of Japanese folklore influence, why choose this theme?
S: To understand how and why I ended up focusing on aspects of Japanese folklore and Japanese art styles, I feel I must disclose my previous influences. Growing up, my favorite subjects to draw were fantasy-based figures, such as dragons, unicorns, and other animals with magical features or supernatural powers. I’ve always been attracted to otherworldly characters and settings even at a young age. At the same time I was developing my drawing skills, I was also introduced to anime through Toonami (an after-school block of Japanese cartoons featuring Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and others) From there, my artistic focus shifted to something that could be described as a fantasy, anime art style. Through Japanese cartoons and pop culture, I was introduced to a new aesthetic I found to be captivating and beautiful. After admiring these styles for years, I grew curious of their origins and therefore found myself researching traditional Japanese art styles and folklore. I settled on this theme because it fascinates and encompasses my interests.
TTK: What is your favorite yokai?
S: This may be painfully obvious, but my favorite yokai is the kitsune. The reason I enjoy the Japanese fox is because of it’s duality – it can represent something akin to a possessive demon, or can be depicted as a divine messenger. They can also be helpers, lovers, and tricksters in a variety of stories, making them rather diverse characters to explore and work with.
TTK: Your Etsy shop mentions that you dye the paper with green tea. That’s a very traditional method and works well with your artwork. Why do you like this traditional art style?
S: Before entering college I was mainly a digital artist. One aspect of digital work I enjoyed was the ability to overlay textures, something I struggled to replicate with traditional artwork. Once entering college and focusing on traditional media in my studio and drawing courses, I began experimenting to find a way to add texture to my drawings and paintings. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I was inspired to try tea staining. After my first few paintings over the tea texture, I came to enjoy the results and continue to use this method.
TTK: Who are some of your favorite artists?
S: Currently my favorite artists include Yoshitaka Amano and Audrey Kawasaki.
TTK: What is your preferred media?
S: I prefer to work with acrylics, colored pencils, and tea. I’ve also used micron pens, gel pens, inks, and soft pastels on certain paintings.
TTK: What do you draw inspiration from?
S: Although my current subject matter derives from traditional Japanese folklore, a lot of my inspiration comes from daily life, such as from my dreams/nightmares or the anxiety and depression I deal with on a regular basis.
TTK: How long does it take for you to make your pieces?
S: Each full size painting is completed in multiple steps stretched out over the course of days, weeks, or even years. Many times ideas are shelved for later and it can take months to get back to them. In the span of hours though, I estimate roughly 25+ hours from initial sketch to full painting completion.
TTK: What message do you hope your artwork or shop gives to others?
S: When I create artwork, it is a selfish endeavor. I make what I like in order to receive some sort of personal enjoyment or satisfaction from the process itself. Oftentimes, my characters and their stories serve as a way to cope with my anxieties; they’re a way to articulate how I feel without blatantly telling the world how I’m feeling. There isn’t necessarily a message I attempt to convey to others with my work or my shop (aside from a professional image), but I hope others can find something meaningful within my art for themselves.
TTK: When did your popularity spike and how were you able to get your name out there?
S: I noticed an increase in interest with my work around the time I graduated college (2012). This is mostly due to having more time to focus on painting, social networking, and building my Etsy store.
TTK: Any advice to other artists?
S: The best advice I feel I can offer to other artists is to keep practicing, experimenting, and learning.
TTK: Last question, just for fun; What is your favorite dessert?
S: Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Thank you Sarah for this interview!
As an artist myself, I enjoy discovering new artists and learning from them. I loved getting to know more about the art that Sarah creates. I wanted to share her work with the world, since it evokes powerful emotions within me. That’s what led to the creation of this post. I’m hoping that others will fall in love with her work just as I have.
To visit Sarah’s Etsy store, click here.