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Meet the Maker: Sarah-Jane Axelby


We came across the wonderful SJ Axelby when she tagged us on Instagram in one of her wonderful painted interior illustrations of some of our favourite schemes. We were instantly drawn to her style and we managed to track SJ down to chat to her about the inspiration behind her work.

SJ Axelby has had a paintbrush in her hand for as long as she can remember. From a long lineage of artists, including her great, great grandfather who designed the Penny Black stamp, you could say that painting is very much part of her DNA…

1. What is your background? Did you train as an artist?

From a family of painters and antique restorers, I grew up surrounded by creativity. A sense of preserving something precious is ingrained in me, having been surrounded by antique ceramics and furniture that was lovingly restored. My mother and grandfather taught me to paint, and I can turn my hand to pretty much anything creative from embroidery, collage, mosaic to print-making.

Following art school, spurred on by my love of pattern and textures, I gained a degree in textile design. You can see I have a textile background in my work; the spaces I paint are busy, full of texture and almost fizz on the page.

Watercolour is always something that keeps drawing me back, I guess it’s part of my DNA, my ancestor Henry Corbould designed the Penny Black and his son Edward Henry taught watercolour to Queen Victoria’s children.

2. The detail in your illustrations is mesmerising. What is the process of your work and which mediums do you use?

I have always been about the minutiae, it’s the little touches that count and I try to weave these into my work. If it’s a room-scape, I start by analysing the space and trying to get into the mind of the designer. I first sketch the room in pen, it makes me work harder at making sure it’s right the first time.

I use Sennelier watercolour paints and only ever use one old brush that’s actually quite big so small detail is tricky! I have tried several new brushes but I always go back to the same one, like a comfortable pair of old slippers. I use oil pastels, pro marker pens and white gel pens for highlighting. It’s like layering a room; I often work on more than one piece at a time so that precious time is not wasted while waiting for paint to dry!

3. It looks like you use varying mediums in your work, which is your favourite?

Watercolour for sure, my first set was given to me at age 8 and  I have only recently upgraded it to a fuller palette. I love the subtlety watercolour can offer, but also the bold vibrant purity of the colour. I have used Himalayan pink rock salt and coffee too in my work to get some really incredible textures.

4. Your artwork is mainly of interior spaces, why are you drawn to interiors in your work?

If I could choose one thing to paint for the rest of my life, it would be interiors. They tell a story, they hold memories, and they reflect a period in time. It is like stepping into the actual room, or even the mind of the designer. When you paint a space you dissect it and take in every detail, and I can appreciate every design decision that has been made.

6. How have you found 2020 and staying creative & inspired during lockdown?

Last year, following several successful interior design projects, I joined KLC School of Design to formally train as a designer again. Then Covid hit. I was told I was in the extreme risk category and so with my family we hunkered down and started to shield.

With my course on hold, I realised that I was starting lots of projects, embroidery, painting, gardening but not completing anything. So I started to paint the places and rooms I longed to be in and that is how I started my sketchaday. Combining my love of interiors and art feeds my soul.

Having a creative studio to lock down in was such a gift, I have never worked harder or been more focused. This has been one of the toughest years of my life but also the most rewarding creatively. More than anything I miss museums, historical buildings and galleries, 2021 will be a busy year making up for all the lost visits.

7. What are your plans for the future?

So much, and the future feels rosy right now, I have been so humbled by the response to my work and I have never loved what I am doing more than now. I am writing and illustrating my first book, commissions are coming out of my ears from the most incredible designers around the world and magazine work too. I feel very lucky in this crazy world but my husband keeps reminding me I’ve worked tirelessly to make this happen.

We absolutely love finding talented artists like SJ Axelby on Instagram. Please continue to tag us on @KitKempDesignThread on Instagram to show us your work!

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