"i create to not be afraid": meet sabrina chantel
When I first met Sabrina Chantel--over 2 years ago now--she was spending her time showcasing her unassuming but soul-baring vocals in a music duo based out of Florida. I don't quite remember how we crossed paths, but like many connections made today, it was through social media and mutual Internet friends that afforded me the pleasure of admiring her artistry from afar. For so many creatives today, social media, and particularly Instagram, have become a platform for artists of all natures to curate a personal identity accessible to the masses. Sabrina seemed an expert at this--from the muted blue and pink hues to the geometric and perfectly posed selfies donning her own social accounts, it was clear she knew how to create art in every corner of life, without even labeling it as such. At some point, Sabrina's born talent translated into a Depop shop where she now creates, designs and sells reworked vintage, digital illustrations and custom pins to a customer-base of over 230 thousand people.
I had the chance to talk to Sabrina Chantel about her journey towards truly understanding herself as an artist and what exciting endeavors she has planned for the future.
When did you first begin making art and did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in it?
My mom has always been very creative and driven my passion for art ever since I can remember, whether it was turning my bedroom walls into murals or creating a mosaic of seashells at the beach. I began my journey in the art world performing professionally in live theatre, then I moved onto songwriting and singing, next I picked up photography along the way, and then illustration was the most recent facet of art I found a place in. I think I'm at that point in my life where I'm "supposed" to just pick one to fully pursue, but I truly don't want to pick, I really want to do it all. I come from a family of strong independent women and that's what I know how to be best, so I always want to be my own boss, and with art I can do just that.
You first grew to popularity on Depop and now have a following of nearly 230 thousand followers. Can you explain how you got involved in this community?
A year and a half ago I was at a point in my life where I was ready to leave my Florida nest and move where I had always dreamed of, New York City. I had also recently met Sean, the man of my dreams, who now upped the ante to get up there, since a long distance relationship is never ideal. He was visiting me over the summer and we picked up a vintage Levi's jacket at the thrift store and we painted it together, and one of his friends wanted to buy it instantly! Sean went back home to the city and I wanted nothing more than to be able to move by the next year, so it was time to start saving every penny I could. A few days later I cleaned out my closet and looked at the mountain of clothes on my bed and told myself that I wanted to make at least $300 from it all, and little did I know I would far surpass my goal and turn it into my full time job. That same night I started painting on a purse Sean had doodled on before he left, and then I started painting on another, and two more following, numbering each out of three and titled them the "Sad Girl Series". The next day I took pictures of the purses I had painted and uploaded them to a Depop account, a few minutes later I got a notification that my item had been selected to be on the explore page and in 30 minutes it had sold, and people were asking me for more. The team over at Depop took a liking to my account and made me a suggested user for quite some time and helped my numbers grow at an extremely rapid race, and here we are today 230,000 people later.
When did you first begin to realize that maybe this could turn into a career or a full-time investment? Was this something you ever expected?
I first began to realize that this was turning into a full-time investment when at the time everything I was posting was selling quite fast, and I became a regular at my local post office, shipping packages out nearly 6 days a week. I never expected that any of this would happen when I first started, but I still feel so fortunate and lucky to have had it happen. A lot of people go to school, and work extremely hard for a long time to build an audience who supports their work, and it felt like it all fell into place for me in the blink of an eye, which sometimes leaves me feeling slightly guilty, but I have to remind myself that I did and always have worked very hard, and deserve good things. I think a lot of us could stand to be reminded sometimes that we all deserve the best in life, and to never get too comfortable!
You sell a versatile option of products--everything from custom pins to reworked vintage. What appeals to you about reinventing clothing in such a way?
I have grown up with the mind set of there's no reason to pay full price for anything, and this always led me to thrift stores. I've also never been that into fast fashion, it always has such a quick turn over and a lot of people lose themselves and the opportunity to have a voice in their own personal fashion. I love being able to own and give other people the opportunity to own really awesome pieces that they may not otherwise ever have, let alone see. I've focused mostly on hand painted purses in my reinventing, but have some really great new things planned on many new mediums of fashion, and I'm looking forward to challenging myself and continue to learn and adapt to the ever changing field I'm in.
How would you describe your artistic style and what serves as your greatest inspiration?Whether that be in graphic design, photography or clothing.
My artistic style is just very "cute" honestly, lots of pastels, rounded shapes, and easily digestible material. As I said before, illustration is my most recent art battle I'm working on, I was thrust into it with the success of my Depop, and thankfully my boyfriend is a recent art school graduate and has taught me a lot since starting. I'm still working every day to further develop my own unique style and voice in my art. I find a lot of inspiration in antique stores; they're filled with the best color palettes, cartoon styles, and characters. My favorite local antique flea market has a couple booths filled with 1900s-1970s snack packaging, 1950s Valentine's Day cards, and all the vinyl records you could imagine, and ever time I spend hours going through them all snapping photos for inspo!
How would you describe your creative process?
Currently my creative process consists of cataloguing color palettes I see out and about on my iPad, and going from there. I have a mental list of designs I want to make, and try to make my way through; usually a single design turns into five different versions of a final image just trying to figure out which I like best. Once I get comfortable drawing a design on my iPad I can move onto a bag, where I paint very very slowly and delicately since there is not any chance of recovering from mistakes unfortunately.
What is your favorite medium to create in and why?
Up until the new year I loved strictly painting on bags, but once I bought myself an iPad and Apple Pencil digital drawing got a hold of my heart. Having infinite options for colors at the tip of pencil like object and the ability to draw on different layers changed the game for me. I also started to explore drawing and manipulating my photographs and I feel that has also helped me develop a lot as an artist. It has allowed me to constantly adapt, and easily try out new ideas that I don't think I would have tried before.
Artists through the ages have often used their art to make political statements or create a platform for unheard voices. What drives you personally to create?
I am a very reserved person, and don't tend to share any emotion with anyone besides my mom and my boyfriend. I have struggled with mental illness, like a lot of people, and art, in all of its forms, has been a constant in my life, however sometimes it can be a slippery slope for me. I am extremely over critical of myself and hold a lot of myself back, so sometimes making art can lead to self implosion or sometimes it can lead to fleeting moments of confidence. Where I'm at right now it's selfish, but I would have to say I create for myself. I create to have more good days than bad, I create to not be afraid, I create to figure out myself and what I have to say. I first need to make sure my voice is strong and unwavering so I can eventually hold a sturdy platform for others.
What role do you think art plays in today’s day and age?
I think art is underappreciated in today's society. Last year I read a book by Barry Panter, "Creativity & Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists", where he recounts unknown artists at the time, including Jackson Pollock, receiving monthly stipends from the government to create art for government buildings, and the wealthy sponsoring artists being commonplace. People still believe in art, but there is a lack of institutionalized support for it, as well as a trend of people trying to dehumanize artists, whether that comes from fandom culture, or artists opinions being negated for simply being artists. Artists are no longer regarded with the respect they deserve, even though the same people who shame them are usually some of the first to consume any of it that reaches the pop culture status.
How does social media influence the consumption of art today? Do you think it has beneficial or detrimental?
I don't think I could label social media as either beneficial or detrimental. It's been beneficial for some who have been lucky enough to find a sweet spot and build a following, and allowed for instant gratification when putting out art, but it's also become so oversaturated with constant content it's hard to find a spot that's yet to be filled. It's also allowed for every form of art, whether that comes in the form of music, photos, or YouTube videos to be in our little light boxes, deterring a lot of people from feeling like they want to pay for, or purchase physical manifestations of art that aren't wearable. Art has never been an easy path to build for yourself, and I think it's harder now more than ever.
What do you hope people who view or purchase your art take from it?
I hope that people who purchase any art from me, or even like it on social media, can first of all know how appreciative I am that they have all allowed me to live out each day as a dream come true. I hope that every person who has left their home sporting a purse, or a jacket, or even a pair of shoes I painted on can feel a little bit more like themselves, even if it's simple iconography, I hope it speaks to even the smallest part of their soul and makes them happy. I hope every time I put something new out it will say something better than the last, and never stop growing.
If you had one word of advice for women who want to pursue a career in the creative industries, what would it be?
My advice to any women who want to pursue a career in any creative industry is to just be strong. People can question your every move, people can doubt you, people can try to make you feel like a lesser person, but the best form of rebuttal to anyone unsavory is simply your own success. At the end of the day if you are sure of yourself as a person that is what matters. Just keep creating, learning, and growing always. Appreciate people who want to be honest to you, when it comes from a place of betterment, even if it's something you'd rather not here. There are still good people out there, and there will always be someone willing to listen, sometimes you just have to go find them yourself. (That was a lot more than one word, but it's important I swear!)