Animator and illustrator Rosa Sawyers on finding ideas in nature and learning AfterEffects
Animator and illustrator Rosa Sawyers owes her freelance career to a lot of experimentation. Graduating from a communication design degree in the eye of the pandemic’s storm made her feel “lost and confused”, as the arts industry’s future felt increasingly uncertain. But trying out new software such as After Effects and learning from tutorials on YouTube successfully made her fall back in love with creating, even making a film for an exhibition which cathartically documented her experiences. Currently working from her parents’ house in Brighton, Rosa talks patience, community and the challenges of going freelance.
Freelance Animator, Illustrator and Designer
Beauty Inc., GUM Magazine, Lostiu, Madeline
Place of Study
BA Communication Design, Glasgow School of Art (2017–2020)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance animator, currently working from home in Brighton. I spend most of my time making animated sketches and thinking up different ideas and visuals. My commissions are usually for people who want music videos or visualisers, album art and installation art.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I look for ideas in nature, taking photos of places or details that catch my eye. Picking out shapes, colours, shadows and light and recreating these details in a fuzzy, comfortable space. I also like using nostalgic digital textures inspired by games and computer graphics, aiming to create a familiar world with its own sense of magic and the unknown.
Ideas usually come when I put less pressure on myself to create an outcome; when I give myself time to freely play and experiment with the software.
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
One of the key things that I’ve found useful is having patience; animation takes a good deal of time and is rarely satisfying immediately. Being comfortable enough to visually play and experiment is also useful; this is something that I had time to explore at university and is valuable to idea generation. Don’t be intimidated by software that looks confusing – push through the steep learning curve and watch tutorials on YouTube.
“Don’t be intimidated by software that looks confusing – push through the steep learning curve and watch tutorials on YouTube.”
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
This year I made a film called InOutside for an exhibition in Glasgow, led by The Woom Room. The show’s brief was a retrospective on lockdown, looking at the ups and downs and emotional turmoil of the pandemic. It was quite cathartic for me as it was the first lockdown where I spent my time learning how to animate, and where my visual language initially developed.
If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
I think this meme [below], made by the wonderful 24 Memes Per Second animation meme page is a nice example of how I feel about animation. It’s really calming and makes me as happy as [Pokémon character] Pikachu floating above all the bad stuff in the world.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
After graduating I felt especially lost and confused; the lack of a concrete ending to my degree made me fall out of love with creating and it took a while to get it back. Learning After Effects – a software that I’d never used before – really helped. I was working with new tools and new processes that I found exciting, which made me look at things differently.
“I was working with new tools and new processes that I found exciting, which made me look at things differently.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I’m a bit of a hoarder of packaging and ephemera that I pick up wherever I go. These pieces are constant resources for typography, colour, texture and symbols.
I love flipping through art books. One of my favourites is A Walk Across England by artist Richard Long. Though a well established fine artist, this book is so accessible and unpretentious in its visuals and message. It’s a lovely and inspiring experience flipping through the artist’s perceptions and observations in nature.
After I left university during the first lockdown, the graduate art community in the UK was amazing, very much thanks to the SadGrads Instagram account. It was inspiring seeing so many students in the same position as me, as well as people whose work was so original and unique to them.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I’m continuously challenged by all the protocols of being a freelancing artist, from pricing my own work, to even the idea of self promotion. It’s all a work in progress! Confidence and motivation are hard things to harness, but making things just for myself helped build my confidence back.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
I’ve never been a huge fan of social media, but sharing all my animation experiments from the very beginning has helped me connect with people, and track my development! Seeing that other people liked my work was a really big deal, and motivated me to make more.
“Seeing that other people liked my work was a really big deal, and motivated me to make more.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’m still working on this one – I certainly need to price my work better! Currently, I’m living at my parents’ house and my commissions are my main income, alongside a few illustration or graphic design commissions.
Right now I’m focusing on developing my skills, and will inevitably need to get a part-time job to get by. A big thing that I’ve realised is that when people want work in exchange for “exposure”, it’s usually not worth it!
How did you go about landing your first commissions?
My first commission was a music video [below] for producer Limbs, a friend of my brother’s who was releasing an EP. It was the perfect job as he gave me complete artistic freedom with the video and it was a really encouraging experience.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
My best advice comes from my close friends and family. I can’t think of anything particular but the classics: be honest and transparent, and always ask questions.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Animation is so varied as a medium, with so much history to look into. Many of the great classics are free to watch on YouTube! Try and identify the things that excite you and use these as a starting point for creating your own world. Don’t be afraid of trying something new and which take you outside of your comfort zone.
Mention Rosa Sawyers
Interview by Lyla Johnston