Inspired by the glorious English countryside – and who can blame her – my guest this week is illustrator/writer/painter Sarah Keen. All her designs are firmly rooted in the natural world and her prints/artwork are delightful. Being a lover of the English countryside myself, it was a pleasure to welcome Sarah onto the blog…. Hi Sarah!
Hello great to be here. My name is Sarah Keen. I am in my fifties and following a career change, I design prints, fabrics and gifts based on the natural history and folklore of the English countryside.
The Enchanted England range of products is aimed for people like myself who don’t really enjoy shopping in endless malls that all sell essentially the same product. All my designs are rooted firmly in the natural world and beliefs that are associated with them.
I am inspired by the English countryside. As a child, I grew up in Buckinghamshire and spent much of my childhood roaming the chalk based hills and fields that surrounded my family’s home.
After living in Southampton for many years, in 2004 I moved to a nearby village set in Hampshire’s beautiful countryside and nearby shimmering seascapes. I never really saw things the same way again.
Hampshire’s chalky, flinty fields and gentle countryside unlocked memories of my childhood growing up in the Chilterns where I had been surrounded by books and artists. The change of scene persuaded me into signing up for an M.A in Creative & Critical Writing with the University of Winchester and this gave me the confidence to write and illustrate.
On completing my M.A I was asked to illustrate a most magical book about the Hampshire Countryside. It was written by a herbalist who walked each day to collect herbs for her treatments. Her charming accounts of her walks became a seasonal diary that contained seasonal recipes and remedies. Originally published as a blog, it had such encouraging feedback, I developed a range of cards and gifts based on the paintings for her book. The Enchanted England range has grown organically from this project.
What inspired you to set up Enchanted England website?
I needed a website to showcase the range of goods and services available from Enchanted England. In my past life I was an I.T contractor and web contents editor so I was fortunate to be able to draw on that skill set to design the site.
You have a lovely variety of gifts and your prints are very beautiful indeed. I like the “Garden of Love” satin tie – the print on it is exquisite. What gifts/prints are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?
Thank you, Linda, that’s really lovely to hear. Immediately following the lockdown the shop had surge of interest in bird illustrations and cards. I am not sure if that was connected with the glorious sounds of birdsong that surrounded us at the time, but it was a noticeable spike in demand. So, my bird cards flew away.
Now, the new range ‘The Garden of Love’ is sparking a lot of interest – particularly for bridal and marriage services. I plan to offer a comprehensive wedding stationary and fabric package for 2021 The Garden of Love design was for my engagement and wedding this summer so it’s very close to my heart. Our wedding was postponed but we hope the new date in September will go ahead!
You use a variety of methods to illustrate and create your prints – silk, paper, pen, ink, natural textures & watercolours. Have you got a favourite medium though to use? Favourite print?
I am a huge fan of watercolour and waterproof pens on textured paper. I love the way watercolour allows you layer translucent washes. It is also a dangerous medium. If you make a mistake there is very little chance of rescuing your design. You can’t overpaint with watercolour as you can with oil or acrylic.
As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas?
Yes, they are. The website offers shipping to most of the world and I would be happy to quote to send any item overseas.
Living in rural Hampshire, you must have come across some interesting finds whilst beachcombing and countryside walking that have inspired your illustrations. Do you go out with an idea to look for something specific to draw? Do you draw in situ or do you take photos and illustrate from there?
It’s been inspiring to live in this part of Hampshire, as there are so many walks and beaches to explore. Recently I visited a holy well on a local estate in a near village. This would have been passed by St Wilfred as he walked through the Meon Valley hoping to convert the pagans. This was one of the last areas to convert to Christianity. I find landscapes linked to religion and practice inspiring and spark my imagination. I take photos and notes while walking. Then I use them for a starting point in my studio.
Being an illustrator, some things must be easier to draw and create than others. What was the hardest or most unusual piece of illustration you’ve created so far?
I could always draw animals and I love to use them in my illustrations. Recently I completed a set of illustrations based on the writing of Alice Gillington. She wrote about the lives of the Gypsies who lived and worked in the New Forest in the early 20 century. I created some sunsets and technically these were very difficult but made spectacular backdrops for the gypsy caravans.
Have you always wanted to be an illustrator or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?
I have always painted and drawn animals but I never thought to become an illustrator. In the 1980s when I graduated I would have chosen to go into publishing. It was a time of high graduate unemployment however, so in the end I found work as an IT contractor, setting up networks, getting involved in the fledgling internet and website content and design. It gave me the technical skills to publish books and understand how to format photos and illustrations with software such as Adobe and Gimp, so I don’t regret my years with the INTEL chip but wouldn’t want to return to it.
Apart from illustrating, you have had some books published. Can you tell us about them?
I have worked on three books and always looking to work with authors. The first book that was the inspiration to Enchanted England was ‘Blessed Be – an illustrated walk through a year in the English Countryside’ This is a beautiful and gentle book. It is packed full of recipes and remedies for each month of the year. I also designed the front cover for the ‘Hare and the Sword,’ an amazing autobiography of a white witch who lives in the New Forest. Finally, I illustrated the biography of Alice Gillington who wrote about the wildlife and people of the New Forest. I am currently working on two new book projects.
When you are not illustrating or writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy walking, cycling and gardening and spending time with my friends and family.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I love vintage clothing and am always on the lookout for dresses in various second hand shops near me. I enjoy wearing dresses and not often found in leggings or jeans unless decorating or working in the garden. I love quirky, colourful shoes that make me smile.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)
Yes! I have two vintage high street shops – one is Labels in Bishops Waltham and the other is The Clothes Line in Winchester. They are not currently open alas – so I also keep an eye on the Vestiaireapp that sells ‘preloved fashion items’ and the online shop, Wolf and Badger who support independent and ethical brands across the world. For amazing shoes as art, I enjoy looking at Freya Rose designs in Southsea,
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Well as my summer wedding was postponed I need a warmer wrap or bolero jacket for September and change from shoes to boots. So looking for a pair of slightly 18th Century style pair of boots, festooned with ribbons!
Boots or Shoes?
I love boots and often can be found in London Fly footwear as they make me feel confident, stylish and that I can walk miles in them.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc. so that readers can find out more about Enchanted England
Thank you Sarah – I wish you all the best with your forthcoming wedding ❤️ I think Victorian style gothic boots would look gorgeous!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Sarah Keen of Enchanted England; apart from the Pinterest photo and the header photo of trees which was taken by myself. Header pic was taken in Thetford Forest, Norfolk & Pinterest photo was taken in Holland-on-Sea, Essex.