13 Questions with Sabina Fenn

July 22, 2020 7 min read


Gems, meet Sabina Fenn


See those illustrations above? Yeah. She made those. Sabina is a full-time artist and freelance illustrator based in Toronto, Canada with a Bachelor of Design from Ryerson University. 

It's not showing off if we say it so here's a few of her A-LIST clients; Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Links of London, Clean Eating Magazine, QuadReal, SisterMAG, Designs Direct, FGI Fashion Group International and more.

Seriously?!  Seriously.

Sabina is the epitomy of finding what it is you love to do, taking the next step and the small step after to create a life full of things that bring you joy and fullfillment. 

We thought that we could all use a little more Sabina in our lives so we got right down to it and asked her 13 personal questions about her life, becoming an artist and everything in between.


1. We've admired you for a long time and we were wondering if you could tell us what got you into art.

Thank you! I spent my childhood finding ways to be creative, and through my teenage years I got into painting acrylic landscapes. I tried many other hobbies and interests as a teenager, but painting just felt very natural to me. It was the only thing I could do for hours without noticing the time going by. I somehow ended up in fashion school for university, and in our program we learned about fashion illustration. I didn't think much of it at first, but then we were shown some vintage vogue magazine covers that were all adorned with illustrations and I was obsessed! I spent all of my free time after that drawing and learning more about the career of an illustrator. I even got permission once from my teacher to skip class and go see a well-known illustrator speak at another university nearby in Toronto!


In my third year of university, I started attending networking events after meeting a great mentor. He encouraged me to present myself as a professional, so from that point on I started labelling myself as an illustrator. I made great connections and got little jobs here and there. After I graduated I took on a few part-time jobs to pay rent while I built my portfolio and freelance business, then quit one after the other when things felt a bit more steady. Having an unsteady pay check as a freelancer is something that takes awhile to get used to.

2. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an Illustrators?

Some illustrators are the most hard working people you'll meet, while others seem to go with the flow and find opportunities come knocking. The strongest advice I could give someone is to just make sure you’re making good quality art that you’re passionate about on some level. If you don’t like fashion, don’t draw fashion. Focus on things you really like and it’ll be all the more pleasant in the long run. You're also faced with a lot of rejection as an illustrator, and you're forced to have a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset to expand your income and create more security for yourself. It takes awhile to build thick skin but the more you believe in your brand, the easier it’ll be - just be authentic :) 

3. Can we talk about what's on everyone's minds? How have you been handling being in isolation?

It's funny because my day-to-day life isn't drastically different. I work from home, so I'm used to feeling a bit out of the loop and not knowing what day of the week it is. In fact, this has made me question my work habits a little bit to realize that I should probably get out more! I'm quite introverted by nature so I can handle a bit of loneliness here and there, but I miss my friends and family. I think it's really starting to catch up to us all now and it's really hard, I think we all just want to hug someone and the fact that we can't is really heartbreaking. We're built to thrive on connection and we have to find new ways to feel connected right now. I'm just grateful that my friends and family are all healthy, and I'm trying to take things day by day.

Not being able to go out and find inspiration in the world has also taken a bit of a hit on my creativity, I’ve been struggling to paint pieces that I like lately and I think I’m just in need of a change of scenery. It’s not the worse thing in the world, we could be sitting in the middle of a war or worse - but I think we’ll all be glad when this is over.

4. What was your morning routine like pre-COVID and what is it like now?

I used to go to the gym in my neighbourhood, but a while back I decided to dial it back and workout at home - I'm glad I got used to that before it was an obligation! I'm more of a runner than a heavy weight lifter, so I'm happy to be living somewhere where there's enough space for me to run outside without putting anyone at risk. Over the years I developed some pretty awful anxiety, and running really helps me settle down the nerves. I've found that taking the mornings a little slower since all of this started has been a must - It's like my mind just needs a bit more time to process everything. I've been meditating more regularly as well and schedule more frequent virtual meetings with my therapist to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health. I’m a big believer in therapy, even as someone who thought I just had mild anxiety, I’ve uncovered a lot about myself and my thinking habits through it. I tend to rush in the morning to get to work but it’s been challenging me to make sure I check in with myself and give myself some time to become alert and awake.


5. Your go-to bedtime ritual?

I wish I had an awesome bedtime ritual to share with you, but honestly I'm the worst at getting to bed! It's something I've been working on, because I often wake up tired. Since being in quarantine, my body clock is completely out of whack and I’ll get random creative bursts at like 10pm! 

I do really like burning some incense in the evening, since I grew up spending the summers camping it always brings me back there next to the fire. 

I'll also occasionally do some bedtime yoga, but that's about it!

6. The biggest lesson that has come out of this pandemic for you?

It's been a harsh reminder of how fragile life is. The entire world got turned upside down merely overnight, and it's completely out of our control. It has really taught me that you can only ever live presently, because the present moment is all you have. 


You can only ever live presently, because the present moment is all you have.

We can all sit around and worry about how this is going to pan out, or we can enjoy the time we have with our loved ones or just by ourselves. I never realized how truly important it is to be present until this all happened - it was one of those things that I knew was beneficial but not to what extent.

7. What's been keeping you busy?

I'm lucky to have freelance projects on the go and shop orders to fulfill despite everything going on, so work has been keeping me busy. Aside from client work, I've been doing a lot of portfolio work and business planning - it feels like a bit of a crunch time for me to get all my affairs in order and map out my goals for the future. That being said, I’ve noticed that I have to maintain some balance in my work/life because my creativity isn’t at 100% right now. I’m planning on taking a little bit of time off soon, but it’s hard to do that as a freelancer.

8. What has been your must-have snack?

I'm a hummus fanatic, so hummus with crackers, carrots, celery, whatever veggies I have. Plus a side of olives, I'm slightly addicted to olives! I’ve also really been enjoying making iced coffees with some coffee I bought from a local roasters. 

9. How have you been staying creative? 

A few illustrators on Instagram recently did an April illustration challenge, which had different themes for each day over the course of 15 days. I think that really helped me stay creative. There are several different parts to illustration and sometimes it’s just too many decisions to make at once. First you sketch the composition, then choose your colours, then paint, scan and edit. It’s a lot of work to make art! Sometimes all I can handle is a loose sketchbook doodle and that’s ok with me.


10. Tell us something that would surprise people most about you.

I think I tend to be a bit of an open book, but something I haven’t really shared online is the fact that my dad was born in Africa! 

Growing up, our home was full of African decor like wooden sculptures & masks, African paintings of women or sunsets. I definitely see some of that early inspiration in my art today. 

Although I live in Toronto and it’s anything but tropical here, I think the curiosity of places like Ghana, Morocco and Greece, for example, are what really inspire me. 

I’m just very curious about how people live in other parts of the world and what every day food & decor is like. 

11. If you had a superpower what would it be?

I always wanted to teleport so I could travel all over the world! 


12. Advice you'd give your 20-something-year-old self?

Well I'm in my mid-20's, but I would tell my early 20's self to try not to worry so much about what people think of her, and to keep trusting her inner GPS. I spent a lot of time trying to please people but not taking care of myself first, and today that's something I try to prioritize a lot more. Also, not everyone is going to like or understand your art, and that’s ok because the small percentage of people who do will love it! 


And lastly, if you could have any 3 items from Lisa Maxwell, what pieces would you choose? 

I love the Gold Solstice necklace, it reminds me of the sun. I also love the Dainty Self Love bracelet, and the Charmed in Love Mini necklace. I really love dainty/pinky jewelry! Especially when it can symbolize a reminder of something like self-love.


Follow Sabina here