Designer Spotlight: Sarah Alonso

This Designer Spotlight belongs to a super cool cat named Sarah Alonso, another fellow SAIT classmate with a distinct artistic style and a keen eye for design who also happens to be a great listener.

I first met Sarah on the orientation day for the SAIT program. Dressed in almost all black with her signature buzz cut and winged eyeliner, I thought, “damn, that chick has a cool vibe.” To be honest, I was a little intimidated by her because, 1) if I try the all black look, it tends to hover too much to the try-hard emo side, 2) my strangely shaped head would look awful in a buzz cut, 3) I cannot for the life of me get the winged liner right.

Getting to know Sarah little by little, I discovered that underneath the cool exterior is a warm, gentle, and empathetic soul that understood exactly what I meant when I talked to her about my dark hado (which led to other deeper topics about life in general). Plus, she shares my love of simple, straightforward sweatshirts (on another note, why is it so hard to find simple, straightforward sweatshirts for women?) and being on time for social engagements.

Here’s a deeper look into Sarah’s design journey, her philosophy, and what she’s working on next.


1. What made you decide to take the SAIT program?

Well, I had gotten let-go from a yoga studio in the city April of last year. I was super sad. I loved that place. The circumstances that led to my release and the reasons as to why I was laid-off made me question if teaching yoga was really for me anymore. I looked for an alternative. In 2015 into Spring of 2016 I was attending evening classes to complete ACAD’s Extended Studies graphic design certification program. It would take 2 years to complete the program. It was slow going. A few of my classes had gotten cancelled because not enough people had registered. After being laid-off I looked into other options of completing a graphic design certification. SAIT was running its first summer intensive and luckily there were 2 spots left! Needless to say, I signed up.

2. You were already working on some wicked art at the time. Did you have a vision in mind for what kind of design you would do after the program, or was it a complement to what you were already doing as an artist?

Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to to after the program. Right now, I’m just surprised at how much of a compliment graphic design is to my artistic style.

3. Do you have a creative process? If so, what does it look like?

My art process is deconstructive and a constant attempt towards minimalism. (Ughh that sentence sounds more intense that it is.) My goal is towards simplicity. I hate my tendency to render too much detail. It’s almost automatic for me to do too much. Uggghhh I hate it. I usually start over if I don’t like the flow of a drawing in the first hour. As I get into a flow I have an inner monologue that says “simplify” many many times. I want to make an impact in a short period of time with as little as possible.

With regards to painting figures, the key for me is to do just enough so that my drawing looks like the person I am depicting. I’m not going for total realism. That kind of pursuit of perfection is just not for me. I just want a quality to my lines so that when you look at a drawing I’ve done you can say, “eh, that’s that guy who made rockets, spaceX…Elon Musk or whatever his name is” and then say, “this drawing looks like Sarah Alonso’s work”.

This question is cool. I guess I’m pretty lucky I have a distinct style. Having a style makes it easier to stand out nonchalantly in an industry where people are merely following the trends.


4. Your art has a distinctive flair that I really love; you have a style all your own. How have your own personal stylistic choices influenced the type of artwork you produce?

Thanks. I’m glad you like my stuff!

hmmm…Hard question. Honestly, I don’t know how to answer it. The type of artwork I produce and the style I work in is a result of enjoying working with particular types of mediums. Specifically, I enjoy working with paper, pen, and ink. I don’t like the texture of canvas so I use hardboard or wood panels. I guess that’s how it works. haha

5. As a fellow designer, I often have days where I’m unable to find the right creative “flow”. Do you ever experience days like this and if so, how do you overcome them?

I get this all the time. The worst thing you can do is dwell on the feeling. Sometimes I force myself to create something…paint, draw whatever. A lot of the time it doesn’t take me out of the funk and I hate the product. What does get me into a flow is researching a design personality. I attempt to replicate something I love of theirs’ then I just start messing around with it. So far that’s what’s working for me.

6. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your design journey? What has been your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest challenge has been figuring out a workflow. There’s so much to learn. I figure though it’s going to take some time. How long is irrelevant. The challenge then is being patient.

My biggest accomplishment…Seeing anything I create go to print or up on a wall. It’s just so satisfying. You spend so much time on the computer designing the thing that it’s basically a screen. Once you have say a card with the right finish, popping ink and maybe a bit of raised spot gloss I start to drool.


7. Who and/or what inspires you?

I think the overall brainstorming process of design keeps me hungry. A client presents you with a problem and you work to solve this problem in a creative and visual way. I love it. It inspires a lot of thoughts.

In terms of who inspires me…in graphic design I would say I’m currently looking at Aaron Draplin, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Anton Stankowski, Paula Scher, Micheal Bieruit, Massimo Vignelli and Milton Glaser.

I feel like I think similarly to Milton Glaser. There’s just something about him. Especially in interviews I’ve watched of him. When posed with a question, sometimes there just is no answer. He’s very to the point, a little stubborn and never assumes to know why or how something became successful. I like that he acknowledges that the product of art or design is a times not planned and spontaneous. It’s a process full of unexpected happenstances. In his own work, Glaser just does what he does. He doesn’t operate on ego he just works and produces art he likes. I like that. I’m a little like that.

I’m intimidated by Paula Scher but intrigued by her particularly because she is so tough while being quirky. I’m inspired by her and look to her to be more direct and unapologetic about my work.

The dude who I think every graphic designer should take some time to get to know and learn from is Aaron Draplin. He’s so accessible. He’s on skillshare or YouTube. He isn’t keeping design secrets. He wants us all to succeed and create awesome shit. LOVE LOVE LOVE that guy. Get his book Draplin Design Co. Pretty Much Everything Aaron James Draplin!

8. Do you have any cool projects you’re working on that we can look forward to seeing soon?

Currently, I’m working on the visual identity of a non-traditional accountant here in Calgary. She hopes to work with artists and entrepreneurs in growing and organizing their finances. She found me on Instagram. I thought that was crazy.

9. What’s one piece of advice that you’d like to share with aspiring designers?

A piece of advice I would give to anyone aspiring to go after a goal, career or what have you is in 4 parts. The first is, you will have fears. These fears can range from fear of exposure, to fear of rejection and fear of not being good enough.

The second is, you must overcome your fears. Make that Instagram account. Put out material you’re not confident with. Say yes to projects you think you’re unqualified for. This is how you gain experience and become a designer. This is how you become anything.

The third piece of advice I can offer is that few designers gain success right away. Be patient. I figure even for myself I’m a fledgling. It’s going to take me a decade to start making the loot.

The last piece of advice I can give is be future thinking. This means, to figure out what you’re “supposed to do” look to where the industry is heading. Then learn and develop the skills you need to stay relevant.

Oh… apparently, I have one more. BONUS ROUND! Meet people. Tell people what you do. That’s how you get started. Do good work. Treat your client well and hopefully more work will be on its way.


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