“I’ve been setting bigger goals.” - Previous winner Sarah Kwan on culture, creativity AND confidence

13 November 2022

If you’re an Edinburgh local, you might have seen Sarah Kwan’s work before.

Her illustrations, from a traditional Chinese tea set mocked up to resemble Irn-Bru, to Tunnocks Teacakes in a dim sum basket, are sold in several galleries and spaces throughout Edinburgh. And if you’ve been following our awards, you’ll know that Sarah deservedly won the Creative Edinburgh Independent Award in 2021.

We have caught up with three of our previous winners to find out what they’ve been up to since the awards and their insights for anyone emerging into the industry. Thank you to Sarah for sitting down with us and being our first guest!

CE: Tell us a little about your work.

Sarah: I’m a fine artist and an illustrator. My most recent series is “East Meets West”, which explored connections between Eastern and Western influences. My recent piece called “The Chef’s Kiss” shows a Klimt-esque figure in a bowl of noodles. I also do private commissions for clients - I recently just finished a dog portrait painting which I really enjoyed.

CE: Your “East Meets West” series beautifully represents Scottish and Chinese culture. Why is that important to you?

Sarah: I feel deeply proud and connected to my Chinese and Scottish culture, and this is a way to showcase my particular experience of them. We have a great mix of people coming into the city, especially during festival season, and also international students. A lot of people on social media have a diverse background and feel a connection to my work, which is lovely. I really enjoy when people get in touch with me and say they feel represented by what I do.

CE: What do you like most about being a creative in Edinburgh?

Sarah: For me, being a creative in Edinburgh is wonderful. It’s quite a small city so one connection becomes a spiderweb of different connections. I did the Going For Growth programme with Creative Edinburgh, which was a bunch of creatives and small businesses who got together to talk about how to move forward. If I need to talk over an aspect of my business or if I need some support, I know they’re there.

CE: What have you been up to since winning the Creative Edinburgh Independent Award in 2021?

Sarah: It’s been wonderful since winning a Creative Edinburgh Award. It really gave me a boost of confidence and it’s nice to have a bit of recognition. Since winning, I’ve continued to expand my “East Meets West” range, working on new prints and designs for different products. I’ve also invested in a new printer, hardware and equipment, and started teaching an illustration course at Edinburgh Drawing School. I’ve been setting bigger goals of where I want my work to go.

CE: What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in the creative industries?

Sarah: I’m not an expert but based on my experience, the most important thing is to keep enjoying creating work. But also think about how to conduct yourself as a business. I know it can be difficult as a creative to think of yourself as a business, but for me personally if you want to make it a career it’s important to know about the admin side as well as the creative side - it is definitely a balance! It’s also ok if you don’t want to think of your practice in those terms, in the end you’ll figure out what’s right for you.

CE: Finally, can you give us a hint of what you’re working on?

Sarah: I will be working on a piece for Chinese New Year in my “East Meets West” series. It’s Year of the Rabbit next year so hopefully I can come up with a good idea that encompasses the theme. But I’m looking forward to it - watch this space.