When we first saw Sarah Esteje's ballpoint pen drawings, we had to actively peel our eyes away. They're astonishingly detailed, capturing the distinctive personality of her subjects. We spoke with her about her love of drawing, her foray into photography, and an enduring childhood dream of being spirited away by a friendly panther.
When did you start drawing, and how did you learn to draw in this style?
When I was in junior high school it was already my favorite course, even when nobody else cared about it, then I spent most of my time drawing on every notebook in high school.
Actually, I first wanted to be a graphic designer. When I went to LISAA just after I had graduated from school, I realized that being a graphic designer was mostly working on a computer. At this moment, I think I just wanted to draw, and have fun while doing it. I didn't want to be commissioned, I was afraid I couldn't handle it, so I started studying photography in a great public school in Paris; 20 students were chosen from 800 candidates.
During this period when I discovered photography I didn't draw so much, but I began to miss it a lot. I guess studying photography sharpened my eyes a little more. And now that I was taking lots of pictures, I could draw from them. I enjoyed being the closest to my photography, without really trying to. I've always loved details more than the whole picture. Drawing from a photograph freed me from the white paper which used to make me so nervous.
What do you mean that the white paper used to make you nervous?
I don't really know, the start is always the hardest. Instinctively, I drew what I saw, but I was never satisfied. I was always looking forward to draw some details that caught my attention, and I never could achieve it. I hadn't enough time, or I was too far away.
Drawing from a photograph was perfect.
Your mastery of that hyper-realistic style is really remarkable. How did you learned to draw that way?
First, thank you. I didn't really learn to draw that way, I had normal drawing courses, with models, still life or landscape drawings, everyone had his own style. I certainly do not draw the same way when I have only 5 minutes and a living model in front of me. But I enjoy taking my time, observing things, forgetting about it, and to see it again, as if it was new to me.
Are you working on anything now that you're really excited about?
Yes, I'm working on US Navy and Air Force commanders portraits. I always loved uniforms, policeman, fireman, US Navy, I always thought it was classy. And I liked the fact that those men, when they are all together, all wear the same things, we never look at them as singular persons.
What do you usually draw with?
I started drawing with a pencil, but I had the feeling it was never achieved, like I could always do better, or finish it, and as weird as it could sound, I'm a little messy, and I couldn't stand those pencil spots on my drawings. And besides that, I really enjoy the disconnect between an everyday tool such as a BIC pen and overtly classical or kitsch motives.
And that BIC blue is a really nice color. Do you prefer working in monochrome to drawing in full color?
I started with a blue ballpoint pen because I used to write with a blue one, and the "blue" color is very specific to it, i like that. However, if there were many colors I think I would try mixing them. I already did once when I drew David Bowie.
Most of your work is portraiture, either of animals or people. What attracts you to this subject matter?
Portraiture is what I like the most, whether in drawing or photography. For my animal portraits, I really chose pictures in which they looked human, and in some of my human portraits, I love how brutish they can look.
But in a general way it is difficult to touch somebody with the portrait of a stranger, it is easier with animals.
That's really interesting. Why do you think that is?
Animals represent our imaginary world, childhood, tales, every kid wants to have one. When i was little, I always dreamed one day, a nice panther would come and take me away from school; I really don't think I was the only one.
Human portraits may seem too real, too brutish, and too close. We do not fear what seems unreal, or very different to us. I don't know if this will help you, I'm not even sure I could have been more clear in French.
To see more of Sarah's beautiful drawings and photographs, visit her website. And don't forget to share your comments, questions, concerns and revelations below.