sarah esteje’s ink menagerie

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Originally published in full at Don’t Panic Online.

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Armed with a blue ballpoint pen and an eye for detail, French artist Sarah Esteje creates meticulous portraits that blur the lines between drawing and photography, human and animal.

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.

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.

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

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