As early as age 10, Saudi illustrator Sarah Taibah was already displaying flashes of her future career path. The multifaceted creative recalled how, as a young child, she made herself the imaginary editor-in-chief of an arts and culture magazine that she had created herself.
“I used to take care of the layouts and take my own photos of the people I interviewed, which were mostly family members,” she said.
Sarah’s inclination towards art was apparent throughout her formative years. “I have always loved doodling and painting but did not take it seriously until I graduated from high school,” she said.
The Jeddah-born 29-year-old eventually went on to gain a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Dar Al-Hekma University in Jeddah, followed by a Master in Fine Arts in illustration and printmaking from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
She looked back at her time in San Francisco with fond memories, “No one could've said it better than Tony Bennett in his song, ‘I left my heart in San Francisco,’” said Sarah. Back in her native Saudi Arabia, Sarah established her own design consultancy and aptly named it Rasma & Kilma – rasma meaning drawing in Arabic and kilma meaning word.
“I have always believed in the marriage of words and illustrations,” she said. “They compliment each other.”
A current project that beautifully ties together Sarah’s passion for illustration and the written word, is ‘Mirsal’ (The Messenger). “I have always believed that people feel good when they can relate and I like to make people feel good,” said Sarah.
This was the sentiment behind Mirsal, a project she created that showcases illustrations of unsent heartbreak letters.
“These heartbreak letters were written by different people who share the same heartache. They come from different places around the world; San Francisco, Barcelona, Istanbul, Khartoum, Berlin, Kuwait, Cairo, Dubai, Jeddah… and more,” she said. “Each broken relationship has a different end and some of the letters are not even addressed to a romantic previous partner. However, the one thing in common is the voice that seeks closure. These letters were never received by their intended people, so they turned into illustrations.”
Sarah is currently working on the post-production phase of Mirsal, which she envisions as a small and intimate solo show of all the letters, along with a performance and another piece that is related to the theme. “Hopefully it will be around the end of this year or in beginning of 2019,” she said.
Other projects from Rasma & Kilma include illustrations for Arabic children’s books, as well as logo designs, portrait paintings, cards, and stationery. Sarah’s illustrations are engaging and soulful, with a sense of wonder attached to them. She has also collaborated with film and music projects, extending her creative sphere beyond just illustration and into mixed media.
In her video project titled, “Let Me Grow Naturally,” Sarah explored several issues, including her identity as a young Muslim woman and the notions of freedom and belonging to a certain place.
“It all started when I felt different than the majority in Saudi Arabia. I thought leaving was the solution. I didn’t find myself in the United States,” she said. “Later, I figured out I carry home with me. I am not myself, back there or here; I don’t fit in either place. I wish to build and embrace a new space, a third space where all the misfits fit perfectly.”
Sarah will soon be acting in a Saudi feature film as well. Till date she has been part of five film productions, with one short movie out already called, “Zaina’s Cake,” while the remaining are currently in post-production.
For a creative individual like Sarah who illustrates and writes on a daily basis, an endless flow of inspiration is crucial. “I try my best to be mindful and present in the moment,” she said. “It allows me to see through people and find inspiration in simple, small things.”
Sarah’s advice for aspiring creatives is to not rush excellence and to keep practicing more. “Perfection is a myth and perfectionists suffer the most,” she said. “Carry a sketchbook and a pen 24/7, because ideas don't wait.”
Words by Ziana Qaiser
Images by Abdullah Al Shehri