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q&a with illustrator, designer and stylist Sara O'Neill 

It is wonderful to welcome Sara O'Neill - artist, illustrator, designer and stylist - to the Salt and Sparkle q&a.  I first came across Sara's work during Belfast Fashion Week several years ago, her ability to put things together is ravishing, she has a unique vision and creative eye, combined with an ability to bring colour and lines together that is remarkable.  Her Instagram account is filled with the most beautiful photographs filled with effervescent light.  You can follow her on facebook , Instragram and Twitter, She has also designed a range of ethereal silk scarfs called Éadach which are available at BTS Concept Store, Una Rodden Couture, Gráinne Maher Fashion or from Sara herself. 



Who are you, what’s it like being you ...

I am Sara O’Neill, stylist and scribbler. Fiancée to Al, a big wave surfer. Daughter to Eddie and Bernie, sibling to Beckie and Rory. Friend to a handful of crazy people. All very intelligent, interesting, passionate people who make me laugh a lot. Owner/ maid/ belly scratcher to golden retriever, Blyton. 

I like being me, it’s a cool life but can be a bit hectic, my mind never switches off and I have so many ideas, things I want to create and become obsessed with. But that’s the way I’ve been since I was a kid, I’m used to it by now.

Where are you from, where are you based ...

I’m from Portrush and after fifteen years in Belfast, returned to the coast last year. Belfast was great, first of all for uni then building my career and client base. But I think when you’re brought up by the sea you’ll always be drawn back. I love it.

Talk about your work ...  

I do a few things, I keep busy. I’ve worked as a freelance stylist for nearly a decade now, specializing in commercial and fashion work, working alongside some brilliant teams. 

Five years ago I got back into drawing, I avoided it for a few years after uni. I’ve since had a few exhibitions and am represented by a London/NYC commercial illustration agency. My illustrations tend to be quite feminine and stylized but it depends on the client brief of course- book and album covers, company branding. I also write a lot, mainly for ad agencies and magazines. 

Last year I combined the skills I have developed from years working in fashion and illustration and launched a range of limited edition printed silks- wearable art.

Éadach has been brilliantly received and I’m always thrilled at the strength of feeling for the pieces- customers get quite emotional.

After completing my BaHons in Fashion and Textile Design eleven years ago I swore I’d never go into design but that just shows you should never say never!

If you told me back then my prints would be featured in Grazia or the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, I would never have believed you- in fact, I’m pretty sure I skipped the print workshops at uni! 

What are your future plans ... 

Professionally, to stay focused, building the different aspects of my business. Work does take up a lot of time, but also allows me a degree of freedom and flexibility. Personally, I’m getting married in the very near future, so that’s exciting.

How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...

I find inspiration everywhere, different things inspire me at different times- music, literature, art, history, people.  At the moment I’m very inspired by my surroundings here on the north coast. The coastline here, combined with the Irish myth and legends my granny told me as a child, is the inspiration behind Éadach.

Describe your space ... 

When I’m writing, designing or drawing I work from home, often hopping from room to room depending on natural light, or in the garden.

Our house is decorated in calming pale colours, neutrals and blues, light and airy rooms with lots of natural textures and bits and bobs collected and inherited over the years, often with a beachy/nautical theme.

My kitsch side always surfaces though, so there is the odd flamingo, pineapple, neon sign and a smattering of animal skulls around the house. When I’m styling I could be on location anywhere or in a studio.

How are you feeling today ... 

Focused. I’m currently working through all the ideas that have been floating around for months, getting them out of my head and onto paper, silk, my Mac before the AW15 madness begins.

A non-negotiable in your life is ...

Space. Work can be all-consuming sometimes, so space to clear my head is essential. That’s usually in the form of a walk around the cliffs or on the beach by myself or with Al and Blyton. And sleep. I love sleeping.

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ... 

Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn

Your work life philosophy is ...

Dream like a bohemian, work like a boss. 

What is your favourite smell ...  

I have many! I love natural outdoor smells- honeysuckle on a summer evening, tomato plants in a greenhouse, the beach after a storm, a forest after the rain.

At home, I love St Eval’s Bay and Rosemary candle from BTS Concept Store and I always have loads of flowers everywhere.

My new scent obsession comes from Fir Beard and Body- they have the most beautiful, evocatively scented beard oils. I’ve nabbed ‘Driftwood’ and use a tiny bit on the ends of my hair. ‘Campfire’ is the most gorgeously heady, smoky smell that conjures up images of glowing embers on a beach.

Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ... 

I have the musical taste of a dad, crossed with a moody 80s/90s teenager.

I listen to a lot of music when I draw, I find it helps my pencil work flow.

I love Fleetwood Mac, the Doors, the Stones, anything from the late 60’s/ early 70s really. Then I love Nick Cave, L7, loads of indie and new wave stuff, punk, ska, dodgy rock and metal. Also old jazz and blues.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ... 

I love Italian and Mexican food. I’ve been veggie since I was 11 so anything with lots of spices, herbs and gorgeous fresh ingredients is always a winner.

Favourite ingredients include avocado, watermelon and halloumi.  

Three things or products that have changed your life... 

Books, 3b pencils, eyeliner

How do you relax ... 

Bumming about and exploring the coastline with Al and Blyton, going camping if we have a couple of free days. Hanging out with friends and family, going for coffee and a walk. Dancing around like a deranged ballerina and singing badly.

Making things look pretty. Gardening. Reading. Yoga- Jennifer Greenlees takes a great class in the beautiful Arcadia building in Portrush, amazing to hear the waves crashing just outside.

What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ... 

Sunshine. Or a really good storm. Beautiful sunsets. All beside the sea (are you sensing a theme here?) clambering around the cliffs or on the beach, taking photos. A good book in my bag and a coffee in my hand.

What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...  

One of the drawbacks of being self-employed is that you forget to take holidays sometimes, so I have not travelled as much as I would like to. I will remedy that. I love wandering around cities with beautiful architecture, history and culture: Florence, NY, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam have been favourites. I like people watching, eating, finding cool markets and boutiques and just soaking up the atmosphere. 

What do you most value in your friends ...

Loyalty, intelligence, humour. Good conversation and bad dancing.

What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ... 

‘Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same’, from Wuthering Heights.

I love classic literature, and novels set in the past with a gothic air. Anything by Yeats. I’ve just finished ‘Rebecca’s Tale’, a spin-off of the Du Maurier classic. It was beautiful.  

Share some words of wisdom ...

Dreams don’t work unless you do.


Sara, it was a real pleasure to interview you for the Salt and Sparkle q&a.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

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