5 minutes with Sara Moana, Freelance Illustrator

10 months ago by

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators. 


Ko Taupiri te maunga, ko Te Puehu o Waikato te moana, ko Waikato te awa, ko Tainui te waka, ko Waikato te iwi, ko Ngāti Tamaoho te hapū, ko Mangatangi te marae, nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau. Ko Sara Moana tōkū ingoa.

What or who were your early creative influences? 

I was born and lived in Wales till I was 11 years old, therefore, a lot of the humour that I bring into my works stems from British comedies such as Peep Show, Vicar of Dibley, Royle Family, and comediennes such as Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Kathy Burke, Caroline Aherne. With my illustration style, my early influences are from American 90s-early 20s cartoons, in terms of their distinctives styles and choices of character designs that always intrigued me when I was little. E.g. Recess, Codename: Kids Next Door, Daria.

Man looking at illustrated banners hanging from building
Artwork of two women holding up a sign "Prioritise Indigenous Voices"
Artwork of a wāhine Māori
Can you tell us a bit about your creative journey and what led you toward illustration?

While I was studying for my Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) at Elam, I can say I began my creative journey from there, specifically in illustration. My previous interests were Sculpture and Performance Art, however, I began to feel a decline in my mental health which resulted in not being able to produce any mahi toi | artworks. I explained to a councillor about this, and she had then given me a brochure on anxiety. As I flicked through the pages, I noticed this bizarre list of activities to do for when you are anxious. Consisted of activities such as: “Driving a jet ski”, “Hug your grandmother”, “Grow a plant”, just oddly specific things that would apparently make you less of an anxious person. Then, I suddenly felt the need to illustrate all of these activities, in a satirical way. This was the catalyst to introduce myself to illustration as a sole medium in my practice. So, in result, the activity list definitely worked for me.

You’ve just gone full time as a freelance illustrator, right? Talk to us about how you kicked off your freelancing work and what it’s like to be doing that full time now.

I began my freelance as an illustrator during the Covid-Pandemic lockdown in 2020, while I was studying for my Master of Fine Arts (1st Class Honours) at Elam. I then continued working as a freelancer, while working at NorthArt gallery in Northcote, Auckland as a Gallery Assistant. I then decided in March of this year, to go for it as a full-time Illustrator, and so far it’s been an absolute blast.

image of Sara's illustrations for the Unite agains Covid-19 campaigns
Artwork of girl learning te reo Māori
Artwork of 3 people embracing under different LGBTQIA+ flags
Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you, if so what lessons did you learn from that work?

A project that I reflect on the most, is a project I was a part of in October – November 2022 called ‘ConspiraSeries’. I was an Illustrator for a TV Mini Series, ‘ConspiraSeries’ created by Jaimee Poipoi, produced for TAHI by Tomorrow Rian & Electric Shoelace Productions. It is memorable for me as it was the first project where I was a part of a team. The challenge for me was the duration of the project being far longer than I have worked for anything before, and the project being a completely different dynamic that I am used to. 

However, the entire team is both insanely talented and kind, and they were a joy to work with. A lesson I’ve learnt is to always be free to ask questions, and simply enjoy the process. It’s certainly an opportunity I’d take again with creating illustrations for a television, film field.

Artwork of a wāhine Māori wearing 'Honour Te Tiriti' shirt
Artwork of woman in sports attire flexing her arms proudly displaying her body and its beautiful imperfections
Artwork of woman wearing recycled clothing from Tatty's
What does career/creative success look like to you?

Personally, I believe what a “successful creative career” can look like is simply being a creative that learns, adapts, and listens. To be open to opportunities that can help you evolve and strengthen your outlook on how you see yourself and your practice. To be fulfilled in the work that you do, whether it is creative-based or not, is the ultimate success you can have. Money’s good too.

Finally, where can we see more of your work and connect with you?

Follow me on Instagram @SaraMoana, and feel free to check out my latest projects on my website. If you’d like to connect with me, feel free to send an email at saramoana@outlook.com.

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