Meet Sara Stode, Illustrator & Cocktail Lover

We had heard a lot of great things about Sara Stode’s illustrations from a friend and last month we caught up with her at the launch of her current exhibition, ‘Cocktail Wednesdays’, at Fanny Nelsons bar in London’s Hackney, just a few steps away from Columbia Road Flower Market.

Sara’s illustrations are exquisite and detailed drawings of cocktails; each one from a different iconic London bar. Each intricate art work captures not only the essence of the cocktail it depicts, but also that of the bar it is served in. I love them, just haven’t made my mind up, which one to buy. There are so many to choose from!

I managed to find a few minutes and a quiet corner to find out more about Sara, the inspiration for the exhibition and her plans for the future.

Hi Sara, it is great to finally meet you. Thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I’m originally from the north of Sweden, born in a lovely city called Umeå where my parents still live. I have been drawing since I was little and am mostly self-taught. I did short stints in two different art schools, but at that time I didn’t feel like being an artist was what I wanted to be, so I never finished my degree. Instead I moved to Stockholm, trained as a hairdresser and make-up artist and worked in some of the top salons in the city for about 7 years. I even won the ‘Swedish Hairdresser of The Year’ award! I love the fact that I’ve learnt that skill and still do a bit of hairdressing on the side, but I’m also really glad I quit when I felt it was time to move on. As drawing was something I’d always done anyway, I decided to pursue my artistic ambitions as an illustrator instead. After attending an illustration course at London’s Central Saint Martins in the summer of 2013 I went back home, packed up my things and moved to London!

How did this project start? Is it your answer to all those instagram pictures of food and drink people post?

I love good cocktails and was already spending quite a lot of time in my favourite bars around East London so I thought it would be nice to incorporate it into my work. It’s such a luxury working on a project where I get to do what I love, while also exploring more of the bars around the city. There are so many people taking really great photos of their drinks now and posting them on instagram, so I wanted these illustrations to offer something different. Something you couldn’t get in a single snap with an artsy filter. A cocktail bar is a great environment to sit and sketch in as well, especially if you get a seat at the bar early evenings before it gets too busy.

With hundreds of bars and thousands of cocktails in London, what comes first: the cocktail or the bar? And how do you pick them?

I choose the bar first. Usually on recommendations from bartenders or through people I follow on social media. There are so many good cocktail bars in London now, I feel pretty lucky to have so many to choose from! Once there, I ask the bartender to make me one of the drinks from their menu that they think will look nice as an illustration. We have a little chat about the design of the glass, colour of the drink, shape of the ice and of course the garnish, and if it doesn’t sound too much like something I’ve already drawn, then that’s the one it’ll be! I’m actually quite surprised at how varied all the drinks I’ve had look. There certainly is an art to making a nice cocktail – on a lot of levels!

I have noticed that you always include something about the bar in your illustrations – what, for example, is the significance of the gun in the Fanny Nelsons picture?

Everything in the illustrations is either something to do with the drink or something I’ve spotted in the bar. So the gun in the Fanny Nelsons picture is actually a keychain that’s hanging behind the bar. I like to include things like a pattern from the wallpaper, botanicals from an ingredient in the drink, or just the general colour scheme in the bar. I want people who have been to these bars to look at the drawings and feel like I’ve captured the feel of each place.

What is cocktail perfection for you?

Any cocktail where the first sip instantly makes me smile, which is usually a drink with a perfect balance of unexpected flavours that tastes really clean and goes down smoothly. Cocktails where you can tell someone’s put a lot of thought and effort into getting everything just right.   

What’s next for Sara Stode? I heard there is a book in the pipeline?

‘Cocktail Wednesdays’ is an ongoing project, so I’ll be doing more of these illustrations in the coming months, all leading up to a book due to be published in 2017, which I’m very excited about. And I will of course keep working on commissions from my regular clients and hopefully start some interesting new collaborations as well! I am enjoying doing food and drink illustrations very much at the moment, so that’s where I’ll be focusing most of my energy!

Thank you very much, Sara. I really love your work and wish you all the success you deserve, both with the exhibition and your book!

The exhibition in the basement bar of Fanny Nelsons runs until January 14th, 2017.

Prints are available to purchase, both framed and unframed.

Sara is also available for commissions and creative collaborations.

Twitter & Instagram: @sarastodeart

Fanny Nelsons, named after Francis ‘Fanny’ Nelson, the wife of British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, is a neighbourhood bar in a refurbished 1830’s East London pub on Horatio Street in Hackney, which has a reputation for offering wonderful cocktails, natural wines, local beers and great food, including their famous weekend brunches, which are served until 5pm!

Their 40 capacity basement is available for private hire, launches, events or birthdays.






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