There’s something refreshingly honest about Sonia Brittain’s feed. Her posts — quick hand-drawn sketches brought to life with watercolour, pastels and gouache — are both elegant yet delightfully unpolished. Her daily sketches and authentic captions offer a fleeting snapshot of her busy life as a busy mum of three; from the view from her garden to family camping trips, her mother’s favourite floral crockery, kitchen condiments and everything in between. Follow Sonia and her artwork on Instagram @soniabrittainart
Sonia, tell us about yourself – we understand that you’re a bit of a world traveller?
I’m originally from Essex in the UK, and am currently a full-time mum to three boys aged nine, seven and three years old. We lived in London for over 15 years, but due to my husband’s work we have moved countries twice in the last three years. We lived in Basel Switzerland for two years, and have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost year now. Moving with three young children has been challenging; we definitely miss being close to our family and friends, but we are trying to make the most of having the opportunity to explore new countries and I have definitely been inspired artistically by living in new surroundings.
What inspired you to begin your drawing-a-day project?
My 2014 drawing a day project was inspired by other similar challenges I found online. We had recently moved to Switzerland, it was a lot quieter than London, and I was at home more as my youngest was still a baby. I really wanted to get back into drawing, and thought that taking on this kind of project might help turn it into a daily habit – which it did! At the start I was really organized, I made a list of things to draw and had a weekly theme. I decided I wanted my work to be more colourful, so I used gouache and watercolour a lot more in my sketchbooks. The house we rented in Switzerland had a lovely garden so often plants and flowers from nearby crept into my work, as did the scenery when we got to travel.
Have you trained as an illustrator/artist or done anything like this before?
No, I have never done a degree in art or design. Prior to having children I was a doctor and specialized in psychiatry. Throughout my childhood, though, I was always drawing or colouring, and art was my favourite subject at school. I always made the effort to go to extra life drawing classes and art galleries when I could. However, looking back there was a good ten years when I was studying and working as a junior doctor where I hardly ever picked up a sketchbook, I did have really pretty revision notes, though!
I know I was really inspired by other people who have either returned to art after a break, or are fitting it in while also pursuing other careers or managing a family, and in turn I like to think one of the reasons people might like my feed is that it inspires them to draw/create, be it for fun or work again.
Tell us about your experience with Instagram…
I started posting my work on Instagram at the very beginning of my project. I immediately preferred it as a platform as it is so visually inspiring, and I also hoped to meet a community of people who might be doing similar things. It was a great way of motivating myself as I had declared online the commitment to post my work every day, and it was really satisfying curating my own feed and watching it grow. Instagram has totally exceeded my expectations in so many ways, I love how simple it is to use; as long as you have your phone, sketchbook, and good light you can share your work with barely any hassle. I have also been amazed by the positive and supportive worldwide Instagram community. At first, I thought I would probably only be interacting with a small group of people who had an interest in the same niche of sketchbook drawing as me, but it has been amazing how many people share similar interests to me. Occasionally I have even had the chance to meet up in real life with people on Instagram which is very cool.
In terms of what don’t I love about it, I think one the things I am personally mindful about is time spent on Instagram: balancing being able to engage and feel part of the community without spending too much time on a screen. It’s so easy to check in and then get distracted by the wealth of beautiful and inspiring images on there.There is also the risk that then you can start to compare your own work unfavourably, and lose confidence in what you’re doing. I sometimes end up feeling like my feed isn’t as polished or consistent as someone else, that I have no particular style or theme, but then I have to remind myself that actually, these are things I enjoy and like about my own work. This is a personal project for me, and I’m really trying to keep the freedom so I can develop my own style of drawing and painting.
What’s your approach to posting images?
My approach to posting images is pretty consistent, l generally post once a day and it is mainly posts sharing my artwork. The times that I post can vary, but I do try and only post images taken in natural light. Sometimes I think I should try sticking to a theme or subject, but you know what, I think my slightly chaotic feed is a good reflection of my life at the moment! When stressed I might doodle to relax in bed, other days I might have more time and produce a finished painting of a vase of flowers, next week I might feel like doing a detailed drawing of some food packaging that catches my eye. In some ways, I think my feed does tell the story of our travels and family life over the last 3 years. I like now how I can share more personal photos, or work in progress shots/videos through Instagram Stories, as I try to keep my account mainly as a gallery for my work.
Have you had any nice surprises along the way?
Definitely. I think one of the best surprises is the number of friends I have made along the way. A lot of the people I’ve connected with have been similar to me, wanting to make regular time for art or just wanting to focus on something for themselves. My immediate family in the UK aren’t that into art, or the kind of drawing and painting I am doing now, so finding an encouraging community online can really make a difference. The other great thing about Instagram is how easy it is to discover something new and inspiring in a vast range of subjects e.g. floristry, tattoos, baking etc – it’s easy to explore and learn something new that might help you in a project. Seeing a beautiful floral photo often makes me want to create my own floral display through a drawing, and often the ways in which other people compose their photos will make me think about the use of composition in my sketchbook or paintings.
One of the aspects – thanks to Instagram – that I have really appreciated is people sharing my work on, whether through reposting on Instagram or featuring it on their blog. A few months into my project it was a really pleasant surprise when Julia Rothman, an illustrator who I follow and admire, posted a drawing I did of her book on her feed. Sometimes people have asked me if I do commissions or prints; I haven’t really up to this point due to all the moves and settling the family, but I hope to look into setting up a website and maybe selling my work now we are getting more established here.
Who do you admire?
There are so many people who I love following and admire on Instagram. To keep it brief, I really enjoy following @augustwren, Jennifer Orkin Lewis was one of the first artists I noticed sharing her work daily online. I loved being able to get a peek into her sketchbooks and she managed I believe to keep up her daily painting practice for around four years which is super impressive.
I also find @marissahuber very inspiring. Marissa is super productive, she is a mum, has a day job, and she is also trying to make time for her creative ventures. I love her bright colourful patterns and she has a really positive feed. Hopefully, at some point we might get to meet in real life, especially now I’m in the USA.
Talking about meeting in real life, I am enjoying being able to actually meet up and draw with my good friend @annebungaard_dk, who also has a very inspiring and lovely Instagram feed. I love her feed because her style is very different to mine and I admire how she can routinely draw from her imagination, creating scenes with characters and figures created in her mind.
We spotted that flowers and plants make a regular appearance in your work. What do you love about them?
I really do enjoy drawing flowers and plants, I don’t think I could ever get bored of sketching them – the possibilities of what to draw, how to depict them are endless, and personally I find them really relaxing to sketch. I guess it is the combination of beauty and fragility, sometimes there is the need to draw them quickly because I know that particular flower isn’t going to last forever, or I want to capture a plant as it is in that moment. Sometimes I’m actually drawn to flowers or plants that are fading, past their best. I also enjoy experimenting or making up patterns/compositions with flowers and plants. I like how flowers have different meanings associated with them as well as having personal significance for people. I’m always going to recall the flowers in my wedding bouquet and I’ll probably always associate primroses with Switzerland because they sprung up in the gardens and lawns around where we lived. My favourite flower to paint is the Icelandic poppy; I love their delicate forms, and my mum has some in her garden in the UK, as did my grandmother, so I guess they remind of home.