Sage Goodwin: Balancing A PhD At Oxford & A Love Of Art

Updated: May 3, 2020

Photo by Jack Wheatley
Photograph by Jack Wheatley


Industry: Art and Design

Home Base: Oxford

"My favourite things in the world are biros, the beach and blue skies. I’m an illustrator and typographer originally from South Africa, now based in Oxford, where I’m also studying for a PhD in US history.

The question I get asked most often is where did I learn to draw? And the answer is I was never really taught, it’s just something I’ve always done.

My earliest memories are filled with paper, kokies (felt-tips), and pencil crayons

I still have some of those pencil crayons with my name on them from primary school! And with twenty something years of practice you get better! The years of doodling pictures as birthday presents and sharpie tattoos on friends at festivals morphed, via an Art Foundation at Central Saint Martins, into a freelance illustration business and a ton of side projects. Apart from my Art Foundation I have no formal training, I didn’t do an Art degree and I didn’t even take art A-Level!

A year in Cape Town allowed me to spend long mornings in the studio to fund long afternoons on the beach and evenings climbing mountains.

These days, my commissions are funding my mountain of books. Between portraits, you’ll find me in the library at the University of Oxford. After an undergrad and Masters in history I’m back amongst the dreaming spires studying for a PhD, specialising in mid-twentieth century television news and the Civil Rights Movement.

Photograph on left by Jack Wheatley

The self-directed nature of a PhD and the flexibility of freelancing mean that I can pursue both of my passions at the same time, which is awesome. During my first stint at Oxford, I was the creative director and illustrator of Oxford’s Isis magazine – the UK’s longest-running independent student magazine - and the illustrator for the Cherwell newspaper. Now I take on drawing commissions and I do design work for organisations I’m involved with at Oxford like the ‘Race and Resistance’ network.

There are a ton of things I love about freelancing alongside my PhD. Because drawing uses a totally different part of my brain, it gives me a way to relax, while still being productive. I can plug into my favourite podcasts (the High Low, Reply All, and the Nod – check them out!), totally switch off and zone out, but at the same time feel like I have something to show for it.

And I love being able to stand back and look at a piece of art that I’ve physically created.

What’s also pretty cool, is creating something that is really meaningful to others. I specialise in portraits of people and pets, so often I get commissioned to commemorate something special, be it a relationship, a pet that has passed away or a milestone birthday. I recently drew a portrait of a man who had just turned 100 and now, every member of his entire family has a copy!

Freelancing is challenging though. It’s exciting when new and interesting projects land in my inbox but it can be difficult to balance alongside my PhD - it’s difficult not overcommitting myself, especially as I hate saying no! So I’m working on my self-discipline.

My least favourite part of what I do is pricing and charging for my work.

A really valuable piece of advice I once received from a friend, who is a very successful illustrator, is that if you don’t value your work, then no one else will.

Words to live by! But it’s still difficult to have the confidence to not undersell yourself. I find that particularly hard, especially when you’re quoting for friends.

I love taking on commissions, but one of my goals for the future is to create a range of prints, greeting cards and possibly other products for general sale. I’ve set up an Etsy store and a website so far, but I need to focus on creating some new content! And that’s a whole different ballgame from commissioned drawings. There are so many different things I’d like to draw and different styles I’d like to try.

The first challenge is committing to one type of drawing to make a cohesive set of prints from. I’m tending towards pencil crayon botanicals at the moment, so if that’s your vibe, watch this space!

So my advice for any budding artists or creatives out there is to just start doing. Set up an Instagram, set up a website, set up an etsy and start creating. It takes a lot of time and a lot of perseverance but it’s not difficult if you enjoy it and in the end it’s incredibly rewarding. The root of my freelance business is the fact that I love to draw. And if I can get paid to do it then that’s wicked!"



Instagram: @sagegoodwinillustrations

#Illustrator #Artist #Student #UnitedKingdom #Oxford