Guest Artist Spotlight – Firestarter Design Studios
Sarah Isabel Dominique’s now-famous love for dragons and dinosaurs evolved from a childhood love of crocodile plush toys. As the brains behind Firestarter Design Studios, Sarah’s career has had a similar evolution, from animation to concept art and toy design – and from an unknown at regional events to an in-demand creator at Los Angeles’ Designercon. We spoke to the dragon artist about being a little pyromaniac, balancing her workload and what’s next.
Where did the name Firestarter Design Studios come from?
I have an unhealthy obsession with fire. I tried to set fire to a tree at school, nearly set the house on fire… by accident, and successfully set garlic bread on fire. In that order. But really I got the name when I was studying in FZD School of Design. I have tons of little ideas, little sparks. Some die off quite fast and some survive longer to grow into something more substantial. I’d like to set the world on fire… with my ideas.
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
By day, an artist. By night, a dragon… artist. I started off with animation when I was still in polytechnic and found out that I didn’t enjoy animating, and I wasn’t any good at it. In year three, I made the decision to shift my portfolio towards illustration and have been generally much happier since. I’ve been in game art, concept art and now toy design. Right now, I work freelance for Disney and Magicmon, doing style guides and production artwork for merchandise.
You draw dragons and dinosaurs quite often. Why do you love them?
I was six years old when Jurassic Park came out and I loved it. I had lots of dinosaur figures and would set up little armies of them to attack each other… and the few dolls I had. I probably worried my parents a little. Then Dragonheart arrived and I was like, “These guys have wings and breathe fire! Way cool!” If we go way back though, my first love was that of a crocodilian nature. I had no less than 10 crocodile plush toys and would carry them with me everywhere in the house and when I was out with my parents.
How do you balance time between your personal and commercial projects?
An excellent question. I have no idea. My personal work is driven by inspiration, which is why you will sometimes see bursts of work appear on my social media before dying down for a while. Commercial work always takes priority. Sometimes, if I’m feeling burnt by commercial work, I squeeze some personal work out to kind of act as lubricant between assignments.
What kinds of challenges do you face when translating a 2D illustration into a 3D toy?
Sometimes things get lost in translation. What you thought looked perfectly fine on paper actually doesn’t look so great in 3D, and that’s not a sign of being a terrible artist. I think the tricky part is capturing the feeling of the drawing in a 3D shape. When I was working with licensed character toys, it was easy for subtle details to get lost in the modelling process, and I’d often do paint-overs or draw-overs to ease the model back into what I thought looked best. Even when looking at a full 3D turnaround that looked good, I needed to see an actual printed prototype before I could give the go-ahead.
You’ve attended several conventions around the world, how different are the crowds’ response when it comes to your work?
I was young and starting out when I did the show in Thailand, so no one really paid much attention to me. I built up an audience through the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention, and social media. By the time I hit Designercon, people kind of already knew who I was. When the show floor opened, this lady ran up to me and asked for certain limited edition Darumao I had painted up. I was really surprised and flattered that she had been tracking me with such enthusiasm. I met up with some great toy artists I was friends online with, and made even more new friends and fans.
Tell us more about your latest projects and will they be available at IAF?
I have a pair of fox pins I have been toying with since last year and two kaiju pins from my chibi kaiju series. I actually am sorting out Darumao sofubi toys, but since they’re not ready yet, I will be releasing a small resin batch at the show in a new colour.
Check out more of Sarah’s art on Instagram at @onibi_art. Stop by her booth at Table C2!