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Sarah Canning: A World Full of Colour

Through her studio practice Lab Fever, Sarah Canning brings an artisanal approach to branding, illustration and design. Mavens founder Leah Morris spoke to the energetic creative about self-publishing her children’s book series, ‘A World Full of Books.’

Your career trajectory hasn’t exactly been linear. Tell us how you found your path?

Growing up in Caboolture QLD, my main passions were art and music. I always had little projects going on.

When I left school, I thought I was going to be a folk singer-songwriter and tried that while I studied art. I enjoyed making art, but it was too open ended. I wanted a career that was stable and clearly defined.

I fell into diversional therapy after volunteering at aged care homes doing singalongs. To become a better diversional therapist, I began studying counselling at university, and took an elective in graphic design. I decided that was going to be the best way to apply my artistic skills and creative thinking, which I could use it to help people in a different way. So I moved to Melbourne on a whim that I’d get into a university there, and luckily I did.

I graduated from Communication Design at Monash in 2009. Since then, I’ve been doing design and illustration for studio, in house, contract and freelance.

How has the pandemic affected the way you network and find freelance work?

I’ve been getting more involved with online communities like Creative Mornings and Heidi At Home, and ‘attending’ online events. It’s been a good investment in my career growth, and has helped me think about the direction I want to move in.

I’ve also had time to update my digital presence – I’m now on LinkedIn, The Loop and Behance. I’ve updated my website and have been using social media more. It’s helped me connect with old friends and colleagues and shoot the breeze with other creative people.

I also went down the Airtasker rabbit hole to see if that was a good place to find freelance clients. Instead, I found some interesting individuals: ‘Fake police clearance for a mining job’ and ‘I have a ripped up piece of paper, need someone to put it back together and tell me what it says.’ Great prompts if you’re a short story writer, but most Airtasker users don’t understand the value of creativity, so caution is advised.

You’ve self-published 3 children books in 2 languages. How did ‘A World Full of Colour’ come about?

The project began when my author, lawyer Catherine Williams was pregnant with her first child. She began writing prose that she wanted to share with her baby when it arrived.

Catherine got in contact with a studio that I’d worked for, who referred me to bring the stories to life visually. We created a series of three books that we’re very proud of.

As an Italian teacher at LaTrobe University, Catherine was able to translate two of these books into Italian. Once the books were complete we applied to publishers, which was a long and drawn out process. Catherine suggested that we self-publish and we formally partnered on the project. We’ve learned so much about the children’s book industry – how to get books onto shelves and market them.

What learnings can you share for those who are considering self-publishing a book of their own?

We learned that selling individual books through our own website only constitutes a very small amount of the sales, so engaging retailers is vital. Book stores mostly go through larger publishers because they can bulk order from a catalogue, so they don’t really deal with self-publishers. Our best reception has been with independent homewares stores who want to support local. We’ve also learned about the importance of trade shows for networking and finding these retailers.

I’d recommend doing your initial research via online forums and self-publishing support groups. Consider your budget and what risks you can take, and know that the hard work doesn’t end once you have printed your books!

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Finding the right company to publish our books. We first tried a large overseas print-on-demand publisher, who funnelled us into automated exchanges, charged extra for every tiny thing and didn’t take much care with our work. After much deliberation, we decided it would be better to bulk print locally and use the last bindery in Melbourne to sew the books together. We are so much happier with the result. Not to mention keeping production local.

Any closing advice for aspiring creatives?

I’d say for anyone who wants to get started in an area that they don’t know much about, you don’t have to work it all out yourself. People have gone through it before, and a lot of them would be happy to talk to you if you’re curious and passionate about what you do.

Sarah is available for remote freelance illustration, branding, digital and print design. Connect via her website here.

You can purchase ‘A World Full of Books’ or find a stockist here.


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