The vivid neon colors and bustling, bunny-packed scenes of Sarah Haug’s work seem, at first glance, to be unquestionably adorable. Which just goes to show what a carefully chosen palette and optically overwhelming composition can do to the brain: look a little closer and these rabbits are not all they seem. They’re totally wild, in all senses of the word; perpetrators of orgies, drugs, and unwholesome adventures.
Haug’s work more often than not depicts animals in fantastical scenes. The illustrator says that this is because they “are great, beautiful and have a special presence that moves me a lot. Also they can do a lot of things humans can’t.” It seems like a sort of illustrative escapism, and a marked contradiction from her surroundings in Geneva, Switzerland, where she’s lived since a year-long spell in Colombia.
It took Haug a while to arrive at a discipline she felt happy with—she says she was “not so happy” studying visual communication, and so after a year on the course “escaped into Fine Arts during an Erasmus Exchange at the Haute école d’arts décoratifs in Strasbourg, France.”
The moment she realised that illustration was something she could potentially make a career from came following a period where she “withdrew into my bedroom for two years of defiant struggle.” The projects made during this time paid off, and Haug was awarded a grant for her first attempts at animated live visuals, which funded a Masters in illustration and animation in Lucerne.
“Since, I have been trying to build my own projects, refining my voice and trying to find my sweet spots,” she says. “I’m trying hard not to be all over the place, because I’m tempted to try everything right now. So the most consistent tool has been a black pen and my sketchbook—I’ve been filling them for years with characters, scenes, and storyboards.”
For all her love of analog though, Haug saw her process revolutionized with the addition of a Cintiq to her armoury. “I usually start from a sketch and redraw it in Illustrator,” she says. “For animation I use TVpaint. For commissions I work quite straight forward towards an idea. I have quite a physical relationship to drawing. Movement fascinates me, in the drawing and animation. Also, I love to draw in one take with brush and ink, on big formats where I have a direct relation to the piece.”
The surreal and often sexual nature of Haug’s animal-packed work means it’s little surprise she cites Tomi Ungerer as an inspirational figure. After all, his expertly rendered and warped linework delineated both children’s book creatures and erotica. But where do these characters come from? Haug has a charmingly eccentric approach to answering this, and one that fits perfectly with her offbeat and playful style. “I don’t know where they come from,” she ponders. “I like people a lot, I guess. Sometimes I recognize them after I draw them. Sometimes they come out of my heart and sometimes I squeeze them through a tight question mark. It’s a kind of role play and dialogue with the characters, a way to travel into their minds…”