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Inside Stationery (Pt. 01): Sarah J. Coleman aka Inkymole – Diamine Ink Bottle Labels & Packaging

Inside Stationery - series background (click to expand)
I have been doing stationery reviews for a few years now. While I will continue making these, I sometimes feel that the focus on the products and their specs tends to take over.

Although the artefacts of stationery are the products we buy and use, hence there is a rightful interest in their goods and bads, there is more to stationery than the artefact.

The purpose of the ‘Inside Stationery’-series is to illuminate stationery beyond the artefact – and talk to the interesting makers, designers, and founders behind all the pens, notebooks, and inks.

I hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I enjoy talking to all these people!



with Sarah J. Coleman  

Part I: Sarah J. Coleman & her work

Scrively: A few words about yourself: What is it that you are doing? What’s the story or thinking behind the name “Inky Mole”?

SJC: I’m a full time illustrator based in the UK. Regarding the name, when I bought my first domain, all the available Sarah Coleman options were taken (since there weren’t that many domain options at that time) so I used a combination of school and childhood nicknames. It wasn’t long before people were ringing up and asking to speak to Inky, or Mole, or some other combination! And it’s all one word – Inkymole.

Scrively: A look at your website and raises the suspicion that you have enough going on to fill 3+ lives: Illustration, Blogging, Record Label, Radio, etc. This seems to reveal a deep, complex, and multifaceted personality – are you an Aquarius?  

SJC: I‘m a textbook Capricorn! Which means I can be extremely hard on myself, and feel like I’ve never done enough. I love to be busy – Capricorns can tend towards workaholism, which I’ve definitely flirted with – but mainly I love to work, and I always have! And I don‘t like to turn opportunities down. I also have a very creative and forward-thinking partner, with whom a lot of those ‘extra-curricular’ projects have been developed. He pushes me out of my comfort zone quite often.

Scrively: We bumped into each other on Instagram, where you commented on one of my reviews of a Diamine Ink. I think it was Florida Blue, and I think I dropped a foot note that I liked the old package design and bottle labels better. You let me know that you’re the designer behind the new labels and that you enjoyed getting to hear from end users of your designs. My pleasure we met – I appreciate your craft! What kind of stationery products do you design, and in how far do you actually get to hear from end users? 

SJC: I’ve worked on all manner of products over the years – I’ve been working for over a quarter of a century. I see people buying products in supermarkets with my work on; I’ve done big makeup brands, food, stationery (Crayola were a client for a while!), and at the beginning of my career, lots of greetings cards, wedding stuff and Christmas cards.
What I love about illustration is that it Does A Job – it doesn’t exist to be purely decorative (well, sometimes), it’s created to sell, illuminate, tell a story, explain, or highlight. And it can be very ephemeral – the Diamine packaging is one of the longest-lasting projects I’ve done; it has enjoyed a real longevity.

Scrively: Back to the (not so) new (anymore) Diamine Bottle design. It’s definitely your signature style, inferring from your other illustration work. Can you tell me how this project unfolded and what the thoughts behind the new design were?  

SJC: That’s interesting! I don’t think I have a signature style. I think my work’s recognisable, but there’s deliberately no single style – I’ve avoided that, as I love to work in so many different ways.
I approached Phil and Christine Diamine several years ago as I loved their inks, and had been using them for a while; I went to visit them and the rest is history. The main influence on the new design was Christine’s desire to flag up the company’s 150 year history – the year they launched the new boxes was their 150th anniversary. So the illustration was both a nod to tradition and classical, rich, calligraphy-driven line work and to the bold, wild colours of their modern range.

Scrively: You also have another fairly recent thing going on for Diamine – the Diamine Inkvent calendar. Can you tell me how this happened, what this is, and what the process behind it is? 

SJC: Two years ago Phil and I had been working on more box designs for their range, and he mentioned this bold idea he’d had. Straight away I was ridiculously excited as I love Christmas and ink and this was both things in one project. It took two years to get the whole thing completed – the design was fiddly and had many technical considerations, and there were bespoke glass bottles to get made, the vac forming, new inks to create and so on. It was a behemoth, and I take my hat off to Phil for getting it DONE! The original artwork was created in Diamine ink (of course) on A2 cartridge paper.

Inkymole for Diamine’s ‘Inkvent Calendar’ from Sarah Coleman Inkymole on Vimeo.

Part II: Sarah J. Coleman & Stationery

Scrively: What meaning does stationery and (analogue) writing/note-taking/journaling have for you personally?

SJC: I don’t do journaling, as I don’t have time, but I’ve recently started using a diary again this year for keeping track of what I need to do, and when. This works in conjunction with a busy iCal, a much written-on wall planner, and a daily-updated spreadsheet which tracks my client work. Stationery is what I’ve always relied on to feel organised and ‘safe’, if you like; there is a soothing power in laying things out, and I often can’t think without holding a pen or pencil. A notebook and several pens live permanently in my bag, and writing things down gives me comfort and is a bit of a crutch really!

Scrively: I really like your intro text on It says that you illustrated over 600 books and own over 700 pens – “enough to write you a picture AND paint you a story”. So poetic, I wish I had come up with this! Do you actually really have that many pens? 

SJC: Thanks! I was pretty pleased with that line myself, ha ha. Regarding the books, that is true. In fact, it’s just surpassed 800 – that’s a combination of book covers and illustrated books. But remember I’ve been doing this a long time! And it’s also true about the pens – my sister came round and was bored once, so she decide to start counting them. I reckon I’m way past that amount now…

Scrively: What is your personal favourite pen or stationery item?  

SJC: I don’t have a single favourite thing, that’d be like choosing your favourite child! But I am very partial to picking up an old fountain pen for signing a contract. Ink is so much a part of my existence that I think I must be partially composed of it by now, on a molecular level. I love a Moleskine notebook and my golden Leuchtturm diaries. And my Nikko-G Japanese drawing nibs. Stuck without those.

Scrively: Okay, I think this is an obvious one for me to ask: what is your favourite Diamine ink?

SJC: Their black drawing ink! Their shimmers and their eyewateringly lovely Lemon Yellow drawing ink are totally delicious, but black will always be my favourite colour, in ink and in life in general!

Scrively: May I glance at your desk? What’s on there/what do we see there? Please go ahead and describe a little!

SJC: Aha! Well, I don’t have one desk, I have two. The main desk is seven metres long, made of old railways sleepers by our friend Sue, and built into the extension at the side of the house – we knocked out a wall to double the ground floor space, which is now all-work with a kitchen; previously I worked on the top floor, which at some point was an attic. I’ve got all my pens in front of me and next to me. It’s a bit den-like I suppose, in the way that I surround myself with them. To flesh out that picture, the studio space is built of reclaimed bricks, girders from a demolished local factory, a reclaimed parquet floor and a re-purposed printer’s cupboard! My other desk is an A0 plan chest (also second hand, repaired, put on wheels and repainted!) at which I stand and work, and do photography and time-lapses.

Scrively: Beautiful. Thanks for taking the time – much appreciated! I wish you all the best in the creative den.

SJC: Thank you for talking to me Michael!

Links: Deep dive, if you like

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