Interview: Sara Fabel

The Finnish artist tells us how a bad break-up and Instagram catapulted her international career

Words Photography by Melissa Findley
Photos by Melissa Findley.

A lot of people can attribute their fame and fortune to the internet and social media. While some gimmicks crash and burn because, well, they’re lame, there are those few whose legitimate talent spawns burgeoning careers. Finland-born Sara Fabel is certainly part of the latter. She’s an illustrator, model, tattoo artist and citizen of the world, with an Instagram following of a couple hundred thousand. Khairun Hamid sat down with the self-proclaimed workaholic to talk art and zombies.

You left Helsinki when you were 19. What prompted you to move?

Even before I was 18, I travelled a lot. I never saw it as a problem and it was never scary or anything. I just wanted to go, I just wanted to experience something else and I knew there was so much more to the world than just Helsinki and living in Finland.

What made you choose to move to Australia?

It was ‘eenie meenie minie mo’. I was going between Canada and Australia and I was like “I don’t like snow, so I’ll just go to Australia. I’m just gonna go to Brisbane.” I had no idea where Brisbane was on the map or how big it was. I was just like, “Why the hell not?” So I ended up in Brisbane with a week’s notice and lived there for a year.

So what’s been keeping you busy lately?

I’ve been doing my tattooing apprenticeship – learning, trying to be better. Meeting new people, talking to artists that I admire and doing collaboration pieces and trying to juggle [everything]. I’m so fully booked, even though I’m an apprentice, that it’s insane. On top of working full-time, I’m still trying to do modeling and all these extra projects and having a clothing label on the side. I just love working.

What inspires your art?

Everything. People I meet. Instagram, I usually spend two hours in bed in the morning just scrolling through Instagram. Seeing all these artists that I follow and just every morning having a dose of somebody amazing and creative and looking at their work and saying, “I wanna be at that level.”

Where does your love for horror and gore stem from?

I’ve just always loved it. I was always fascinated by monsters, vampires, mutants and thinking there could be these demons among us. Normal life can get really boring so sometimes it’s just nice to escape to this whole kinda fantasy-scary world.

What attracted you to tattoos and tattooing?

I saw my first tattoo when I was 12 and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was always the bullied kid, I was always the different kid. As I started getting tattooed when I was 16 I felt like the tattoo was scraping the skin off and revealing the true colour underneath. Every tattoo I got, I felt more like me. I felt like my identity was more intact and I felt stronger. It’s like when you have gargoyles outside churches to keep out the bad spirits. I feel that my tattoos are my gargoyles and it keeps my personality intact and keeps the outside world from interfering too much into who I am.

You have quite a few tattoos yourself. Do you have a favourite one or one that’s more significant than the others?

Yes. It’s part of a tattoo. I have the whore of Babylon riding on the beast on my shin and one of the paws on the beast is my favourite tattoo – it’s so fluffy and cute! I don’t know why it is, but that one paw is like the favourite of everything I have.

And what’s the hottest tattoo you’ve seen on someone else?

Rick Genest. He is completely tattooed as a zombie. I’ve had this massive obsessive crush on him for a long time. Since I first saw him I was just like “Who the hell is this guy, oh my god!” I wish I could make babies with him and they could just be born like that.

Tell us about Hell Has No Fury. How did that come about?

My clothing label? “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned”. I feel like I’m the strongest when I’m single and every time I get into a relationship I feel like my inspiration dies. When I get so devoted to one person I kinda lose focus. And every time I break up I feel reborn.

When I broke up with – not my previous partner – but the one before, that’s when my entire career started. I moved to New Zealand by myself and I decided to start designing and drawing, doing commissions and modeling. All that started from just basically being so angry. Fuck, the best revenge is success and that’s what I did.

I tattooed my palm with “Hell has no fury” because I was like with these hands I’m gonna create the success. That’s why I wanted to name my label Hell Has No Fury because it always comes from people mistreating you. Bad things in life happen, but the only way to revenge them is by being happier and growing as a person. I’m gonna make myself better and leave you behind.

So what does your average day look like? Is there such a thing?

My average day is: I wake up, I lay in bed for a while – do my Instagram, do my emails. That can go from two hours and three hours sometimes. I go to work, I tattoo roughly eight hours a day; interact with the clients and try and upkeep my Instagram. Then go home, do some more emails, start drawing for the next clients, do my internet orders and everything and then go to sleep. And then on my day off, I do a photoshoot, try and squeeze in seeing some friends, do more emails. I’m a workaholic, that’s all I do, just work, work, work. It’s ridiculous.

My next question was going to be ‘what do you do on your day off’? But I assume you would just be working on other stuff?

The only day off I’ve had was on Sunday because I was too hungover to do anything. That’s the only way you’ll get me to have a day off – if I’m really sick. I feel useless and anxious and terrible if I’m not actually doing something. I feel like I’m wasting my life.

You’re a bit of a traveller – having moved to New Zealand for a little bit and recently visiting the US. Do you have any crazy travel stories?

Well I went to New Zealand because at the time my ex-ex-boyfriend basically stole all my money and I was broke and I had maybe like $500–$600 in my account. I was being kicked out of Australia and I was like ‘Where can I go?’ I moved to New Zealand and I worked in a book warehouse for like $8 an hour and that’s where my career started a couple of years ago because I was so bored and I didn’t have any money to do anything.

All I could do was get better at drawing and then go to McDonald’s so I could log in to the wi-fi to upload my Instagram. That’s when I started with Instagram and it went viral in no time. I was too poor to do anything and I literally had to – it was a matter of drawing or chewing my arms off.

So, speaking of Instagram, you do have a massive following. What is it like to be Insta-famous?

I think it’s good. Before I started illustrating, I became a teacher because I was extremely bullied when I was younger. I wanted to become that one adult at school that would be like “Ok, I believe you that you’re having a hard time. I’ll help you through this.” Now I feel like the more famous I get, the more I have a voice. Lately I’ve been doing a lot more blogging about believing in yourself and standing up for yourself, gay rights and bullying. Obviously I get a lot of really freaky people and stalkers through that but at least I’ve had so many people say thank you for the things I’m saying. So I think it’s nice to have that voice to spread a good message.

You’ve got so much going on – do you find guys are intimidated by your achievements?

Yes and I get used a lot. Because people know that I have a following and they know that through me they can become ‘Insta-famous’ and stuff. I’m extremely reserved when it comes to making new friends and letting people in my life. I feel like most of the time they already have their idea of me based off the internet fame and they just wanna use it. It’s unfortunate, it’s true in friendships and relationships. It’s just unfortunate that people are so hungry for selfish goals that it’s really hard to paddle through the bad apples.

Do you think you’re any better at weeding out the creeps from the real nice guys?

I don’t know. I’m so in love with my career that it’s really hard for me to fall in love with a guy. I’ve just noticed that I’m better off being single and I have such amazing friends. The few friends I have are genuinely so amazing that I’d rather dedicate the time to them and to my career and making those new connections. I’m happy being by myself and I’m happy being who I am. I don’t need anybody else to fill my life, it’s already pretty full as it is.

Is there any one quality that you’re looking or hoping for in a person as a partner? Do you have a type?

I don’t have a type at all. I’m more attracted to smarts and a lot of my friendships started on the internet where I would talk to the person for months before actually meeting them. I’m more attracted to how a person can carry a conversation, that they’re smart and motivated. Looks don’t really play too much of a part – apart from Rick Genest who’s just a babe. [Laughs.] I mean looks fade, I’m not gonna look like this in 30 years.

Of all the places you’ve lived and visited, is there anywhere in particular that has the most interesting or attractive men?

The best relationships and the most stable relationships I’ve ever had were in Finland. Australian and American men are absolutely psychotic. In Finland, I’ve heard of only one of my friends ever being cheated on. I come to Australia and go to America and everybody’s been cheated on or has cheated on somebody. It’s so much drama, it’s absolutely draining. It was such a culture shock.

So what is next for Sara Fabel? What are your dreams or plans for the near future?

I’m moving to Los Angeles in May and hopefully getting Hell Has No Fury launched officially: starting distribution, getting more artists involved, doing more collaborations, networking more. Hopefully doing more modeling – I gave up on it for a while. And show that even though you’re older – like I am a bit too old to be a traditional fashion model and too short and apparently too chubby – and that you can be tattooed and look different and still change the fashion world. I just wanna be bigger, better and learn things.

I don’t really have a home, I guess I belong to the world and until I find that somebody that is gonna anchor me down somewhere or find that one spot to kinda settle in, I’m just gonna keep moving and doing more things.

So any parting words or advice to aspiring artists?

Best quote I’ve ever heard was from John Milton, which is “Long is the way, and hard, but out of hell leads up to light”. I have it tattooed on me and it’s so true. Nothing comes without hard work and when you feel like you’re working hard enough, you’re not. It’s about sacrifice and about working your way towards your goals and never giving up.

For more about Sara Fabel check out her website, Facebook or instagram: @Sarafabel

Photos by Melissa Findley.
Melissa is currently exhibiting works at The People’s Market, Collingwood.