Illustrating & dating: Spell Meets Sarah Akinterinwa

Illustrator Sarah Akinterinwa tells us about creative block and her dating icks, and digs deeper into the inspiration behind ‘Why You’ll Never Find the One’.

You may know Sarah Akinterinwa’s work from Instagram, or the New York Times. She’s the publication’s first black British female cartoonist, and readers avidly follow the journey of her principal characters, Oyin and Kojo. Now, however, she is releasing an ‘illustrated dating guide’ born from her experiences as a millennial black woman navigating the world of dating – and it’s so relatable.

Here, Sarah tells us about creative block and her dating icks, and digs deeper into the inspiration behind ‘Why You’ll Never Find the One’.

‘Why You’ll Never Find the One’ is full of dating pitfalls and pratfalls – where did the inspiration come from, and what compelled you to turn it into a book?

The inspiration for my book came from my own personal experiences of love and dating and the stories and experiences my friends and family share with me. I enjoy talking about love and dating and I just knew writing a book about this subject would be a lot of fun. I remember having an epiphany after a heartbreak in my twenties that I was just as incompatible with that person as I was with the person before, therefore, who’s to say there’s just one person in my life that I’ll fall madly in love with. Overall, I felt inspired to let people know that they have more options than they think when it comes to dating.

Sarah Akinterinwa - Why You’ll Never Find the One

Alongside being an author-illustrator, you’re also a cartoonist for The New Yorker and deliver artist workshops. How do you get into the mindset to create when you’re so busy?

As an artist, even when you’re not putting pen to paper, or in my case iPad pen to screen, you’re still creating. I’m always buzzing with ideas and make sure to note good idea down that I want to turn into art later. This really helps my mindset when it comes to creating because coming up with ideas when I’m exhausted is difficult. So, I always think, ‘what can I do now to help future me?’. That can be anything from planning comics, planning workshops, or writing down ideas.

What are your tips for someone who has “creator’s block”?

Creator’s block is normal, and it happens to me at least once a week. The worst thing you can do is get frustrated and force yourself to sit and think of ideas. I usually stop what I’m doing and do something unrelated to work, like make lunch, go for a quick walk, or some chores. I think creator’s block means your brain needs a break. By the time I come back to my work, the ideas are flowing again.

You’re the first black British woman to create cartoons for The New Yorker – do you ever feel pressure to uphold that prestige?

I don’t feel pressure at all. I feel proud of myself and very hopeful that this will inspire more black women and women of other minority races to become cartoonists. I try to focus less on pressure and more on creating authentic artwork and stories that feel good to me and share a humorous and/or positive message.

Sarah Akinterinwa - Why You’ll Never Find the One

Where can the average person find cartoons and other artistic content by black creatives?

The average person can probably find black art on social media which is a great space for sharing artwork and creative content. I would love to see more of it in museums and galleries. I was very fortunate to have an exhibition last year in the Cartoon Museum. I really hope in the future there will be more black cartoonists exhibited there.

What was the biggest challenge when creating ‘Why You’ll Never Find the One’?

There were a lot of challenges. I wrote it for over almost two years and in that time I dated and had a lot of experiences the main character in the book had. It was hard to write self-help advice about my own problems. After a while, I realised my own writing was helpful to me and saw that I had the answers to my problems all along. Another challenge was balancing work with writing the book. I was very lucky to have such a patient editor and supportive family and friends to keep me going. Writing and drawing for a graphic book while working full-time is not for the weak!

What does the future look like for your much-loved cartoon couple creation, Oyin and Kojo?

My ultimate dream is to see them as an animation. I think it would make the perfect TV series and I’m working hard behind the scenes to make this a reality which – fingers crossed – it just might be soon. Right now, I’m enjoying making comics of their funny mundane moments, but I know this comic series has potential to be so much more.

What’s the number one piece of dating advice that every modern black woman should know?

In a world that is adamant to make black women feel as unworthy, unattractive, and undesirable as possible, my advice is to radically love yourself. It’s an exhausting process that yields the most beautiful results. When you learn to love yourself, even if it’s sometimes just liking yourself or accepting yourself, dating feels a lot better. You quickly realise that you also deserve all the romance, the respect, and liberation women of other races deserve.

Sarah Akinterinwa - Why You’ll Never Find the One

What does self-love look like to you?

Self-love is the little things like taking care of my body, saying no to things that harm me, saying yes to what serves, going to therapy, crying when I need to cry, putting my phone down, accepting my body the way it looks today and not a few years ago or in the future, dancing more, eating well, dressing in clothes that feel like me, and making choices for myself that come from love.

What’s your dating ick?

Oh, I have so many. I’m very prone to the ick. My number one dating ick is ‘negging.’ This is when a man gives backhanded compliments such as, ‘You’re more intelligent than you look,’ or ‘You’re beautiful but I wonder what you look like without makeup.’ I see it as a way to chip at your confidence so that they have more power over how you feel about yourself. Huge red flag and gives me the instant ick!

Why You’ll Never Find The One‘ is available for pre-order now. Follow Sarah Akinterinwa on Instagram @sarah_akinterinwa.

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