An Interview with Mandy Saile

Last month's artist interview was with a mother-daughter team I discovered in the pages of the issue of Artful Blogging Magazine in which I was featured. I was so happy to have had our paths cross! This month I'm interviewing another artist I found among those pages, and I'm equally delighted to have "met" her!

Mandy Saile, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

This is Mandy Saile, an artist known for her intricate colored pencil drawings and for her love of her
furry family of bunnies. I hope you will enjoy meeting her as much as I have.

ab: As a self-taught artist I'm always curious about other artists' art school experiences. You went to OCAD, "the largest and most comprehensive art, design and media university in Canada". What was your experience there like? Did you have a specific area of concentration? How has what you learned in art school helped you to create your career as an artist?

ms: I loved OCAD and I feel very proud to be one of its alumni. Back when I applied, it was something like only 200 new students were accepted per year out of over 5 or 6 thousand applicants so it was a really proud moment when I got in. I started college when I was 17 and I was coming from a city of just over 50,000 to a city of over 2 million so it was certainly eye-opening, scary, stressful, over-whelming but so amazing, too. It was an intense 4 year program, which I took super seriously and I worked hard to graduate with an honors associate standing. But I sure did put an awful lot of pressure on myself and looking back, I wish I could have relaxed into it all just a bit more. 

There was such a sense of camaraderie instead of competition amongst the students and there were so many different types of people, characters and talents. Whenever one of us would land a gig, we’d all go out and celebrate together. It was really a very supportive and inspiring scenario to be in. So whiles the big city stressed me out constantly, I really sank my teeth into and enjoyed the creative OCAD environment. The first year was a foundation year where you could get a taste of some of the different departments and routes. Then in second year you had to narrow your path down to either fine arts, communication & design, industrial design etc. I chose C&D with a concentration on illustration. I think the biggest thing I learnt from my days at OCAD was that everyone works in different ways and that you should try not to judge yourself to harshly against what everyone else is doing because everyone has a different way of doing things. I also learnt the importance of showing up for your craft weather you feel like it or not. The most helpful thing I learnt was really just the discipline of art making and that you only get better by putting in a lot of time and a whole lot of effort and that your learning never ever stops.

Mandy Saile, Colored Pencil, drawing, art, bunnies, rabbits,

ab: Although colored pencils are your favorite medium, you call yourself a "a maker of whimsical and unique handmade lovelies". In addition to your colorful and highly detailed colored pencil illustrations, you create with other media as well. What are some of your favorites?

ms: Whiles I am a self-confessed coloured pencil addict, I am game to try out pretty much any art medium, however I do tend to prefer working in a 2-D format than 3-D. One of my latest and greatest discoveries has been ink pens. I’ve been working with them in a more graphic manner in black and white which I find sits so perfectly next to my usual super colourful palette.

Mandy Saile, Ink drawing, rabbit drawing, rabbits, bunnies, art

I am loving the ink pens especially because they are so easy to curl up with pretty much anywhere and it’s super easy to just cap a pen, put it down and then pick up where you left off at a later time. As a chronic pain sufferer who's obsessed with making things, transportability of materials and ease-ability to stop and start is key.

Mandy Saile, drawing, ink pen drawing, fish drawing, art

I usually have a couple drawings all ready to be inked in with a tin of micron pens in my bag so whether I am out visiting, at the beach, in my kayak, waiting in the truck etc I can whip my picture and ink pens out and get some creative time in wherever I am so that’s been pretty awesome. I love to play with paint too though I’d never call myself a painter!

Mandy Saile, artwork, artist studio, mixed media

Somehow my fingers just get all confused and nervous when I am holding a paint brush! I love mixed media as well and anytime that I get to play with textures, patterned papers, layering, buttons, glue etc is a good time to me.

felt, mixed media art, Mandy Saile

I also really love taking and editing photographs. I love print-making and carving out lino-cuts. I just started dabbling in weaving which I’ve been finding so bewitching because I’ve always loved the feel and texture of yarn etc.

Mandy Saile, Loom, Studio, creative space, art

I often have a deep down need to get out my fabrics, felt and stitchery too and I have a folk-art style soft doll collection brewing in my brain right now, even though sewing machines and I don’t tend to get along! In the summers I also love to use my scroll saw and belt sander to cut out cool shapes in wood which I then colour with my coloured pencils. I can’t wait to get into the garage once the snow melts because I have a sketchbook bursting with new ideas for images on wood. I do have to be careful with whatever medium I am working with however because I have repetitive stress syndrome in my working wrist so mediums that require a lot of force or pressure I don’t get to use as often as I might like. And, I have problems with my neck so I have to work upright as much possible. But for sure, at the end of the day, my heart and fingers belong to my coloured pencils!

Mandy Saile, colored pencil, drawing, art, bunnies, rabbits, teacup

ab: One main aspect of your creative story is that your artwork is created in spite of and as an antidote to chronic pain. You have suffered with acute migraines for your entire life. How do you find the strength to move past the pain in order to create? How does art, in turn, help you to cope with your pain?

ms: I have suffered with headaches and migraines for as long as I can remember and whiles I try not to let them define my life, they definitely are a pretty major part of it, especially because I am a chronic and acute sufferer which means I have some level of pain pretty much every day or at least on average 15-20 days out of a month. The pain can start completely out of the blue for no apparent reason. I think I find the strength to move past the pain in order to create because my need and desire to create things is just very strong. Making things is not just a hobby for me, it’s a way of life and it feels as necessary as breathing or eating.

Mandy Saile, ink drawings, illustrations, black and white art, rabbits

I think having a naturally joyful spirit that likes to see the bright side of things helps a lot too. I just try my very best to not let the pain slow me down too much because I am always so aware that life is short. It does for sure take its toll and they are exhausting and I do wish I didn’t suffer from them, but the end of the day I know a lot of people have it a lot worse so I do my best to live in positivity within the pain as much as possible! It might sound bizarre but I can see positivity in all of the horrible pain; in its own magical roundabout way, the pain forces me to slow down and to take stock of what’s important and wonderful like time with my loved ones.

Mandy Saile, artist, bunnies, rabbits

There are without a doubt many really bad days where I am lost and muddled and mucked down in all the pain. Keeping any kind of schedule is really hard for me and quite frustrating. Making and keeping plans with friends etc can be quite tricky. Travel and being away from the comforts of home often feels impossible. There are times when I have a pounding in my head for over two weeks straight and sometimes it takes me weeks to recuperate only to start the cycle all over again as soon as I am starting to feel half decent! It’s super hard but I try my hardest to find beauty in the pain because right now there is no apparent way away from it all. I’d rather steep in beauty than dig myself into despair! So yes, I can honestly be sitting (or rather probably laying) there with the most painful storm thundering and pounding away in my head but I can still feel so lucky and embraced by all the beauty and joy that is abundant in life. I’ve also come to realize that the pain I deal with has played a huge part in how colorful and whimsical my artwork has become because whimsicality and color helps to lift and carry me past all of the drudgery of the pain. 

Mandy Saile, art, drawings, colored pencil

It’s like my eyes, fingers and soul seeks out brightness and color like a thirsty horse is drawn to water. My artwork is this incredible escape that helps to pull me out of the negativity of a life with chronic pain. Even when the pain keeps me away from my beloved studios and work, I can find an embracing comfort in knowing that whimsy and color are there patiently awaiting my tenacious return.

Mandy Saile, Artwork, Autumnal Dance

ab: Self care is so important, but it's something that easily falls to the wayside. I would imagine that for someone with chronic pain it's especially important not to let that happen. How do you make sure that you give yourself the time and space for nourishing yourself physically, emotionally and creatively? What are some of your favorite nourishing practices?

ms: It took me a long time to realize the importance of self-care and then even longer to allow myself to practice it! Now that I work from home full-time I am much better at it but when I had to hold down normal day jobs, it was pretty difficult and I would find myself coming home, collapsing and getting very little artwork done. Now that I luckily and thankfully work from my cozy little home full-time, when the pain gets too bad (unless I am on a deadline) I can usually just put things down and go lay down with ice and hot packs for 20-30 minutes then I’ll get back up and work again until once again the pain gets too bad and it loops on like this throughout the day.

Mandy Saile, drawings, illustrations, roses

My honey suffers from head pain as well, so we are lucky to be able to understand exactly what the other goes through and who knows all of the little tricks of how to make life more comfortable during the rough spots. I think too that it really helps that I am pretty tenacious and after all these years of suffering, I’ve developed a pretty high working pain threshold. But somedays still, I don’t know when to call it quits and I push myself too far and I find myself collapsing and taking twice as long to recuperate. If the pain or anything else in life for that matter keeps me away from my studio more than 3 or 4 days, I start to feel like a caged feral animal and that’s really when I have to call on all my tricks of positivity. Some of my favorite self-care practices are just simple ones like being out in nature and seeking wildlife whether it be out on a walk or a nice long paddle in kayaks. 

Mandy Saile, drawing, ink pen, garden

When my head pain allows, I love to practice yoga and to use my elliptical but keeping a regular routine for these isn’t always easy. I think my favorite self-care practice is just a good soaking in a deep bubble bath with candles and my favorite chillstep albums playing on the stereo. Whiles I soak I drink lots of water (and munch on organic strawberries). I like to have the window open for fresh air, even in the middle of winter and about 10 minutes before I get out, I put a cold cloth on my face that has eucalyptus oil on it. Then I slather myself with a natural, cruelty-free lotion infused with lavender and sweet orange essential oils and then I have a lay-down on the bed for about 10 minutes to cool off before I crawl into the softest coziest pjs I have (at which point I often sneak back into my studio for just a bit longer). It’s a pretty simple routine but it’s one that I never tire of and it feels lovely to a body that goes through a lot. When I must work because I have a deadline or because I am simply being too stubborn to stop, my self-care practice involves a cold pack all the way around my neck and one wrapped all around the top of my head, I slather on a cruelty-free mud mask, make myself a soy latte, listen to my favorite jazz station and I get as much work done for as long as I can. But I think my easiest self-care routine is just getting into comfy clothes, making a honeyed peppermint green tea with some fresh fruit to munch on and I curl up in thick soft blankets on the floor, in various rooms, so that I can watch and be near any of our nine bun-babies. This is probably the most healing self-care practice that I do, just being near animals, sparks my inner happy no matter what else is going on.

Mandy Saile, Rabbits, Home, Cozy

ab: Your art, your blog and your brand is built upon a focus on joy and beauty. But I know that like everyone, you must have down days. What strategies do you use to bring yourself back to positivity when the negative seems to overwhelm? How do you find inspiration when darkness looms?

ms: I absolutely have down days yes. I am a pretty sensitive person so it’s easy for me to be hurt and get down. I am also so in love with animals and seeing the way the world mistreats and uses them breaks my heart quite often. My tools to pull me past the negativity and overwhelm however are pretty easy to call upon. Firstly I check in with myself and make sure, whatever the scenario is, that I am doing the best I can as a person at that time.

Mandy Saile, Artwork, ink drawing, illustration, rabbits, bunnies

Another tool I use is blogging! I’ve been blogging for over 9 years now and it allows me to capture and create a place that cradles all of the good and beautiful stuff happening in life, preserving it all from the disintegration and distortion of time. Creating my posts is a practice that allows me to quickly see if I am concentrating on my biggest priorities and truest loves. I blog about the unique life I live with my amazing hon bun of over 23 years, the beautiful family we make with our inspirational crew of rescued house-rabbits, my life as a maker of whimsy and some of the trials and tribulations thrown in along the way for good measure. Even when I am posting about negative stuff, I find myself searching for the silver lining since I have the need for my blog to be a place of positivity for others, yes for sure, but mostly for me. My dear blog has become a tool which I use to navigate any ‘rough spots’ with gratitude and whiles I can’t control all the bad stuff happening in the world, I can control my attitude and outlook in my own life. The blog is very much like a trail of breadcrumbs… no matter how far I might stray into the darkness, it will lead me right back to all the abundant beauty and positivity of life. Instagram has a similar effect on me because I can chronologically post photos there and on any bad day, just a quick stroll through my own stream leaves me with a pretty big and instant ‘Holy crap Mandy, snap out of it, your life is pretty damn beautiful’ ha ha. But my biggest inspiration however to jump start me out of the negative would have to be our motley crew of rescued house rabbits, just looking at them, watching them, caring for them, is a balm for most bad things.

ab: Your rabbits aren't just a part of your family, they're an inspiration, too. Tell us a bit about the role they play in your artwork and the inspiration they provide for your compassionate lifestyle. How did you became a "rabbit person" and what's life is like with your family of house bunnies? I'd also love for you to share a bit more about your dream of running a rabbit sanctuary, too.

ms: Okay, ready for a long answer, ha ha, because I LOVE talking about the bunnies. Our life, love and passion for rabbits began over 22 years ago when I moved away from my small hometown to attend OCAD in Toronto. I was having a hard time adjusting to the big city and my animal loving heart knew a furry pal would help to settle me, body and soul. When a spirited English angora crossed our paths just a few months after our move to the city, we just knew he was meant to join us on big city adventure. I can’t imagine life without rabbits.

They lend such inspiration to everything I do, especially to my whimsical artwork. I find such beauty and awe in all animals but to me, rabbits are especially stunningly beautiful creatures. They possess a spectacular mix of traits and every single soul has a different personality and story from the next. They are a wonderful mixture of pure sweetness, endearing vulnerability, catching playfulness and joyful abandon whiles at the same time being sweet and emotional, sensitive and moody.

Mandy Saile, ink drawings, rabbits, black and white artwork

I can see all of these qualities in my work on some level and I just love the similarities. Besides inspiring my art, they also inspire me to live a kind life, to be vegetarian, to buy cruelty-free products and make-up and they inspire me to work hard despite what I am up against. I have high hopes and dreams that my artwork will help animals whether it’s through the realization of my long dreamt of rabbit sanctuary, through donations to charities or by prompting viewers to see the beauty in animals and the need for more kindness and better stewardship, care and conservation.

Mandy Saile, artwork, illustration, bunnies, colored pencil, mixed media

Life with a house full of cage-free rabbits can be very hectic, busy and messy. I think I vacuum way more than a normal person should ever have to, ha ha! And it can be stressful because rabbits are this really strange mix of being quite hardy but also super delicate, especially their digestive systems, also a lot of our rescues have health problems and scary situations pop up more often than we’d like them to and our vet bills do get really expensive. They do tend to chew everything and yes they do ruin a lot of stuff. They are super territorial and won’t all get along so the bonding process requires a whole whack of patience and effort. We have boards and gates sectioning off different sets of room and we have a pretty tight schedule of this board moving this way and then that way so this rabbit and that rabbit can have different rooms and access to outside at different times of the day etc.

Mandy Saile, Bunnies, Garden

Our house isn’t exactly what we would call visitor friendly, one has to be pretty nimble to navigate all the boards and gates, but we always say that the house belongs to the rabbits anyways so that doesn’t matter! I also figure that by going up and over so many boards and gates 24/7 is going to give us super strong hips when we’re old and gray ha ha! It can get a bit crazy but we make it work and at the end of the day we don’t really know or desire any other way. Travel with the buns is pretty much impossible but at the end of the day that has to be okay because we wouldn’t trade them for a trip around the world. It’s important to us to just let each and every rabbit under our roof just be themselves and to just allow a rabbit be a rabbit.

Mandy Saile, Rabbits, home

Our buns have come to us in a bevy of interesting ways over the years. One we found lost and half dead in the forest. Another was a store mascot who couldn’t handle the stress of kids and dogs constantly at his cage. Another we found under our porch with a severely broken leg, just 2 weeks after we brought 3 sisters home from a horrible ‘farm’ who were in desperate need of a good home. And, in the past five years we’ve adopted 10 from an animal shelter. Life with rabbits has been incredibly fulfilling and joyful. Having a house full of rabbits running around happily, knowing that they have changed our lives as much as we’ve changed theirs, feels like a happy, warm, fuzzy dream. Knowing that I am part of their happiness lends such joy and sweetness to my life and inevitably to my work. Bright colour and joyful whimsy in my artwork is in a way, me, trying to capture their beautiful essence. Every single piece of art I make is me paying homage to them because of the unique way they fill my heart and creative soul like nothing else. I truly feel that I have rabbits, in large, to thank for my joy-filled heart, happy outlook on life & whimsical artwork.

Mandy Saile, rabbits, watercolor, art, art in progress

I do indeed dream of one day creating my artwork in the middle of my own rabbit sanctuary / rescue but we’ll see because I, at this moment in time, am unsure of how my super sensitive heart can mix with such a scenario. When I do dream of it, it’s as so: A giant building, almost like a greenhouse (hopefully in some clever way connected to our main house), an enchanted place where we can grow grass inside because there will be loads of light. There will be a corner with comfy sitting, full of books, plants and of course an espresso machine for volunteers. Happy music will softly tinkle away at all hours of the day. I picture each rescued bun to have large pens to themselves but there will be large common play area inside and outside for all to enjoy.

Mandy Saile, Rabbit, Garden, Roses

I hope that we can house and care for at least 50 buns at a time but we aren’t 100% sure whether we’ll adopt them out or if we’ll be their final home, but in either case we’ll have to rely heavily on volunteers, donations and hopefully discounts on vet bills! Blending into all this bunny goodness would be my studio, a super large horse-shoe shaped desk, which will be right smack dab in the middle of all the bunniful action. I have always had two huge dreams… making artwork full-time and helping animals… now I am just in the process of making both dreams come true and figuring out how the two can best intermingle with each other.

Mandy Saile, artist, artwork, rabbits

I always have this nagging push and pull feeling of wanting to do more. So, right now, whiles we work our way to our sanctuary dream, we are doing as much as we can by filling our home and studio with as many rabbits as we can comfortably fit, cage-free. My love, Jonathan is just as crazy about and dedicated to life with animals as I am, maybe even more so and it’s been our decision to concentrate our love and make our family with rabbits instead of ‘the norm’ and we haven’t regretted that decision for a single second, they are magical little beings that we can’t imagine living without.

Mandy Saile, Rabbits

Thank you, Mandy, for sharing your story with us here today!

Dear readers, you can connect with Mandy:

Want to check out my other artist interviews? You can catch up here. And find more inspiration from the Sketchbook Conversations series of mini, sketchbook-related interviews, all of which can be accessed here.

*Photos in this post © Mandy Saile. Used with permission.


  1. This was quite an interview, Anne. First off, I loved all the praise for Mandy's alma mater, OCAD University, for this is where my daughter Kate teaches wearable technology! We have visited the school several times and it is very special.
    Mandy, your work is gorgeous - really lovely - and I love both your black and white work as well as your beautiful colored pencil work. The fact that you do this while living with chronic pain is amazing. I'm so inspired by your positive attitude and the way you use your artwork to keep you going. Also, I love your beautiful bunnies and plan to hop on over to your blog to check it out.
    Thanks for another wonderful interview, Anne.xo

    1. Oh wow, I didn't put 2 and 2 together! What a cool connection!

      Glad you enjoyed the interview, Judy! It sure was fun for me!


  2. A beautiful, gorgeous and inspiring post! Thank you Anne and thank you Mandy! :)

  3. Just to say, I liked this post so much that I have linked it to a friend who is passionate about rabbits! :)

    1. Thank you for sending me the link Simone.....I so 'get' you Mandy and your bunny art is wonderful.

    2. Thanks for sharing the link, Simone!

      Green Rabbit Designs, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed meeting Mandy!

  4. Mandy, your art is incredibly beautiful and you sound like an equally beautiful person with a big heart. The photographs of your rabbit family are lovely, the photo of the 2 white rabbits lying sort of head to head is really touching. For your migraines have you tried eating fever-few leaves? Not a cure but a scientifically proven treatment.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Bessie. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing the feverfew tip.


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