Close Up with Artists -Jen Roberts & Sandra Mason from IMOK

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

Sandra: I’ll start by introducing myself, my name is Sandra and I am one of the co – creators of IMOK. Being a 31 year old girl living in tropical Melbourne and having a business partner of 5 years living in Sydney, isn’t the most normal business tale! But then again I think you’ll find that IMOK isn’t the most normal creative business….

When starting IMOK, there was a basic intent, to have a forum to be able to create without limits. I don’t think Jen or I could have ever truly known what lay ahead within the IMOK journey. We discovered things that we never even knew we could do and were challenged to grow constantly. This would enable our creative dreams and deepest desires to become a reality. When you look at anything that is IMOK you can be assured that it is done by myself and Jen.

Sandra & Steve

Jen: I am a self taught artist living in Sydney and the second half of IMOK, a business we created together in 2004.

We currently create artworks for exhibitions, do private commissions, and have a lettering range, t-shirt range and freelance design.

Jen & Rod

Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love in your own creative business?

Sandra: My inspiration comes from other creative people /business that are out there today. From skateboard companies to other street graffiti/stencil artists, photographers to musicians and all the character and vinyl toy industries. People in general that are passionate, generate a great buzz – a real electricity! Now that is something that inspires most!!

Jen: An absolute love of designing and creating and a “need” to do it! Creativity in many forms keeps me sane. Meeting Sandra was like finding a creative soul mate, the first interaction we had with each other was Sandra painting a picture and handing it to me in Hospitality class, I went home that night did a picture for her and gave it the next day…from that moment on we have really created for, and been constantly inspired by each other.

Seeing artists like Jeremyville, Tokidoki and Nathan Jurevicius creating amazing unique work and succeeding has shown us that if they can do it, why can’t we!

Where do you get your inspiration from when you design/paint?

Sandra: Magazines to do with design or art mainly, otherwise pop culture in general, music videos are really stepping it up in what they are producing as well as most advertising campaigns these days. We are in such a lucky period in the art world, so many styles and mediums are being embraced that there is no one distinctive style happening to rule the era. This has given a platform for so many inspiring artists to finally be seen, not only in the art world but in current society!

 The Time is On
Jen: From my sketch book! I am constantly quenching my thirst for amazing art by surfing the net, visiting blogs, buying books – lastest favourite is Hunt & Gather – Discovering New Art by Tina Ziegler, magazines – currently love Digital Artist, visiting markets and through exhibitions. I can’t help but be influenced by elements that I love by all of those artists, but we have worked very hard to create a unique distinctive style that we can call our very own.

What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?

Sandra: Creative,Caring,Dependable,Loyal, Funny

Jen: Happy, level headed, creative, real and driven

Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?

Sandra: Well, my first job was at a steak house, which now seems quite hilarious as I am a vegetarian and now don’t work in hospitality. But this was really was my destiny! This led me to do a course in Hospitality Management, which is where I met Jen. I remember even saying it at the time and for many years later that I only did that course to meet Jen, as I knew after 1 year of studying this Diploma that I wanted out! After completing the course I went through 5 hospitality jobs in one year, it was pretty obvious to everyone that this was not the right industry for me.

First Exhibition 2008

Jen: My First job was working in the fast food outlets at the Sydney Football Stadium and Cricket Ground. I surprised myself by being good at the job and actually enjoying it. Having not much self belief I thought that seen as though I was pretty good at Working with food it must be what I was meant to do. So I decided to Study Hospitality Management at Tafe. A career in hospitality followed with much success but the desire to be creative was burning just below the surface. The fateful meeting of Sandra Mason in that very course sparked a true friendship. What began as hand-making elaborate Birthday gifts for each other, spurred on a mutual love of art and creating together. In the years that followed Sandra moved to Melbourne but the friendship remained and has grown into the dynamic partnership that it is today.


 As a Solo Artist, what is your biggest frustration?

Sandra: Biggest frustration is mental blocks and self doubt. I am renowned for psyching myself out without help from another person and bogging myself down in thousands of concerns. Thankfully I am not a solo business person! Having someone else there to pull you out of your own undoings is something I am very fortunate to have.

Jen: Cash flow and time would be – meaning having enough money to see all your creative visions come to life. Time – as artists we want to ‘create’ all the time but with business comes paperwork, accounting, marketing, emails etc.

Tell us about how you prioritise your studio work.

Sandra: I usually work systematic. I begin with a task list that is categorised by deadlines and work load. If something we are working on will take large chunks of time, I need to be able to dedicate time per day to ensure that it gets completed by the dead line left. I work best in the mornings so I usually do the emails and more intense work during that period and thin out to simpler tasks as the day progresses.

Jen: Start the day with by checking and getting back to emails. Then work through my daily list which can include anything from Updating blog, facebook and website, applications to design markets, working on a commission, scanning in illustrations or working on a graphic.
IMOK greeting card

 When did you discover that you can make a living out of your artwork?

Sandra:When we started IMOK, we began as a stencil/ t-shirt label. That concept was initiated by the desire for another creative medium for us to embark on. In the early stages of the stencilling movement in 2004, we found tutorial on how to create our own stencils. From that moment you couldn’t stop us, we were stencilling everything!! In the end it just made sense to put it on a t- shirt. So one fateful evening Jen was out shopping with a friend in Newtown and went into a clothing store on King St. The owner of the store asked her where she got her T-shirt from, after telling him we made it he put in an order for us to stock in his store. Jen flew back to Melbourne and we created 70 t-shirts in 3 days. Before we knew it we were registering a business name and producing season ranges!

Since you are working at home, can you please tell us about how do you connect with other artists, and your customers (i.e. how do you network)?

Sandra: Being in two separate states makes it hard enough for us to connect with each other let alone other artists! But as we are both creative at heart its hard not to gravitate towards these kinds of people. Having done NEIS and many design markets we have met other artists that are in similar positions as us. Staying in communication in a variety of ways helps to channel positive resolutions to problems or frustrations that they also face.

Sandra Mason creating her master piece

 Jen: The internet and social networking sites have really made a huge difference in feeling connected to otherlike-minded people. We have just created a Blog which will hopefully increase that contact and open thediscussion channels with other artists and customers. Doing markets over the years has been a great way to connect and interact face to face with our customers; it is also fantastic market research seeing what product works and the ones that people are immediately drawn to.

More recently I have been doing the ARTSHINE workshops which have provided a great opportunity to network and meet other like- minded artists and business owners.

You both are partner in the business, describe some of your challenges? & how do you deal with your differences in working together? Particularly you both are located in different state?

Sandra: The challenges we face within this business is on a sliding scale. It can be from working on projects separately, to promotional aspects that require a photo shoot or an interview in the counter city. They vary within all sectors of what makes up IMOK. But within all this challenges occurs a solution that has been developed through communication, organisation and a common goal. We are both striving for the same goal and the same outcome. There is no need for egos or manipulation to exist. We have ironed out a lot of the creases that caused us issues earlier on to know what each others strengths are and to utilise them to the benefit of the business.

Greeting Card- Think of you

Jen: Since beginning IMOK Sandra has always lived in Melbourne and me in Sydney. Although not ideal, it is all that we have known and has in fact influenced our creative style. The constant emailing of sketches to each other helped develop the layered graphic style that remains a signature style for us to this day.

Challenges we have faced have mainly been logistics – the constant trips to the post office can be quite costly, as can the flights back and forth to Melbourne. In saying that we have benefited from having contacts and a place to stay in both states and getting out of Sydney and enjoying Melbourne is always fun and inspiring!

Working together for us has been very organic and natural, we each have strengths and weaknesses in different areas so we are able help each other out.

 IMOK characters

What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passions?

Sandra: Running your own business, especially in the creative world, is not for the faint hearted! You have to truly love what you do because there will be times where things can get tough, unmotivating and unquestionably hard. Within those times you need the passion you have for what you do to spur you on as you push through to the hard times into the other side.

Determination is also a vital element in pursuing this path. There will be a lot of people that will shower you with fears, doubts and concerns when you are starting out. Try and not let that get to you, as these are their concerns, not yours. Stand behind your ideas and passion and never give up, you’re bound to succeed!

Jen: It’s a cliché but it really is to ‘believe in yourself,’ self doubt is the enemy and something I have definitely worked hard to overcome. Do your research – with so much available online these days do research on other businesses and artists who you respect and admire to see what steps they took. Test your product, do the markets before quitting your “day job” see if you are onto a winner and if there is a market for your product. Be patient, know that it takes time to find your feet, build a name and a reputation. Surround yourself with fellow creative’s!

IMOK Stall at Hope Street

What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfil in your life?

Sandra & Jen: We have big dreams for IMOK and where we want to take it. It’s really only just beginning! Creating our characters into a limited edition of vinyl toys is a dream we are looking at in the near future!! But for our entire lives this business will continue to grow with us. We want the IMOK brand to be something that is recognised in households across the world, just as Mickey Mouse has done for Disney. We envisage IMOK merchandise that spans ranges from bed linen to jewellery to stationary and beyond. Through this success we hope to be able to utilise this recognisability to create positive programs including camps for kids to be encouraged creatively, to create projects that help specialised charities and to spread a message that says “ I’m ok… if you are?’

What is your proudest moment so far?

Sandra: Two proud moments for me is working with Volcom and Smiggle. These are two companies that I have worshiped for years and never dreamed that I could one day be working with them. These were moments of creative confirmation from being at a level where I struggled to call myself an artist, that we could work and be recognised on a world stage, felt like such an accomplishment!

Jen: When IMOK became a featured Artist for Volcom USA, having our first Solo Exhibition, “What is IMOK?” at Design A Space, Melbourne in 2008 and most recently becoming a Kids Art Teacher as Kirsty’s Kids Art in Paddington – it is the perfect fit for me. Teaching children to be creative is incredibly rewarding.

Design A Space Live Demo Day

Who do you most want to meet and why?

Sandra: I would have loved to have met Alexander McQueen before he died. He was a true visionary in the world of fashion and would always push the boundaries of conventional fashion. I would also love to meet Jay Z, his not only a genius in his music but a mogul in all other areas. He came from nothing to make himself one of the most successful people in my generation.

Jen: I would love to meet Oprah – such an incredible woman who has achieved so much, a true inspiration.

I would also love to meet Jamie Oliver – such a passionate guy with so much energy and a big heart!

What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?

Sandra and Jen: Two quotes sum them up perfectly –

“What if I already am the person I am trying to become?”

“In order to allow ourselves to be creative, we have to relinquish control and overcome fear. Why? Because real creativity is life altering. It threatens the status quo; it makes us see things differently. It brings about change and we are terrified of change”

What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book you would like to recommend?

Sandra: A book I would like to recommend is “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. This book helps creative people to open to a deeper creative side. If you are blocked creatively or need a new pwespective, this book will guide you with activities to help you move forward and into a new light. Worth a read even if you are not creative!!

IMOK Badges, Mini Canvases and brand new Greeting Cards.

Jen: I am currently reading Complete Digital Illustration by Lawrence Zeegen, really great!

Where do we find you and your artworks? – for ordering commission artworks – follow us – become a fan

purchase IMOK cards, postcards, prints, t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, kids & baby clothes

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.


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