At the start of 2020, Sarah-Jane Axelby’s prospects were bright. The former publisher, 45, was immersed in an interior design course at the KLC School of Design in London, and a colourful new career beckoned. Then came the pandemic, and Sarah-Jane, who has Crohn’s disease, was forced to shield at home in Buckinghamshire. Panic set in, before pragmatism took over. ‘Our internet is so bad that it made studying online impossible, so I had to think again,’ she says. ‘I’ve never let my condition run my life. I didn’t want to look back at this mad time and think I’d achieved nothing.’
Putting the course on hold, Sarah-Jane, an art-school graduate, set herself the challenge of producing a sketch a day. The subject matter was obvious: the converted 18th-century barn she shares with her husband and two children is picturesque enough to fill several sketchbooks. Among her first sketches was one of her own living room in ink, watercolour and pastels, as well as rooms by Kit Kemp and Luke Edward Hall. Each produced a flurry of likes on Instagram, and as she continued with her #sketchaday project, designers, home-lovers and heirs of stately homes took note of her intimate roomscapes. Emboldened by the likes, Sarah-Jane, an adroit online networker, began to paint other interiors – libraries, country kitchens – which caught her eye on social media.