Warwick Saint of The Saint Studio: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
17 min readNov 8, 2022

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I always try to visually attune to what’s in front of me. Trying to see it in a different way, looking at the quality of light, watching how other people move and express themselves. I try to find what lies beneath the obvious layers. Today was particularly special, but that’s not really the point. Even in ordinary daily life, as long as I get present and have a mindset of curiosity, even mundane moments can present inspiration.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Warwick Saint.

Saint is an award-winning photographer, multidisciplinary artist, and the Founder of Saint Studio, home to the cutting edge ‘Love Saints’ art series and supporter of philanthropic initiatives such as the ‘Million Gardens’ movement.

Renowned for his masterfully lit, iconic portraits of celebrities such as Oprah, Harrison Ford, Zendaya, Beyoncé, and LeBron James, Saint got his start in fashion with his legendary ‘Elephant Boy’ series based on his South African roots. He proceeded to lead worldwide photographic campaigns for the Olympic Games, BMW, Nike, and World Cup Soccer.

As a visual artist, Saint has collaborated with countless musicians and performers, having created some of the most iconic album covers of the last 20 years including ‘The diary of Alicia Keys’, J Lo’s ‘Love?’, and Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’. At his core, Saint is passionate about supporting art projects, campaigns, and causes in a tangible way to create a more beautiful world. You can learn more about his work at thesaintstudio.com . IG: @warwicksaint

Okay, interview for Authority Magazine. First question. Thank you so much for doing this with us. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in South Africa. My single mom was a famous model and my earliest memories are of going with her to photoshoots. She relocated to Stockholm when I was 5 and we lived in a photographic studio with her boyfriend for 3 years before returning to Johannesburg. I remember the feeling of living in Africa very vividly; the heavy thunderstorms every afternoon in the summertime, the frost on the ground in the winter mornings, digging for water on walking safari at age 12… I think experiences like that create a primal awareness that only comes from being on foot and vulnerable in the bush amongst wild animals. Sometimes I miss seeing the stars of the southern hemisphere — the Southern Cross, Scorpios… it’s a whole other sky.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up around photography. Many of my mothers boyfriends were photographers and artists. My father was a graphic designer and he had his own company in London and San Francisco. I didn’t see much of him from the age of four until he came back to South Africa just before my 13th Birthday. That year, he took me on safari to the Kruger National Park and that’s when I picked up the camera seriously for the first time, inspired by the wildlife and African landscape.

During high school, I started the photographic society, and just naturally progressed using photography as a means of expression. I was running the darkroom at the all boys school and would sometimes sneak my girlfriend in to keep me company while I was processing images. I would shoot the sports, the rugby, and all the games on the Saturday of my school and then process all the images and put the images up on the bulletin board for my classmates to see. So in a way, I was running a little photographic enterprise at school. During my school holidays, I would go and work at my father’s graphic design studio. He got me working on real design projects for food chains, beers etc. I remember being in board meetings with his clients at the age of 15 and 16 and having my designs presented and sometimes turned into campaigns.

Throughout my teens I was actively deciding on whether to take up graphic design or photography as a career path. At 17, during my final year at high school, my father was killed in a car accident. During the grieving process, I intensely painted for months on end. When I graduated from high school, I decided to focus on photography, partly because I didn’t want to be working in the shadow of my fathers legacy, since he was the most successful graphic designer from South Africa.

I started assisting on my mother’s shoots and got to know the profession . At University, I got my degree in Philosophy and Art History. I built my own darkroom at home and would stay up late at night listening to Pink Floyd while processing and printing my early black and white images.

After I graduated, I moved to London to pursue photography and soon got a full time assisting job with one of the busiest photographers in London. We traveled constantly all over the world staying in the most beautiful locations shooting the most beautiful models… that was the fun part. But there were times that all I could afford to eat were rice and sliced up tomatoes… but like any artist knows, when you’re consumed by a creative dream, you’ll do anything to achieve it. So I kept going until I broke through.

What are some of the most interesting, exciting projects you’re working on now?

I’m most excited about the work I’m currently producing for my next solo art show. It’s also the first time I’ll be exhibiting my large scale mixed media artworks. I’m lucky that private commissions keep me busy… but I’m thrilled to be working on a new show that will be available to the public. It is a mixed media series that combines photography and painting that is both kinetic and meditative. The work digs into the evolution of eros and deconstructs [damaging] cultural mythology that can often run in the background of our minds, without us even noticing. Creating this series gives me a similar feeling as when I first started out in photography. It feels like staring into this void of infinite possibility… diving in fully, clear on a feeling but at the same time discovering something new.

I’ve also been working on some interesting NFT projects, special collaborations with incredible world-class artists, mostly in the music and poetry space. More will be revealed soon… the first one goes public this November and the second one will be released early 2023.

Who are the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ve photographed a lot of famous people and incredible artists. What comes to mind at this moment is working with Whitney Housten. I photographed her a few years before she died. It was interesting and heart wrenching to experience such an icon that was unbelievably talented, incredibly famous, yet also witnessing her very real torment. Her man at the time, I think it was Bobby Brown, almost punched me when I approached them to introduce myself. It was sad to see someone that had so much going for them, being in such incredible pain, without seeming to see a way out.

During the shoot, she rented the adjacent studio to do her hair and makeup and posted bodyguards at the door. Every time I would go and check in on makeup and hair, I had to get cleared by the bodyguard to approach her. It was a real eye opener for me and it showed me that while most people assume being a famous icon is a fantastic dream life, a lot of the time it isn’t. It’s easy to become a prisoner of your own fame. That taught me an important lesson.

When Whitney came onto the set, she was awesome in front of the camera, we played her music and she was singing along with her biggest hits. There was a freedom that she expressed by performing for the camera, she seemed free and in the flow. Only to retract into the studio next door behind a barrage of bodyguards between shots….

I haven’t really ever spoken about this experience before, but in a culture that seems evermore obsessed with ‘fame,’ especially now with social media where normal people are even pressured to build followers and become ‘internet famous,’ it seems like a useful story to help bring in a little perspective. At least it did for me. The majority of my shoots feel like hanging out with friends, having a great time, being creative together — even with big celebrities. My favorite shoots are when the wall comes down and it’s just artists from different backgrounds, collaborating together.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

My inspiration comes from my life and a constant mindset of curiosity. I’ve lived a full life, and yet it also feels like I’m just beginning. I’ve traveled to about 90 different countries and many of them, multiple times over. Most often, I’m visiting somewhere for a shoot, which means I’m working with locals, befriending the people who live there, and glimpsing the country through the lens of the most beautiful or culturally rich places.

Right now, as I’m doing this interview, I’m in Dharamsala, India, for a project to photograph His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Earlier today, I photographed a puja (devotional ceremony with monks chanting to remove obstacles,) at a Buddhist Temple. There were about 300 monks all dressed in maroon and gold, chanting with very deep resonant voices. It’s hard to describe but without even knowing what they were saying, you could feel the energy of their intention reverberating throughout the hall. If you’ve heard of multi phonic toning, it’s where one human can produce multiple harmonic tones at the same time! So to experience a sea of monks doing this simultaneously… It was an incredible experience. Halfway through they brought out huge double sided drums and symbols… and when one chant ended, the “Chant master” would start a new chant with the deepest resonant sound I have ever heard come out of a human being. Sounds like that can alter your brain waves and create visions — no substances necessary.

I always try to visually attune to what’s in front of me. Trying to see it in a different way, looking at the quality of light, watching how other people move and express themselves. I try to find what lies beneath the obvious layers. Today was particularly special, but that’s not really the point. Even in ordinary daily life, as long as I get present and have a mindset of curiosity, even mundane moments can present inspiration.

Our culture inadvertently promotes boredom with its constant barrage of content and ‘sensational experience’ pushing… but developing a present mind can help you learn how to find inspiration, anywhere. You just have to know how to look for it. Sometimes I fail, but I try to have the same mindset of curiosity even when I’m moving through an airport, or taking my kid to school, or looking out at the horizon when I drink my morning coffee… because there are always nuggets of inspiration available, just by paying attention to what is around you. It could be the color of a wall in juxtaposition with a chair and a weary traveler asleep on it…there’s always something there. It’s just about opening your mind and opening your eyes — which can also mean letting your heart feel more. My wife especially likes something I say, ‘numbing out is the enemy.’ Which is true in a broader sense, but especially true when it comes to creativity. While it can be easy to feel pain living in a harsh world with a sensitive heart, it’s also necessary for staying present and hopefully turning these feelings into art that creates an opening for other people… hopefully also to feel more, or at least something different than they usually do.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

11 years ago I started asking myself this exact same question. I was at a junction in my career where I had a lot of commercial success but realized that I wasn’t doing much to improve the world. My social network was starting to change and I was getting exposed to many incredible mission driven entrepreneurs that were actively invested in making the world a better place. I was inspired to change, or more accurately dig deeper into who I really am. I was already passionate about photography and I considered myself to be a good-hearted person, but at the end of the day, I realized that I was putting my talents into projects for advertising campaigns that were often selling toxic products in a world that actually needs more soul and less stuff. It wasn’t making the world a better place. Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting creative campaigns for magazines and good brands, but I needed to break out and return to my roots as an artist, working for myself and collaborating on causes that are making the world a better place.

Nowadays, along with my wife, Ariel Saint White, I am proud to support Big Green (BigGreen.org) and the Million Gardens movement. It’s an organization that builds outdoor learning gardens in the center of the playground of underprivileged inner city schools. They also support educators and families to bring the power of growing real food directly inside homes. Connecting kids with the magic of growing their own food has an incredible positive effect on the trajectory of the life of those children. The data shows that it improves their health, and general sense of well being, their school grades improve, their social skills improve and it is just wonderful. When you have a positive effect on a child, even if it is small , it has exponential positive effects later in life. As a result of the amazing work of Big Green, almost 1 million school children are growing their own food every day. We want this number to keep growing and growing into many many millions of kids.

My wife founded a non-profit called, My Little Yoni (MyLittleYoni.com), that supports parents in having medically accurate, sex ed conversations with their kids — since most schools really don’t prepare our kids properly… (for example, only 7 states require consent education!) I think Ariel’s incredibly courageous for tackling such a taboo topic that most adults struggle with, but don’t even know how to begin discussing in a constructive way. She’s managed to make the topic more safe and approachable. If the next generation can grow up with more safety and less shame, then that’s a critical issue that deserves attention.

I’m also just starting to get involved with Tibet House and designing a global campaign built around the life’s mission of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to bring secular ethics and mind science to the world. It may seem simplistic, but after spending some time with His Holiness, I am convinced that developing more compassion and kindness truly lies at the root of solving many larger problems. How can we expect world peace without learning to create inner peace? That doesn’t mean becoming passive, but it means developing a clarity of mind so that we can cut through the cultural noise and act from love, not fear.

What are your five things I wish someone told me when I first started and why?

Health is wealth. Whenever I am feeling depressed or uninspired, 90% of the time it’s because I’ve been working too much and neglecting my body. I think the myth of ‘grind culture’ is one of the most destructive poisons to creativity. I love to grind — I can lose myself for days painting in the studio or happily crank out a 16 hour day on set — but the thing that gives me energy to produce my best work is taking care of my physical well being. Personally I love weight training and sports in nature: surfing, mountain biking, free diving, etc.

It seems obvious — but you must approach your work with utter passion and confidence. This doesn’t mean you need to know HOW it’s going to work out… often getting lost in trying to figure out the ‘how’ will actually drain your creative energy and the confidence you need to produce the work. Become less concerned with how and more dedicated to the feeling of knowing it WILL happen… even if the exact picture of what ‘IT’ is changes along the way… if you are passionate about the process of creating, you will develop as an artist and continue progressing.

Ask yourself higher quality questions. Something that is a bit more meta, is that it’s really about the questions you ask yourself on a regular basis. Ultimately, when you are in service to those around you, it’s what brings the most reward. I have to confess that as a young photographer, I was much more in it for myself. I was super passionate about photography, but again, even though I had a caring heart, I was often asking myself, ‘How can I get ahead?’ ‘How can I get the next job?’ ‘How can I get something from this person?’ But when my priorities changed, I started asking different questions that were more focused on helping others. And ironically, these upgraded questions also improved my work and my entire life. Some of the questions I ask myself now are ‘How can I bring value to whoever I meet?’ ‘How can I use my talents to better the world?’ ‘How can I be in service to the person that I am photographing?’ ‘How can I make this experience more connected or fun?’ Whether it’s a photograph or a painting… ‘How can I create an elevating experience for the subject or the viewer?’ When I shoot someone, I want them to walk away having learned something about themselves, feeling somehow more empowered. When this happens, the natural result is an incredible photograph. So ask yourself higher quality questions for higher quality results.

Happy wife, happy life. I’m joking but also serious — my family, and especially my relationship with my wife is at the center of everything I do. There is nothing more important than the quality time I spend with my family. Also — make sure you’re with the right person. And sometimes ‘right’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy.’ My first wife is a wonderful, lovely person. From the outside everything looked great, but I realized I felt creatively stifled in that relationship. I didn’t feel pushed to grow or evolve. As an artist it’s vital for me to be with someone who inspires me and sometimes challenges me to think about things differently or to face parts of myself I probably wouldn’t otherwise. As hard as it was to leave my first marriage, I needed to choose a relationship with myself and my higher purpose over pleasing anyone else, including a culture that pushes so many ridiculous narratives around romantic love. I’d rather be alone and true to myself than in a relationship that holds me back creatively. I’m not advocating divaorce or being selfish, what I’m really saying is to get clear on your priorities — and for me, the happiest marriages I see tend to revolve around two people who are both taking responsibility for their own inspiration and purpose, and then co-inspire each other to go further than they would alone.

Adults need play to evolve, grow, and stay inspired. Don’t get locked into your habits and routines for too long. Sure, you can meditate every day… but when you start feeling ‘dull’ or ‘down’ that may be a signal that you need to take a little time to switch things up in some areas. It’s easy to just go along with the pack… but taking time for yourself to develop new skills or just to get back into a beginner’s mind is critical to long term inspiration. I picked the guitar up a couple years ago… and as someone who’s so used to commanding the visual medium with skill, it was incredibly humbling to stumble along as a beginner in music. But when I get past the ego of ‘not being good,’ at something, I can drop into a flow state where I’m having fun and learning! This is exciting and rare as an adult… plus it’s great for developing neuroplasticity in the brain. While we all age, we don’t have to get ‘old.’ Some of the Tibetan monks I just met were ancient, but they still had a sparkle in their eyes… an intoxicating joy and deep laughter that really inspired me. And these are people living in exile under tragic circumstances — so it’s not a matter of life being ‘easy.’ It’s a daily choice we can make to do things that bring us peace while learning to live with more joy.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring about the most good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea might trigger.

It breaks my heart to see the amount of single-use plastic we use in this world. I’m currently sitting here in my hotel room in India, and I am looking at about 10 tiny little bottles of water all encased in plastic that will never, ever, ever go away. On most photoshoots I’ve been on over the years, there’s often ridiculous amounts of half drunk plastic water bottles that I know are all headed for a landfill somewhere. I would love to build a campaign and be more outspoken around not using single use plastic on set and having all the creative execs, directors, celebs and everybody that’s got big followings, to take the same approach. At Saint Studio, our shoots are #PlasticFreeProductions. But beyond what I can do on my own sets, I would like this movement to spread throughout the industry.

If we could do that to single use plastic now to what was done to smoking back in the day, that would be a very good thing. Smoking was considered super cool at one point, but then it was publicly exposed for being cancer causing and toxic… and now it’s really not that cool. People would smoke on airplanes… and it was a group of flight attendants that originally banded together to end smoking on planes and expose the cigarette industry. Now, you can’t smoke in planes or bars. All thanks to the original people who banded together and stood up to the cigarette industry and got smart about their goals and stayed on course until they achieved change.

Regarding single use plastic– many people don’t realize that most ‘water’ companies that sell bottled water are actually plastic companies! Their profit margin is in the plastic bottle itself! Maybe that’s why plastic water bottles are everywhere now? Not because bottled water is healthier, but because companies are making a lot of money off of plastic production. Getting rid of single use plastic water bottles on set is a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction… and it’s a movement that the media industry could own and make into a trend. Behind the scenes footage would be even more interesting if something like #PlasticFreeProductions were woven into the story of what happens on set and sharing why eliminating single use plastic is important.

We have been blessed by some of the biggest names in business VC funding, sports entertainment, read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she just might see this?

Well, one person that comes to mind is David Gilmore, the lead guitarist of Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd has meant a lot to me since I was 16. They were my go to sonic scape in the darkroom in those early days. What I really appreciate about them is how they’ve used both the music and visual art, some incredible art, to tell their stories. There’s a deeper meaning, and an experimental edge, they are conveying with their music. I would love to sit down and have a little music jam and chat with David Gilmore. I’m sure there’s some really cool stories he could share, and just get a taste of his unique juju. David Bowie would have been another one — but that’s gonna need to wait for the next life.

As a painter, Jenny Saville would be an interesting person to meet. As I expand more as a multi-disciplinary artist, especially with painting, Jenny Saville is a big inspiration for me. The way she sees people and approaches painting figures is incredibly interesting. I’d love to sit down with her, maybe not over lunch, but be with her in her studio while she paints for a few hours.

What’s the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can learn more about my work and purchase limited editions at: thesaintstudio.com . To stay connected find me on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/warwicksaint and LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/the-saint-studio .

Thank you very much.

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator