A prime example of that is Sarah Ann Larsen, who has made a success out of being both a painter doing online gallery shows and as a photographer shooting nature and city life. Today, I chat with Larsen about her artwork and career, the business she started for both, thoughts on local art and a few other topics. (All protos courtesy of Sarah Ann Art.)
Sarah Ann Larsen
Gavin: Hey, Sarah. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sarah: Indeed. My name is Sarah Ann Larsen. I was born in Englewood, Colo., but I have lived here in Utah all my life. I am currently going to Salt Lake Community College but I am hoping to transfer to the University of Utah or another college to finish out a major in visual arts with a minor in business and marketing, which could change. I am really into health and nutrition; I focus a lot of my attention on my diet. I believe that eating well is the foundation to living and reaching your fullest potential. Maintaining that discipline can be tough but it is totally worth it. I love challenging myself physically, as well. For some people, it's hard to get to the gym; for me, it is hard not to go. I'm kind of a health addict. I am passionate about living an authentic, spiritually guided, abundant life.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you growing up?
Sarah: Growing up, my favorite subject in school was always art class. My first-grade teacher Mr. Flox was the first person who influenced me to draw. He use to have the class close our eyes and draw what we saw, without looking at the paper. Something about not knowing what was going to come from it really stuck with me. It doesn’t matter if it is dance, interior design, architecture, photography, painting or fitness, there is something about the science of visual arts that really attracts me.
Gavin: How did you take a specific interest in painting and photography?
Sarah: My interest in photography kind of just hatched after I got my first camera back when I was around 17 years old. I had a lot of friends who were really into it so that naturally became something that I started to do -- carrying around my camera with an intention to see something not everyone else was seeing totally got me going. Once I started working with nature and lighting, I realized that there is a lot of beauty in this world that everyone should see. It’s kind of a rush seeking that perfect shot. I love it. As for the painting side of things, I have a really deep spiritual side to me. I started painting more right after my dad passed away in 2007. The emotion and change I felt from that whole situation really pushed me to express what I was experiencing. My art is somewhat reflective of that time. But, it has also developed more outside of that.
Gavin: Did you attend any college to study art or are you mainly self-taught?
Sarah: Other than basic drawing classes, I haven’t taken any classes.
Gavin: When did the idea come to mind to start up your own creative business, and what was it like cresting your own studio?
Sarah: I wish I could say that I have a big fancy studio that I work out of, but I don’t. My bedroom is my studio. As for the business aspect, a good friend of mine, Nicole, mentioned that she wanted to pay me to do a custom piece for her apartment in 2010. Word of mouth got other people interested in my stuff and I started doing more custom pieces. The decision to create a business out of it all just seemed like the smart thing to do.
Gavin: On the painting side, what influenced your style, and how has it been for you honing your skills over the years?
Sarah: When I first started painting, I tried to do the conventional "pretty work" with landscapes and flowers and smooth lines. It just didn't appeal to me. Although it is something that I will do, I felt more compelled to change it up by added something awkward and out of place into it all. Something about a big city building jutting out of a mountain side or a single flower in the middle of a city felt right. It's beautiful and out of place at the same time. My work is based more on imagination and energy than it is on just painting what I see right in front of me. I think there is more freedom and fun in it. As far as molding it into my own, it's been a lot of trial-and-error; figuring out what I feel works and what doesn’t, and knowing when to keep going with something and knowing when to stop.
Gavin: A lot of your work in this area is focused on both nature and cityscape. What's the influence for you behind these pieces?
Sarah: My love of both nature and the city is expressed a lot in my stuff. The concept of something natural and beautiful like a tree or a flower coming out of something so chaotic and crazy like a city reminds me of the human mind and spirit. We can get so caught up in the world, the craziness of life, that we forget to pay attention to the things that are really beautiful. I have tried to reflect that idea by using the buildings as a metaphor to reflect all the actions, concepts, beliefs, fears, hopes and thoughts that pull us together -- hence, the sharp lines and cubes -- and the sprouting flowers or white swirls are used more as the concept of the spirit and truth that guides us from within.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from concept to final product?
Sarah: Usually, I will be in a random place or situation and an idea will just click. After that, I can’t do much else but think about putting it on canvas, which inevitably leads me to clearing some time to get it out of me. Once I start painting, it’s almost like I lose myself in it. I’ll be in my room for hours at a time tweaking the piece until I get it right.
Gavin: Oh the photography side, how do you go about choosing your subjects and how you wish to capture them?
Sarah: Most of it is based on timing. It’s a matter of being at the right place at the right time; seeing something and being lucky enough to have a camera with me to capture it. I'm kind of a raw photographer. I don't set up equipment and lighting.. I just go out and shoot. Nature and the passing world doesn't slow down for you to take a picture, you have to be the one to slow down enough to catch it. I think that is why photography is so cool.
Gavin: For your own personal choice, do you prefer traditional film or digital, and why?
Sarah: Digital. Traditional film is kind of outdated these days. It takes a lot more time to produce work with old film cameras. But, I give props to those who still use it. There is something very professional about film.
Gavin: What kind of equipment do you choose to shoot with for your main body of work?
Sarah: I was originally shooting with a Sony Cybershot and I had a Nikon for a while. Nothing too fancy, but they both got the job done. I hope to get a nicer digital SLR soon.
Gavin: Beyond your own personal work, you've also found a career as a designer in creating original pieces for companies and independent contracts. How has it been for you turning your work into a profitable business?
Sarah: It has been really cool to see my stuff get a broader range of recognition. Sometimes that process of mending someone else's ideas into a piece can be a challenge, but I enjoy it. All in all, being able to devote my time and focus on my art and then seeing it profit has been very humbling and flattering. I am so thankful that people want to buy my stuff. It's been a pleasure and a blessing.
Gavin: With your art career going the way it is, where do you see yourself going in the next few years?
Sarah: I want to work more toward solidifying my business as not just painting and photography, but I want to direct it more toward costume art, designs, clothing, shoes, murals, website designs and illustrations for children's books. I want to see my stuff being sold nationwide, not just locally.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Sarah: I think Utah is a little conservative when it comes to the Aarts. We have things like the SLC and the Park City Arts Festival, which drive a lot of attraction. I feel like some of the urban stuff that is really cool doesn't get as much attention here. You kind of have to dig to find the good stuff. You've gotta go into local coffee shops and music venues to see the new, fresh, budding stuff. Utah has a lot of talent and, hopefully, we will find more ways to get everyone’s work out there.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you believe people should be checking out?
Sarah: This girl, her name is Jennifer Michelle Long. She went to my high school and I always see her art popping up on Facebook. It is very organic and holistic. I love it. Bloom, which is the band that I worked with on some album art, they are a really talented group. Everyone should take some time to check them out. My friend Colby Saenz is a lyrical artist. His ability to construct and flow with words blows my mind.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how it's doing today?
Sarah: I've been through the Gallery Stroll once, unfortunately, and that was a long time ago. I would love to go see how it has changed over the years, though.
Gavin: While we're on the topic, what are your thoughts on the local galleries in Utah and the work they do to promote and showcase local artists?
Sarah: I haven't worked too much with the art galleries here in Utah. I do most of my selling online and through art shows.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Sarah: Hopefully, I can produce something new that stands out from the rest of my stuff. I also really want to push my photography, so you will be seeing more work on that end. Putting my designs on clothing keeps pulling at me. I think that will definitely sprout in the near future. My main focus is just driving out recognition and working with other artists in all aspects.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Sarah: Raw Artists is a nonprofit organization that has been pulling together artists from all fields -- performance, fashion, music, photography and art -- here in Salt Lake City. I recently went to their last showcase and was booked to join their lineup next month on April 25. If you are a local artist who is looking to push your stuff more, check them out. You can also see more of my work on my Facebook page and at my Raw Artists page.
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