People have told Sarah that her paintings would make good illustrations for children’s books. This is an excellent description, for although her subject matter is sometimes disturbing, she always uses large canvases and bold colours, and a lot of her paintings are also fun. Put all this together and they can only be described as delightful.

Sarah sometimes uses marbled paper, which she makes herself She puts oil paint on the paper, and runs it through a solution of water and turpentine. Then she tears it into smaller pieces, glues it onto the canvas, and paints over top of it with acrylic paint. Here and there, the marbled paper peaks out, but most of it is covered. “They act as inspiration”, she says of the small brightly coloured pieces. They also give the painting a very unique look. You can see the small shapes through the painting; they have almost the same effect as a painting done with very thick oil paint.

Sarah describes her paintings as visual narratives. There is a story behind each painting, a story she knows before she begins to pain,t and which has evolved considerably by the time she has finished. But when she’s finished it, the viewer brings their own story to the painting. One painting has five people in it, which Sarah sees as a family. When she told one person this, their initial response was, “oh no, that’s not a family”, and then after a few minutes “hey, that’s my uncle” and began to tell Sarah all about him. “The meanings in my paintings are definitely not strictly visual. I’m interested in the story behind the painting. My paintings evoke a lot of emotion, and they’re intended to”. One of the paintings, reproduced on her web page, “Duty Mother” came out of the women’s shelter she works at; “A lot of my stories come out of where I work. I have painted some dark pieces.”

Sarah started to paint seven or eight years ago. “I did a lot of drawing when I was younger; then I went to a high school that was geared totally towards careers. There wasn’t anything except Arts & Sciences, not even trade. I never knew there were any careers in the art field like graphic design. When I started going there, I still drew, but it wasn’t the focus of my life anymore.” Sarah majored in English and History at Trent, and then Graphic Design at Georgian College and George Brown College. She worked as a graphic designer for seven or eight years and then “I started playing around with paints and paint brushes. I sold a few pieces right away, so I kept going.” Sarah quit her job as a graphic artist and took a job where she works three or four 12 hour days in a row, and then has five or six days off to paint.

Sarah is also involved in a community based project called “Art Jam”. With the aid of an Ontario Art Council Grant, a Toronto Art Council Grant, and Laidlaw, Sarah, along with six other Guelphites, teaches art workshops to adults. The participants break up into small groups, and using the same material - all from recycled sources - and the same theme, create a piece of artwork. One project used rocks and tiles to make a checkerboard. “Art Jam” has just found a permanent home at the old Torrance Public School on Waterloo in Guelph, after holding summer workshops in the market. Sarah is also hoping to expand “Art Jam” to include day workshops for corporations and schools.

I get up to take another look in one of Sarah’s paintings. It has changed since the first time I looked at it, the old man’s expression is becoming more and more alive, and more intense. “Yes,” Sarah says “the more you look at them, the more you see. My nephew insists that that man stares at him all the time.”

Sarah will be exhibiting her art work out of her home October 16-18, on the Guelph Studio Tour. Go for a chuckle, go for a cry, go to be amazed at Sarah’s talent.

Christime Stodart, September, 1998