There are too many things I could say about Sarah, but I'll try and stick to the facts. She lives in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle to be exact) with her hubby and their two little gals. She's an incredible watercolor artist, yes, but she's also one of the most genuine and encouraging souls I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Although we haven't met in real life quite yet, she feels like a friend I've known my whole life. For Sarah, what started as a hobby has now turned into a thriving business, and she even teaches watercolor workshops, both in person and online. So you could say she's essentially Superwoman (I won't tell Gal Gadot if you don't). Okay, so I didn't just stick to the facts, but when you read all the beautiful things Sarah wrote about being an artist and pushing through obstacles, I think you'll feel the same way. So let's jump in! I hope you have your wine or your tea or your cocoa ready, this is a good one.
Q: I would love to start off by hearing a little bit about your journey with art. When did you first start drawing?
Sarah: I am self-taught, although looking back I can see the path shaping me towards art and illustration, and the many people who helped me along the way. I really feel incredibly blessed that this is the medium I’ve been given to get to express myself in this world. I have always, always loved to create. When I was doing other jobs, or pursuing other interests, I would see people painting or drawing, I would always feel that tug at my heart, and I would think “gosh I WANT to be doing THAT.” I didn’t want to say it out loud, but inside I always wanted to pursue illustration and painting. My painting journey began about ten years ago when I broke my foot, and sprained my ankle (that's another story)…so painting finally worked it's way into my life. After I became a wife, and a mama, Time wasn’t slowing down – only speeding up. Something finally clicked inside of me, and I realized that if I ached to paint, I needed to paint.
Q: So was there a “turning point,” if you will, when you started to think about making your art into a career?
Sarah: Almost four years ago, I started to share simple posts on Instagram of my small works of art and our garden. Instagram was my way to tap into the vibrant, outside world, where my identity was unknown and could be shaped into whatever I liked. I wasn't anyone's wife or Mom. I was Sarah, the Artist, 'TheMintGardener.' An art hobby isn't exactly inexpensive, so I thought, "I'll open a little Etsy shop, and when I sell a piece of art, I'll have enough left over so I can buy more supplies – so I can keep creating!"
Since then, I have discovered that the painting process, and the pictures of my process that I share with the world, are an incredible way to connect. I have developed a sincere love of connecting women, and my community, over paint. It's such a treat to paint every day. I try new things. When my girls nap, I savor my painting time. I turn my phone and computer off. I step over laundry piles and I ignore dirty dishes. There will always be tasks to consume your hours, but they can wait. I am filled with a sense of accomplishment when I create. And I am usually so absorbed in the process that I have to remind myself to get up and eat or go to the bathroom. I love the peace I feel when I can create and reconnect with myself. It's my time of communion and meditation.
Click on the right side of the photo to see more of Sarah and her family in their yard!
Q: Did you have to face any fears when deciding what direction to take your art in? Did you feel any sense of risk in making your art public?
Sarah: As Creatives, we relish in the joy of Making, but many of us have a common problem: the challenge of sitting down and to actually start. I was terrified to post and share my art with the world, but there is more Fear for me in the actual creation process.
In his book "The War of Art," Steven Pressfield says it like this: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” That effort of gathering the right supplies, carving out time in our day, and beginning the creative process is where many of us falter. We want to soar, and feel that freedom of the creative life we know is inside of us, but we talk or dream about it more than we actually sit down to do it. There are different reasons for everyone: not enough time, the ‘Creative Muse’ isn’t showing up, feeling discouraged.
For me, the main reason I didn’t paint for so many years was because of Fear.
For many of us, Fear is not a stranger. Dealing with the voices of fear and self-doubt when they come up is a real struggle. Fear immobilizes you and tempts you to give up. I struggled as an unproductive artist for many years. I wanted to paint, but the sheer act of pulling out all of the materials and taking the time required to create all felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford, in time and effort. The process became my excuse every time. But the underlying lurking Big Fear, which was the REAL challenge, was there whispering all along: What could I say or contribute as an Artist that hadn’t already been said or done? If I did manage to create something, how would I be unique from all of the other voices? And would I be any good – and good for whom? Would it be satisfying to be 'good enough for me' and to just enjoy the process of creating, regardless of what I made?
After years of listening to that demoralizing voice of self-doubt, I’ve come to see that to giving into that Fear is not to live a full life. When I do not paint, I live a half-life, with a bitter burning in my chest dreaming of what I could be doing.
"Fear prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us our unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers. Everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being-in-potential, our status beacon and Polaris.” (another quote from "The War of Art," Steven Pressfield)
So – how to move past this Fear?
“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
How encouraging is it to hear that the person who said that was none other than Vincent Van Gogh?
Something I’ve learned, and it sounds like Van Gogh is also saying: when we fight Fear, we win. And we fight by starting.
Sitting down, and starting.
We must Create to be happy.
We were meant to pursue Passion.
Also, as I’ve pushed back against that fear by embracing the challenge and sitting down with a paintbrush, I’ve learned something another invaluable lesson. We create in cycles. If Fear wins one day, try to paint again the next day. Some days are good, some days are bad. Do something to help break the slump in creativity; exercise, garden, speak to an encouraging friend that believes in you and your talent. Listen to that urge inside to try again. Reference styles you like, but let your own personality come through in the lines and strokes. Make a few lists of things you love, outside of art. See if you can combine those interests with your art (i.e., I love gardening, so I’ve combined that with my art). Try new colors, new combinations. Take local classes, ask questions, try new mediums. Just keep showing up, and try, try again. Practice makes better. I also read books to break up my self-doubt and fear. One of my favorites is “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield (I've mentioned it a few times ;) ). The author takes apart the creative cycle in small, one-page chapters, and helps you identify what’s holding you back. And once you can see the cycle, and the obstacles, it doesn’t feel as intimidating. When you’ve rested and you try again, you’re better and stronger than you were before.
"After years of listening to that demoralizing voice of self-doubt, I’ve come to see that to giving into that Fear is not to live a full life. When I do not paint, I live a half-life, with a bitter burning in my chest dreaming of what I could be doing."
Q: What’s been the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced from sharing your art with the world and creating a business from it?
A: Because of Instagram, and sharing my art with the community, I have the privilege of teaching regular watercolor classes around the Seattle area (and NOW – online! To get on the waitlist for the next session, click here).
The majority of people who take my classes are women: mothers, young professionals, grandmothers. Women in different life stages and circumstances. But as I sit with them, face-to-face, showing them the shape of a humpback whale or the perfect amount of water to include on their brush, it's the same story I hear again and again; our nature as women is nurturing, giving, self-sacrificial. We throw ourselves into the lives and needs of everyone around us and then feel guilty if we are still a little unfulfilled afterwards.
Brené Brown shares this thought, which has become so valuable to my work:
"In life, there is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it's easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale."
Painting is my Inhale, so I can continue to exhale throughout my day. So many of the women who attend my classes have no Inhale in their lives. They spend all of their minutes Exhaling for others - no wonder they feel empty.
We need to spend some time on ourselves. To do what recharges us, gives us life and makes us feel peaceful. That out-breath in our lives is required, and we do it better when we’ve given ourselves time for the in-breath.
The ones that take the leap, they begin to see that creating is a way to reconnect with themselves. My joy comes in seeing their faces light up and exclaim, 'Yes! I see how you did that!...I can do that!' I love that the focus and concentration spent on the process of painting is so calming. They get to see the joy in a new craft, and discover the calming and fulfilling effect of dipping a brush in paint and water to create. And then they go home, and make the process a part of their lives. I love making beautiful art approachable. I love watching people who have never picked up a paintbrush begin to understand how to use it, and go home and create amazing things on their own. I believe taking the time to create art gives back tenfold, empowers and ignites a flame to keep going and seeking the beauty in simplicity.
Q: Which are your favorite plants to paint and why?
Sarah: Leaves. Any type of leaf of any species of plant. There is so much nuance of movement and detail within each plant. I feel like leaf shapes are the plant's unique fingerprint, and the shapes in which they grow are sometimes fluid, other times awkward. I love observing them and studying their movement, and then trying to translate them to paper.
Q: Have you always had a love for botanicals?
Sarah: I have always loved botanicals. Larger than life floral patterns, lush and deep green jungles, the delicate and faithful house plant. I actually have a Christmas Cactus that was given to me as a present when my younger siblings arrived in 1991. She was from a local grocery store, and given as a small token then, but I took her survival to heart. She's been with me for 26 years now, through countless moves and re-potting adventures. And every year that she blooms around Halloween (she never did realize she was a Christmas Cactus) I smile and remember how much joy she brings.
Q: Botanicals are the main subjects of your current work, of course, but are there other subjects that equally inspire you?
Sarah: There are so many people and so many things all around me which inspire me on a daily basis. We pick up little tidbits of wisdom in books we read, conversations with good friends; we get flashes of an incredibly shaped image, see something familiar, but at a new and different angle. Sometimes it's the way the sunlight hits a flower petal just right, or I am inspired to pick up my pencil right then, because I notice the way an ocean wave resembles a snowy mountain peak. It’s hard to identify one mode of inspiration that triggers that ‘must create now’ button inside of me. Since the beauty in nature is fleeting, there’s a quality about it that demands to be drawn. I often snap pictures of plants I pass by, because I know that even if I come back five minutes later, it could be different. That urgency inspires me to capture it in its beauty that is here today, gone tomorrow.
Q: On the topic of inspiration, are there any artists from the past or present that have influenced your work?
Sarah: John Singer Sargent, Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Gustav Klimt. These are some of my favorites from the past.
Q: Do you think living in the Pacific Northwest has influenced your work in any way?
Sarah: I have lived here the majority of my life, so the amazing greens of ferns and pines, as well as ability to have a rich and diverse seasonal garden, have influenced how I see the world. When I travel, I am innately drawn to the region's surrounding flora – so perhaps it's just something inside of me that looks for little green living things wherever I go. I also think that because folks in the PNW hibernate from about mid-November until mid-March, I have lots of months to cozy up with a milky tea and value pursuits that keep me busy inside. I love to read, and I love to draw. Those are both excellent rainy day activities.
"I have developed a sincere love of connecting women, and my community, over paint."
Road trip or airplane? Road Trip
Ice cream or cake? Cake (it's all about the frosting for me)
Movie night in or a night at the movies? Movie night in (so I can wear my jammies!)
Lipstick or chapstick? Lipstick
Pizza or Thai food? Thai
Romantic comedy or a period piece? Period Piece (every time)
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not busy creating beautiful paintings?
Sarah: Planting new flowers in my garden, or reading
Q: Do you like experimenting with different art mediums? If so, what are they?
Sarah: Yes! I like crossing mediums. I love to mix ink and gouache with my watercolor, and I also enjoy acrylic painting.
Q: Okay, if you could have coffee with anyone from the past or present, who would it be and why?
Sarah: Leonardo da Vinci or Eleanor Roosevelt. I’d also love to chat with Oprah.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a woman?
Sarah: The ability to be sensitive and fierce all at once.
Q: If you could give an aspiring artist any word of advice, what would it be?
Sarah: Show up. Fight the Fear. Find your Voice :)
Thanks again, Sarah! It was such a treat. You can follow along with Sarah on Instagram, purchase one of her beautiful pieces on her Etsy shop, or give her website a visit. Or all of the above to make sure you're updated on all the exciting Mint Gardener happenings!