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Sarah Holtby is a talented emerging artist, with a math and science background – her studies of form are exquisite examples of photorealism at its best. In this interview with The Artist's Page Sarah gives us a glimpse into how she works and where she hopes to take her art in the future.
- Interviewed by Lesley Wilkins
Q. WHEN DID YOU FIRST START CREATING ART?
I've known of my natural aptitude and more importantly passion toward artistic expression since I was young, remembering early on my desire to accurately convey living things. My Mom assures me she knew long before, witnessing me drawing in my high chair (she still has the drawings). My passion for both visual and musical expression has been a journey and is one that continually evolves as I grow. I never formally studied art (I studied Medical Science and more recently Architectural Design). I'm a self-taught or perhaps more accurately a self-realized artist. It's an understanding and awareness toward my own creativity that I have only recently began to grasp in the past few years. I began seriously exploring my artistic potential in the last couple of years. Up until then, I didn’t really know who I was, now I realize…..I am an Artist…regardless of profession, this is who I am.
Q. TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST, OR ONE OF THE FIRST PIECES, YOU WERE REALLY HAPPY WITH.
For me my work is a constant progression of learning because I'm self-taught, I'm always questioning what I could do better or differently. That sometimes means taking a step back from a piece and letting it sit for a period of time. I remember the frustration of working on 'Chuck', this was my first highly detailed photo-realistic drawing. I remember being up in the early hours of the morning working at my easel in my bedroom, with only my work light, agonizing over the minute details, questioning everything. Now I look back at that piece and see how pivotal it was for me, it made me realize the power of seeing things with a scientific mind. I've spent years studying the anatomy and physiology of how things work and the transfer of that knowledge is seen in my artistic work. I have memorized the layers of the skin and it’s associate components, such as hair follicles, pores, nerves etc , but when I draw human skin I am able to study it in a different way. I understand how wrinkles and sunspots surface as I work to create the layers. I appreciate the fragility and complexity of the eye, as I work to recreate the image of the iris and its delicate hairs. I appreciate the transparency of the cornea, and the ducts surrounding the eye, that secrete a protective fluid; the light reflected off the cornea and fluid flowing over the eye is captured in my drawing. I can intimately experience how form and function come together. I'm moved by how beautifully complex every level of creation is. I feel an overwhelming connection to life. Drawing 'Chuck' helped me realize that.
Q. WHAT MEDIUM DO YOU WORK IN PRIMARILY, AND WHY?
Sometimes we discover tools out of necessity, I began drawing in pencil crayon several years ago because I had little kids in my home and wanted be able to work in a medium that was easy to pick up and set down with numerous interruptions and was safe and didn't smudge (a problem of left handed drawers). Pencil crayon is now my primary form of medium, something that's often surprising to viewers due to its less common use outside of 'colouring'. Most people think to their childhood when they think about pencil crayon. I've found pencil crayon to be an excellent fit for my work. I also work in acrylic, soft pastel, ink, water colour and graphite.
Q. DO YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING?
I never formally studied art (I studied Medical Science and more recently Architectural Design). When people find out that I left the field of science and medicine to pursue a more creative route, they wonder how I could do that, when the latter is so seemingly lucrative. My answer is that I never left, I chose to integrate instead. I MUST create, it is an integral part of who I am. Denying or placing the drive to create and communicate ideas on the shelf, leaves me feeling as if I'm ignoring the purpose of my life, the person I was created to be. The older I get the more clearly I see, and more importantly feel that drive, the daily need to create and explore. My art work allows me to express visually the scientific appreciation and understanding I have for the living world. I see the details as if looking through the microscope while simultaneously appreciating the big picture. I learn more about the world when I draw.
Q. WHAT DOES THE PROCESS OF MAKING ART DO FOR YOU? OR HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
Art has allowed me to feel, experience and study the world around me with a depth of admiration and awe that would not have been seen otherwise. I really don’t know what it is like to see the world any other way. The desire to express and create has allowed me to live a life that is more free from boundaries and boxes, there are no disciplinary lines in my mind. Art has been about making connections. Everything is connected for me. I see mathematics in the art and I see the art in the science. I see music in the movement and rhythm of all things. It allows me to live a more enriched life.
Q. ARE THERE ANY RECURRING THEMES IN YOUR WORK?
My desire is to capture some part of the human experience through portrait drawing. Our faces tell a story and each human experience, young and old has a story to tell. I draw to better understand, and remain connected to our human nature. In the process of the drawing I'm constantly forced to address the paradox of trying to reduce the humanity in my drawing (through highly accurate judgement and representation), while simultaneously admiring the humanity in it (the subject).
Q. HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED TO START A NEW PIECE?
I'm always looking for that spark, a new challenge (a technical one) paired with the desire to capture an emotion or experience that can be related to, or felt by, myself and those viewing. It is a difficult thing to quantify, but when I see it, I know it. I spend a lot of time studying photos and working with them to be able to capture the best possible view (some photo-editing is often required to attain that).
Q. WHERE HAS YOUR WORK BEEN SHOWN?
I'm an extremely green artist, just starting to emerge. I'm only beginning to share my work publicly, through studio tours and exhibits. My work has been viewable online for over a year, but I much prefer my work to be viewed in person, there's a dimensional quality and detail that can only be fully appreciated in person. I love the opportunity to talk about what I'm passionate about, the ideas, the challenges, the techniques and relationships. I look forward to more opportunities to share my art as my world expands.
Q. WHERE CAN WE SEE YOUR WORK?
I will be participating in more tours, including the Durham West Studio Tour in the Spring. I'm also looking to widen my sphere with artistic competitions, local and provincial. I'm extremely new to the art world and therefore need to focus on making connections, I welcome new opportunities to share my passion. I've been extremely thankful for those that have supported and welcomed me so far in the art community, it has been wonderful.
Q. ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT YOUR ART?
I do artistic pieces for personal development and exploration but also do commissioned pieces as well, that expand beyond portrait work to landscapes, architecture and abstract. I've had numerous commissions for abstract work that have allowed pieces to be tailored to a specific space. I love taking on commissions because you get to know the people you are creating for, their interests, passions and values. It deepens the meaning the of the work.