We had the honor of visiting and shooting this place on a sun-drenched morning a little while back. We've known Sarah and her husband Akim for several years now, but have hoped to get into their space since we started doing this. If you are local you either own a piece of her art or covet one. I met Sarah when she was a server at one of the local Sushi joints. I was immediately charmed by her down-to-earth demeanor. I didn't know she was the same Sarah that mutual friends would refer to as, "You know, Sarah the artist who does does those crazy sky paintings." Or something to that effect. She's been a featured artist at a local retail hub Kitkitdizzi since it's inception, and a design and color consultant savior on more than one occasion when we were in need. Her exterior faux finish work can be seen on some of the most charismatic local structures while her fine art has homes all over the nation. The playground at the school where our children both go has been visually transformed into a full-spectrum celestial wonderland thanks to her generous spirit, vision, and skill. We feel honored to have spent the day at her home. If we make it back for a starlit bath in those tandem, outdoor clawfoot tubs, some serious dreams will have been realized.
Tell us a little about your art?
The sky inspires me. For the last decade I've made paintings with imagery solely from the sky. It’s a way that I connect with with my ancestors and humankind in general. We share the same sky, atmosphere, stars, sun and moon. I believe this is where we came from and where we will return. I think everyone, everywhere can agree that the sky’s expansiveness leads to contemplation and dreaming and potential, and I love it’s fierce beauty and ability to carve out and reshape our landscape. I'm also driven by the interactive potential of optical illusions in my art. Whether on metal leaf or mirror, my work’s reflective appearance varies depending where you're standing, the quality of light or time of day. The imagery moves and is not static. It's dynamic like the sky. My goal is to make the clouds roll and the lightening strike within the frame.
You do interior paint as well as fine art works. Can you say what it’s like to do both, how they compliment each other?
For one year, while living in San Francisco, I worked 40 hours a week on a high end painting crew. We had really interesting jobs at premiere Bay Area homes and businesses that involved murals and old-world techniques like wood-graining and gold-guilding. We once painted a Victorian style phone room to look like it was made entirely of tortoise shell. It was over the top. I learned a lot that year and some techniques carry over into my own art, specifically the use of metal leaf and certain old-school brushes. I still get the occasional job locally that calls for specialty painting and I really enjoy the work and getting out of the studio. I'm inspired by interior design and think of rooms or walls like big canvases with lots of compositional potential. My mom had a knack for putting things together in an unconventional way around our home.
How many hours per week do you devote to art?
Between 0 and 40. It tends to be one or the other. I'm working on painting more regularly so things don't get so crazy. It's also really hard to get into a rhythm after a big break from the studio. Painting is a lot like sports in that way. Regular practice keeps you fresh and on your toes.
You are also a mother. Having known you in the community for some time, I have long admired your ability to balance motherhood, family, and staying committed to your art. it's a lot to juggle. Have you made certain sacrifices or faced difficult challenges to have that be the case?
Yeah, being a mother has taught me to slow down. I'm not as much of an overachiever as far as work goes, which, turns out, is better for me. I come from a long line of hardworking Grapes-of-Wrath kind of people and I'm prone to moving fast and efficiently in order to achieve as much as I can in one day. I can really get into a tailspin. I call it whirl-winding. I have more of a steady pace now and have learned to really savor moments on a daily basis and prioritize quality of life over success, etc. I am completely ok with slowing down my art career while I have a small child. He moves me way more than any art could. That said, when I do have a deadline things can get a little off balance and I know my family feels it. The juggle is hard. There's less time for magic. It's all nuts and bolts. But it helps to have an awesome husband. Mine happens to excel at being a father and I wouldn't have gotten this far without him.
How was it getting to the place where you are now where you are your own boss?
I was an "I'm-the-boss-of-me" kind of child no doubt, and not much has changed. When I became my own boss several years back I felt like I hit the jackpot, like my whole life had been leading to that. Freedom. So, no complaints here, but it does take plenty of motivation and a lot of learn-as-you-go kind of lessons. I'm always genuinely happy for people when they quit the job that isn't working for them. That's such a great feeling. Take the leap! That's what it takes.
How long have you been in Nevada City, how did you land here, what drew you and what keeps you?
I've lived in Nevada County for 10 years, longer than I've lived anywhere. I grew up in surrounding areas and started visiting here in the early 90's. My dad helped build the Ghidotti building in the 70's. My husband, Akim and I were looking to buy a home and some land and embark on that whole adventure and I wanted to be close to my aging Grandma down in Yuba County. We already loved Utah Phillips and the Yuba and knew what we were getting into with all the natural beauty of the area, but were surprised and so deeply moved by the amazing community and all of its heart and true character. The special combination of charm and grit that this town offers will keep us here for years to come. I have strong memories of visiting back in the day when it was a little more gothy and punk rock. I was so enchanted. I know all places have to evolve but maybe we should make some "Keep Nevada City Gritty" t-shirts in hopes that it will never get too cleaned up. I'd buy one!
Do you find any aspects of living in a small tight-knit community challenging?
Nah. I love it. I'm under it's spell. I have heartfelt encounters on a daily basis with people of all ages. I'm friends with the people who grow my food, fix my truck, deliver my mail, deliver my son. I fuckin' love this place. And it's good for our kids to grow up feeling the comforts of familiar faces wherever they go and also to keep them in line and on their game as far as manners and golden rules go. Adults too. It's also a safe place for all of us to feel accepted for who exactly we are. Anything goes.
Your home is quite warm and welcoming, bursting with color and light. You seem to inhabit the outside world as much as the inner. Do you mind sharing how you found this particular place and decided it would be home? What do you like most about it in terms of the structure itself and the piece of land on which it is perched.
Yes we are outdoorsy. We live at the end of an unpaved road on 10 acres of wild land. And we love to garden so being on this south-facing hill is a dream. It's as warm and sunny as gets around here. We don't have dogs so all the coyote, deer, rabbits and fox roam freely and we're all aware of each other and we do a good job of sharing the land. When we first moved in 5 years ago, there was a male kestrel falcon living under the apex of our roof. He was like our totem and it felt like he was watching over us. He'd spend half the year with us arriving every night around the same time and flying off each morning. This was the first winter he did not return and we sincerely miss his presence. So, yeah, our house is a work in progress. It was well built in 1979. It's all dark brown and A-framey on the outside - not my first choice but it does have character. We have 22ft ceilings in the main room and lots of big windows. We all enjoy the brightness and the big sky views for sure. We watch the sun rise most mornings from our breakfast table. Our house plants thrive. I really do feel lucky to call this place home. It has exceeded our dreams. Creating an outdoor bath and shower was a big game-changer. When the weather's right, family bathing becomes the nightly activity.
When you have a free day to do anything you want, what is it you do with yourself?
I head to the river. Of course. After I get some coffee in town and talk to all the lovely people for way too long.
On location shots by Kat Alves