Sarah Gayle Carter is ‘World Famous on ArterNet Art’ — Our Featured Guest Artist
We are very fortunate today to be chatting with the multi talented artist from Lexington, Virginia, Sarah Gayle Carter today.
We are very fortunate today to be chatting with the multi talented artist from Lexington, Virginia, Sarah Gayle Carter on
Sarah’s background is varied and out of the ordinary, explaining to me how, in another life, she was a designer before becoming a painter. Sarah designed custom rugs mostly, along with mirrors, lamps, plates, furniture, and even scarves.
The years spent in the highend home furnishings market trained her eye and taught her much about the detail and discipline required to develop design strong enough to translate through the many phases of development from sketch to final manufactured product.
So now she paints and says “my designer eye responds to line, form, and color. I like to feel the texture of the paint, to look for the color and structure hiding
beneath the surface of things. I push the world I see into an abstracted,
but recognizable play of color, texture and geometry — a fresh, fun, modern
take on the classic genre of landscape painting.
I plan a little, play a lot, listen to music and let my instincts lead the way.
Let’s not take it all too seriously — this is about joy!”
ArterNet Art: Welcome Sarah, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us today.
Just a little about us and what we are about. We’re an online art gallery — with a difference — and the culture of our company — ArterNet Art — is to put a human face to all our members and featured guest artists by way of these interviews with established an well known artists. So, Sarah, without further ado:
Can you give our readers an idea of your route to becoming an artist?
Sarah: Well, it was a winding path, to say the least. And, it’s worth noting, that my current run of “success” as a full time painter (measured by sales/popularity), has come very late — I’m about to turn 69! A friend commented, “Maybe you’ll be the new Grandma Moses!” )
ArterNet Art: One of the neat aspects of the art business, is that age really is irrelevant. Have you had to overcome any difficulties or major hurdles on your journey to becoming the successful, established artist we see today?
Sarah: Midway through college, I transferred from a liberal arts program, to a studio art program. I wanted to be what they used to call a “commercial artist” — illustration etc, (as opposed to fine art). My goal was to work in the art department at an advertising agency. After the foundation year we were required to apply to the various departments — commercial art, sculpture, painting and printmaking, interior design, fashion design. Despite having very high marks and a glowing recommendation from my advisor, I was accepted everywhere except the commercial art department. I was discouraged, and kind of humiliated.
It felt like “God” had said I wasn’t good enough. I did a year in painting and printmaking, then quit altogether. It took me many years to recover from that “judgement”.
Of course, over the next 10 years or so, that part of me that has always been drawn to create, came out sideways (I designed clothes for my children, worked as a floral designer, decorated cakes, designed needlepoint canvases for people, painted custom plates and bowls, which led to custom, hand painted tile installations, and ultimately, ran my own business designing custom rugs and other home furnishing products.
Over the years when asked, “So, you’re an artist?” I often responded, “No, I’m a designer. We’re children of a lesser god.” It was meant to be clever, a light-hearted quip, but in fact, I think, revealed a deep current of the self doubt that hobbles so many creatives.
Am I really any good? And by what objective measures could you answer such a question?
I’ve come to believe that there is no “lesser god”. If there’s a fire that sparks the creative flame, it’s immune to our arbitrary and self conscious labels. And the distinction between “artist” and “designer” is murky at best.
Having looked at the conundrum from both sides, I’ve come to this:
good artists are designers — and good designers are artists.
ArterNet Art: Well said, Sarah. Tell us about the medium you choose to work with and what was it that attracted you to use it?
Sarah: I paint in oils, and, despite my time studying studio art in college, and a few workshops, I’m pretty much self taught. After years of the controlled specification required for production of custom rugs and other home furnishings products, I enjoy the immediacy of paint on my brush, color at my finger tips, the smell, the feel, and the constant surprises that lead the way.
Painting, for me, is a rewarding form of down and dirty magic.
ArterNet Art: True. Do you have a daily routine? Has it always been this way and can you tell our readers how your day looks?.
Sarah: The “routine” is a work in progress, and sometimes feels like juggling too many balls. I work in my studio pretty much every day from around 11am to 5–6pm. It’s not just putting paint on canvas, there’s a lot of prep work, and finish work, not to mention packing/shipping, and the very real demands of the “desk” part of running, what is, at the end of the day, an actual business.
And then of course, there’s my home life, which can be hard to keep up with. People don’t think about the administrative part — updating my website, social media, creating invoices, editing photos, inventory management, communications with galleries, and commission clients, book keeping — it’s beginning to eat me alive!
All I want to do is paint! I’m working to find a balance to the three legged stool of my life: home, studio, office.
Let’s add another leg for keeping up with friends and family — a FOUR legged stool!
ArterNet Art: Yes, there is a lot more to a flourishing art practice than meets the eye.
Your style is very unique. How did that come about and can you share some techniques and insights into your process from conception to creation.
Sarah: I’m a studio painter, so work from photos, most of which I take myself. I’m lucky enough to live in a particularly beautiful place the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, my home state. I like a very tight surface, so work on either hardboard panels, or tightly woven (portrait grade) linen.
I tone the surface with a wash of burnt sienna, which I leave in edges and “specs” throughout the finished painting. I think it just happened at first, but now I do it very consciously, and it’s become a bit of a trademark.
I like “sparks” of warm neutral popping through as contrast, and I think helps unify the composition.
ArterNet Art: How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Sarah: I was recently asked by a collector to “extend” a painting done 3 years ago by adding side panels (i.e. creating a triptych) I hadn’t realized how much tighter my work had become. And my palette has also shifted somewhat. I was vaguely aware of both, but it really brought it into focus.
It’s interesting that it just happened of its own organic accord. I didn’t consciously make those decisions. I don’t know if that’s good or bad — just an interesting observation.
As if The Work has a life and mind of its own, which I now believe it does. So, since “Sarah” is not completely in charge, who knows where “It” will go next! I have been thinking lately about painting people. I’ve never done more than dabble with human faces — it seems kind of intimidating. Even though I spent many years painting dogs (never intended, just happened) — so what’s the difference really? Isn’t a face a face, canine, feline, or human?
ArterNet Art: Of course! Is there anything in particular that inspires you to create art?
Sarah: For me, the internal drive to create is as old as my memories of myself. But the drive to paint the landscape has been a response to the energetic lift, the actual joy I feel in response to what I see in the land around me. The colors, patterns, textures, and fascinating layers and geometry of the rolling farmland, and old blue mountains that surround me.
ArterNet Art: What has been your favourite or most memorable art sale?
Sarah: I think the first corporate sale was a thrill. Is that because I thought that proved that someone who really knew what they were doing chose my work? (ie validation) But when you think about it, the response to art is ultimately very subjective, so whoever made that decision, was just another person, who liked my work enough to buy it — no different from many others.
In fact, I have been, and continue to be, completely amazed (and, yes, validated) by every single sale, every single person who loves my work enough to want to live with it.
ArterNet Art: How were you and your business impacted by Covid-19? Has much changed since that time?
Sarah: Like every other artist and gallery owner I know, I was braced for disaster when the lockdown happened. But 2020 ended up being an amazing year for me — the first big leap in sales. I’m lucky enough to have a large following on Instagram, so was getting a lot of direct requests to buy from that audience — who were of course locked down and “shopping” via the internet.
It was pretty wild. I think it was a different story for most galleries though. They rely more on live openings, and ongoing foot traffic, and all that just shut down completely.
I do think the Covid shift has changed the dynamics of art distribution. It’s been changing for a long time, really since the widespread use of the internet and websites. But Covid really pushed the trend into overdrive.
There’s most definitely a place for brick and mortar galleries, in conjunction with artists who are able to successfully develop their own markets, and speak to them directly. For me, it feels kind of murky now.
For example: a designer in South Carolina, who’s been following me for years, sees a painting on my website or Instagram feed, that she wants for a client — she calls a gallery she’s never heard of, in a state she’s never visited, in order to buy the painting she wants — and I have to give the gallery 50% of the sale?
That is clearly not a fair reflection of the effort on each side responsible for creating that sale. Any more than, in the old days, if I had “snaked” an existing client from a gallery by approaching them directly and thereby cutting the gallery out of their commission.
ArterNet Art: I agree. Do you have any hobbies, sports or interests other than art?
Sarah: I’m a big reader, a tub soaker, a cook, a very part time gardener (flowers, I’m not a vegetable girl). I also love to dance, but, these days, just for myself. Those funny videos on my Instagram feed, are actually the kind of thing I do all by myself at the studio.
ArterNet Art: What plans and goals do you have for the future, both creatively and personal?
Sarah: I imagine I’ll paint until I drop, or can’t hold a brush. I also think about writing, if I ever find that I have a lot of time on my hands. Something I most definitely do not have now.
ArterNet Art: Going back to when you first started out and knowing what you know now, what would you do differently and what advice would you give to an aspiring new artist?
Sarah: It’s a hard fact to swallow, but a real one: it is VERY hard to earn even a modest living as a full time artist. Most of us have to have some other means of subsidizing our lives. We do this for love, not money. But, with time, and diligence, I think it’s possible. And a small percentage, through some combination of luck and hard work, can make enough to call a real living. I’m living proof that its possible, even with a late start.
But, I have to say, it’s simplistic to imply that my current “success” as full time painter is due only to my efforts during this late life career move. In fact, everything I’ve ever done, and particularly what I learned in my years as a designer, has brought me to a place where I totally trust my instincts.
My style is the direct result of my years of work in what seemed to be a different direction. But, in hindsight, that time in my life provided training that helped me develop a simpler, more graphic, more “designed” approach to painting the landscape. As it turns out, it seems I’ve hit on a sort of sweet spot — a transitional place between “representational” and “abstract”, so appealing to a broad spectrum of buyers.
The colors are fun and the impact is modern and stylish, so the work works really well in the clean modern spaces people are creating now.
Though it wasn’t calculated, I’ve come to see the value of having a unique, or at least identifiable style.
To be noticed, you need to be noticeable. I don’t know that there are more working artists these days, or if it just seems that way because with the dominance of social media;
It’s so easy for literally anyone to throw their work out there and see what “sticks”. And much of it is virtually interchangeable, isn’t it?
Find your own voice. Literally ask yourself what you want to say. What you want to contribute to the visual conversation.
ArterNet Art: Also for our new artists, can you share some tips on how you marketed yourself, when you first started out. What are two or three things you tried that worked amazingly well?
Sarah: I created an Instagram account for my art about 5 years ago. It was actually my twenty something daughter who pushed me to do it, and she was right.
My presence/exposure on Instagram has been significant. I now have almost 17,000 flowers from all over the world — a phenomenon that continues to amaze and excite me. Aside from actual sales (which do happen from time to time), gallery representation (which had also totally happened because of exposure on Instagram).
There is also the less tangible, but I’d say significant impact of real time feed back from actual people.
Most artists — including myself — work in relative isolation. It’s a solitary pursuit. So having access to the support and enthusiasm of an “audience” has had a real impact on how I see/value my work, and myself as an artist.
I’m thrilled and encouraged by the fact that the majority of my “fans” on Instagram are young — 25–45, and about 50/50 male/female. It’s so cool that Instagram can give me that kind of info. I have never “bought” followers, as I understand there are ways to do (though I’m not sure about the means of doing that), but I do spend about $100 per month “boosting” posts to reach a wider audience. In my opinion, it’s cheap at the price. And what alternatives are there in this age of do it yourself marketing?
It is overwhelming at times to have to fight through the “noise” of such over saturation that’s such a part of our modern environment.
ArterNet Art: Such great advice there for any newbie artist, Sarah.
Do you have any quotes you live by or practice?
Sarah: Many years ago, a friend passed along what she called,
The Rules for Life:
- Show up.
- Pay attention.
- Tell the truth.
- And don’t be attached to the outcome.
Easier said than done, but worth remembering.
Thank you again Sarah. So many interesting thoughts to ponder and straight from your heart. Our readers will gain some really good insights and tips, which they’ll be able to take with them into their own art practice.
Discover more about Sarah and her work by following her links:
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