Interview: Sarah Parks

Posted June 03 2015

Sarah Parks is an artist living in Virginia Beach, VA.  We interviewed her the first week of June, 2015

Sarah, can you talk about when you became interested in art?   I have loved drawing since I was a child. As I got older I took art lessons and by high school I was able to draw and shade a pretty good face.  My father wanted to enroll me in the Art Institute of Chicago after high school, but I studied art at the University of Texas in Austin, which had a renown art department.  That is where I studied figure drawing and did quite well.  I had a great teacher and I use those principals even today.

What inspires you?   I love to look at artists who paint landscapes, still lifes, cityscapes, but I guess the thing that intrigues me most is the human face.  It doesn’t matter if the sitter is young, or old, beautiful, or plain, they are all compelling in their uniqueness, and I love to draw or paint those faces. 

Is art a “spiritual” experience for you?   Well, there are times when I paint that I get “in the zone,” a wonderful space of time where I forget everything and am totally involved in creation.  When I finally look at the clock and am shocked that I have been painting for many hours when it only seemed like minutes.  Also, when I paint a portrait and achieve a good likeness and see the delight on the face of the person who commissioned the portrait, I can see I have brought something wonderful into the life of a person that could be a treasured heirloom.  I suppose that could be considered a spiritual experience. 

Did you go to art school?  I wasn’t able to finish up at UT but later did go back to school and got two undergraduate degrees in art (Art History and Studio Art – both Magna Cum Laude). How did it prepare you for a life as an artist? That schooling gave me a good basis for teaching my online drawing course, Drawing Secrets Revealed, but the remainder of what I teach is what I learned on my own as I continued to study through workshops with well known artists, books, videos, etc.  I am constantly learning. 

When did you decide to make a career of it and become a full-time artist?  Some friends saw some portraits I did of family members and they commissioned me to do portraits for them.  That’s how it all got started.

How long did it take you before you felt like you could call yourself an artist?  It didn’t take long since I always felt like this was my direction in life. That being said, being an artist is all about continuing to learn.   Do you think it’s important for artists to call themselves artists?  If they are passionate about art and that’s the thing they want to do in life, I would say, YES!  By all means see yourself as an artist!

How did you approach learning to paint?   Learning to paint is and probably always will be an ongoing process.  Color is a challenging master and painting in general is a learning experience.  I am like a sponge soaking up everything I can - so I do a lot of self-study.  I have also taken some good workshops with great portraitists like Michael Shane Neil, Bart Lindstrom, and Daniel Green.

What advice would you give about self-teaching to someone who wants to learn to paint? If you want to get into color (oil, watercolor, pastel, etc.), learn good drawing skills first.  It will make learning to paint so much easier. Learning to draw and learning to paint at the same time could be overwhelming and discouraging. Also, if you are on the path of self-teaching, check out the teachers who have videos or online courses and, if you like their style, take their courses. But in reality, it takes more than just taking a course to become a good artist.  It’s all about practicing the concepts and techniques. You can’t get enough practice.  Here’s a tip I tell my drawing students: learning to draw is learning to SEE like an artist and that takes stepping back often from your work and viewing, squinting, and comparing from a distance.  You can’t ignore this suggestion and expect to be pleased with your work.

Have you ever changed mediums you work in?    I enjoy painting in oil, using pastels and charcoal. They all provide a certain unique and beautiful quality to your work. 

What type of images move you to paint?  How do you approach a piece?   It doesn’t seem to matter what the genre (landscape, figurative, still life, etc.) I have been inspired to paint some of each as though the scene is begging an artist to paint it. I often start with thumbnails or use a camera to crop a scene in various ways like a viewfinder.  You’ll know which format or cropped layout appeals to you when you see it.  But studying the elements of composition is extremely important for an artist. 


Where do you see your art taking you in the next 5 to 10 years?
Any hopes and dreams? As always, I would love to continue do portrait commissions, but I will always be passionate about expanding my expertise in other genres. It’s in my nature to learn and grow in all areas. Do you work on more than one painting at a time? Describe your process. I generally work on one painting at a time, but sometimes it takes a while for my thought processes to gel and I have to leave it and come back to it with fresh eyes. That’s when I may start another painting. 

How do you know when to quit a painting?   Oh, the question every artist grapples with! If you are someone who is trying to work in a looser style it’s very important that you don’t overwork a painting.  Sometimes I ask a family member for their opinion and they are usually right on target.  But as you grow into a particular painting style with loose brushstrokes, you get a sense about when to stop.

How can less experienced artists find “their style”?   I don’t think less experienced artists should be too concerned about finding their style. Many non-artists think that’s an important dictate because they’ve heard that phrase before, but for an artist, a style will evolve and present itself over time. If it is rushed, it always looks artificial and forced.  Young artists should just relax and enjoy the process of learning and practicing, and in time their style will emerge.  And they shouldn’t be discouraged if a piece they’re working on doesn’t ever make it into a frame.  That’s just part of the process of learning their trade.  Chalk it up to the cost of doing business and learning the ropes.

How important do you think it is to have a particular style as an artist? How does it play in the marketability of your work? Galleries do like artists to have a recognizable style.  Collectors gravitate to a particular style so they want to be familiar with an artist whose work appeals to them.

How do you market your art?   I am in Stravitz Gallery in Virginia Beach, VA, I also have prints on, Etsy, and Fine Art America. My website is; I also post on FB.  I recently had a book published, Drawing Secrets Revealed Basics and a DVD series recorded which have done well so far.  Thank you Creative Catalyst for carrying my DVDs.

Do you teach?   Yes, Artist Network University has picked up my twelve week online drawing series and I am providing weekly critiques for students who submit their homework assignments. I always try to provide thorough feedback for every lesson because it’s my passion to give back what I’ve been given. Many of my teachers have been generous and held nothing back in their instruction and mentoring. I strive to do the same with my students and I enjoy connecting with them and seeing their progress. #000000;"> Be persistent.  It’s easy to get discouraged when something you’re working on doesn’t end up the way you want, but the best artists keep going.  And continue to learn and practice - it’s the only way you’ll improve.

In closing, what one or two pieces of advice would you like to give newer artists? Be persistent. It’s easy to get discouraged when something you’re working on doesn’t end up the way you want, but the best artists keep going. And continue to learn and practice - it’s the only way you’ll improve.