She Came From Sheboygan Falls
Up-and-coming artist Sara Willadsen takes a thoughtful approach to her paintings and collages.
Sara Willadsen is a 30-year-old Sheboygan Falls native who has shown her art around the country, including Los Angeles, Texas, and Chicago. Her works mix collage and paintings to create exterior scenes that can be both simple and complex. She recently began a residency at the Frank Juarez Gallery, in the Third Ward. Her work is displayed on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until December 16th, and much of it is work in progress, offering a window into her creative process.
Gallery Owner Frank Juarez, who has known Willadson since 2013, had this to say: “Her color choices, use of found papers, dynamic compositions, and her sense of connecting to her community drew me to her work. Seeing this type of work coming out of Sheboygan Falls, to me, was very exciting and refreshing.” I got a chance to ask Willadsen some questions about her life and artistic process.
When did you first begin to consider yourself as an artist?
During my sophomore year at Lakeland College, I took a watercolor class and began to get a good grasp of color theory. From that point on I was taking every painting class I could fit into my schedule and started pursuing a more distinctive subject matter, specifically night landscapes. I have been painting and drawing ever since then and in 2014 started my small business to handle the commercial side of my studio practice.
Where did you get your degrees and how important was that to your development?
I have a BA in Graphic Design and Fine Art from Lakeland University and a MFA in Painting from Northern Illinois University. My education, particularly graduate school, was critical to my artistic development. Within these three years I was able to develop a more individual studio practice while also building my own visual language. The grad school community was invaluable because it was an art-making group of people that indulged in making and talking about art as much as I do.
Did you have a key mentor or mentors?
Geoffrey Todd Smith gave me some great advice about self-imposed rules and I find that making rules during the creative process is the most helpful way for me to grow as a visual artist. (And) Frank Juarez has shown me how important it can be for an artist to have a strong relationship with their community. To be an artist is more than solely making work and exhibiting.
How has your art changed as your career has continued?
Conceptually my work has remained somewhat like it had been earlier in my career; depicting some type of space has always held my interest, whether it’s a landscape or interior or something in between. My working methods and applications have greatly changed but fabricated environments have remained a constant.
I am at a point in my career where I need to expand my reach. Since my studio practice has been based out of Sheboygan for almost two years now, I am seeing the need to connect with more Milwaukee artists and educators.
What has it been like working with the Frank Juarez Gallery?
The gallery has been very receptive and accommodating. I am continuously encouraged to try new things and make more experimental work. The gallery is a working studio, so I as I continue to paint and move pieces around I will finish some work up within the next couple of weeks and at the closing reception for this residency. I have found this is a good approach for me to demonstrate my process to an audience.
Can you discuss your creative process?
My creative process is very much a filter of what I see and experience in my everyday life. I take photos of colors, patterns, and compositions I find interesting and these usually make their way into my work. I also like to re-appropriate my older work into new paintings, so my process is very cyclical… This body of work has ties to Sheboygan County and using my memories and impressions of this environment.
How do you decide when a work is finished?
I have a tendency when working to layer too much paint and material until a piece gets too busy and loses the initial fresh, natural feeling. So I try to back away from a painting earlier than I feel I should to keep the momentum going without overworking it. Sometimes I add more to a piece and other times I decide it’s complete, but the time in between to wait and contemplate everything I quickly created is always crucial. I find the period it takes to process an individual piece of artwork is just as important as the time spent creating it.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
At the moment I would have to say tissue paper. During a three-month long residency in Los Angeles in 2015, I began painting on a lot of tissue paper and collaging with it, I found that I could quickly collage on many pieces in a short amount of time and still get a ‘painterly’ look to my work.
What’s your favorite work of art you created, and why?
A 22¾” x 22¾”mixed media piece, Woolly Eyes, that was in my thesis show at the end of grad school. This was the first piece where I really showed restraint and forced myself to stop working on it, so it still retains the freshness I was after. It was everything I had been trying to make before but couldn’t.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding or misconception that visual artists must deal with?
I believe that many people feel very far removed from the ‘art world’ and what contemporary artists are making, with a lack of art education (especially at a young age) being partly to blame. I have personally encountered this quite a few times in the small town where I live.
Has the internet improved or degraded the art world?
Improved. It allows access to artists and movements that we would be unaware of otherwise. I also believe the internet allows for artists to live almost anywhere and still reach a wide audience.
The Frank Juarez Gallery in located on the top floor of the Marshall building at 207 E. Buffalo St. and is open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. where Sara Willadsen’s work will be displayed until December 16th.