My name is Sarah Elizabeth Hartman and I’m from San Francisco, California (follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or visit my website!) I started drawing and painting when I was a toddler! I’m fortunate enough to come from a family of artists – my mom paints, my grandmother painted professionally, incredible murals and the like. She was from Italy, so it makes sense I think, having the painting gene!
But while my family is rich in artistic talent, there was never any formal sitting down and teaching. Still today, some evenings I’ll just sit down at the dining room table with my mother and paint while she paints. We’ve developed very different styles, but it’s nice having a family member that “gets” you!
I’m currently an arts teacher at a Jewish education program in San Francisco. My job is essentially to come up with artistic projects to help kids aged preschool-5th grade to engage with what they’re learning. It’s pretty fun! It ranges a lot in the materials used, because obviously not all kids enjoy one medium or another, so it’s helped me step outside the box with what I like to do.
I use all kinds of inks and watercolors! I love my Winsor & Newton cake sets. The colors are wonderfully rich, and they interact beautifully with water. I love Dr. P.H. Martin’s liquid watercolors and inks as well – they’re the only products beside the Winsor & Newton paints that interact so three dimensionally with water. I find that textures within water itself are some of the most inspiring things.
Sometimes it’s the most fun to just play with color and water and mixing different pigments. It makes for experimentation, but also art! I think people forget that art is all about experimenting, failing, creating things that make no sense, and pieces that you love. I think sometimes people think that every piece has to be gallery worthy, and while it’s a nice aspiration, it takes the fun out of it!
That’s why I try and post everything I do on instagram. I don’t like to curate it too much, because I think it’s important for both other artists and just every viewer to see the process. That way they can see the nice, finished, pretty pieces, but also the mistakes, sketches, studies, and experiments that led up to it!
I’m also a ballet dancer and a lot of my inspiration crosses between painting and dancing. Lately I’ve done portraits of famous ballerinas, which is a kind of nice crossover between my two loves. I’ve always been drawn to doing portraits, just because the human face and musculature is endlessly interesting to me to paint! The way shadows lay across a person is infinitely wondrous to me. In dancers it’s almost more exaggerated, too: A dancer’s back is full of these tiny detailed muscles, and in dramatic lighting, it’s almost like looking at a landscape.
Drawing these little muscles and the shapes of the shadows to fill in with color has been a source of fun and inspiration for me lately. I’m always drawn as well to old Hollywood. I grew up watching a lot of movies from the 30s and 40s, and so I have a kind of soft spot for that era and the looks it created. Art deco and art nouveau are two passions and I’m working on letting them loose in my work more!
I just found this wonderful book of photos from early film, and I’ve been painting studies from it. The neat thing is that, back then, all movies were black and white. So lighting and makeup and costume, all of these things were based on chiaroscuro, on light and shadow, rather than color. Painting them has given me such a different and amazing sense of how shadows work, and the drama of lighting!
My process varies a little bit, but can be pegged mostly into this: Find inspiration. Lately it’s been those old Hollywood stills! Then sketch. The detail in the sketch varies; I used to work in all the finite shading and lines with pencil before just adding general washes of color. But recently, like with my painting of Dorothy L’Amour, I only did a general outline of shadow shapes.
The bulk was filled in with watercolor. From there I layer. I like to work doing washes, building up pigment and depth as I go, and seeing the shadows and shapes transform from these general pale spots, to a gamut of light and dark. You really see that way, how depth is created! It’s cool stepping back and looking at the process and the picture.
My best advice to artists is to let go and have fun! Too many people get fixated on the “grass is greener” idea of recreating the fully fleshed out pieces they see on social media. It’s so important to fall in love with the process, with the look of the unfinished piece, and falling in love with the steps you put in along the way.
I encourage everyone to be fearless. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much training you have! I trained myself in watercolor, just by watching what others did and experimenting. You have to be okay with playing and experimenting, because usually, that’s what leads to beauty!