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Artist: ‘Work comes from work’

Sarah Fagan has to create her own assignments now.

Fagan is an acrylic painter working in Portland who shows her work throughout the Northwest. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in English, art history, and studio art from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. She also earned a certificate from the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland.

“Assignments are great. They make you get stuff done, and then you have critiques. … But at some point, that goes away. Sometimes after college, there’s a real feeling of, “OK, now I have a BFA, or any kind of liberal arts degree. … What do I do with it?”

She said she found out that “work comes from work.”

“It was kind of frustrating for me to hear that in school – that you just have to keep making things and get better and better, but that is the way.

“It happens because you get to know your art a little bit more, and you gain the skills and then you gain your vision,” she said.

One trick she uses to break the ice with a new painting is to become involved in the process of creating her panels.

She prefers to work on a hard surface rather than canvas.

A carpenter makes birch panels for her. She then makes the new piece an object of interest by covering it in layers of black gesso, bright underpainting, texture, and a neutral color.

Next, she distresses the surface with a sponge or sandpaper.

“That makes me pick up the paintbrush and start working. Sometimes, the hardest part is to motivating yourself to start,” she said.

Fagan teaches preschool in the mornings and paints in the afternoons. She generally finds that it’s not emotionally sustainable to paint eight hours a day.

“I need to have a life outside the studio to appreciate my time in the studio,” she said.

However, she said she has enjoyed artist residencies and treats them as assignments.

“It’s kind of a nice pressure, I’ve found. I’ll get into the studio at 9 and I’ll work until 5 because my mind knows that it’s only for a month,” she said.

To develop her knowledge of the business side of things, she became a member of Blackfish Gallery, an artist’s cooperative on 9th Avenue in Portland.

“I help run the gallery; I help put up shows. It’s great to be a part of the gallery and see how it works in the art world.

“Co-ops are a great way to get you going and keep that critique going after art school,” she said.

She said she hoped to make painting a sustainable career choice by finding ways to keep producing and showing her art.

“I don’t want it to just be something on my resume,” she said.

– Jennifer Spring

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