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Jan 25, 2023
Sabrina Stiles Artist Interview & Insight

You grew up in Michigan and moved to Longmont, Colorado a few decades ago. How did it feel to move West, and how does that perspective inform your work?

I have always felt Colorado is where I belong. I am drawn to the wide-open spaces, the majesty of the mountains, canyons and, of course, the sunshine. That said, many of my paintings are an ode to my time growing up in Michigan surrounded by trees and water. Those elements tend to frequent many of my landscape paintings.

Sabrina Stiles - Open Road
Sabrina Stiles, “Open Road,” Pastel on Paper, 12 x 9 in

How do you feel when looking at a blank page?

Currently I’m using lovely handmade paper with beautifully deckled edges. After applying a mixture that I use to “plaster” over the surface, it is even more interesting; I almost hate to cover it up. I find the surface itself is a work of art, and I don’t want to spoil it. Typically, I have an idea that I’m eager to try to get down, so I force myself to cover the paper with some sort of loose underpainting or wash which creates a subtle and gentle shift toward the actual painting.

How do you approach a new idea?

Ideas come from so many places! Once they creep in, I gather together images as a jumping off point. I have thousands of photographs I’ve taken. I have a huge catalogue of images I’ve collected on Pinterest which serve as ideas and inspiration. I also like to revisit my own work. Then comes lots of experimentation and failures until I’m happy with the result. There is a bit of a dance, merging some of the new ideas with the success of past work. It always seems one idea leads to another.

Sabrina Stiles - Coy Cow
Sabrina Stiles, “Coy Cow,” Pastel, 24 x 24 in

How does your art make you feel?

It’s definitely a love/hate relationship. Not every idea works. Each failure is a lesson, and I love the challenge. The more I create, the more I want to create. It truly is the process that gives me joy. When I’m creating, everything else ceases to exist.

I have had a long period away from making art after a move in July – this is the longest time I’ve spent away from making art. I realized how much I missed exercising my creativity. A project inspired a new technique to implement in my work. I returned to the studio, assessing old work, reworking, cropping, scraping etc. Now that I’m back at it, I don’t want to stop – for anything. The laundry piles up, meals are later. It’s a bit of an addiction or obsession.

What inspires the dream-like quality of your work? What is your intention?

Wow, that’s a good question. I hope I can answer it. I think everyone’s work is in some way a reflection of who they are, what they are drawn to. For me, I am trying to create a piece of work that I could live with and look at for a long time. I like to create a sense of calm and beauty with my work.

Sabrina Stiles - Winter Willow
Sabrina Stiles, “Winter Willow,” Pastel on Paper, 20 x 16 in

What feeling do you hope your work evokes in a viewer?

No matter the subject, I hope the work brings them joy. It makes me happy when a landscape piece resonates with a collector, when they recognize something in the piece that touches them. Of course, with the fun cow paintings, I hope it makes them smile.

Tell us about your current technique, inspiration and projects.

I’m currently working on pieces that embrace the beauty of the paper itself as an integral part of the work. I have several ideas, but for now I’m trying to create simplified landscapes using a simplified palette and composition. It can be a bit tricky to pull off. I’ve done something similar in the past using a square format. Currently, I’m using the paper uncut, and finding simplified landscapes that work has been key to making the idea successful. These paintings tend to rely heavily on the color palette and very simple compositions. The surface quality also plays a significant role. 

Do you have anything to share – stories, inspiration, intention, rose, thorn – about any of these works?

Sabrina Stiles - A Break in the Clouds
Sabrina Stiles, “A Break in the Clouds,” Pastel on Paper, 24 x 24 in

A Break in the Clouds

Scenes like this tug at me to paint them. It’s late afternoon when the clouds roll over the mesas, and everything is washed in shades of dark blue and grey. Then, the sun peeks out, bathing a sliver of the landscape in radiant light. That bit of the land literally glows against the darkened grey-blue backdrop. I find it incredibly awe-inspiring. I can’t help myself – trying to capture that light effect in my work.

Sabrina Stiles - The Evening Meal
Sabrina Stiles, “The Evening Meal,” Pastel on Paper, 24 x 18 in

The Evening Meal

This is definitely a painting that is all about the story.  It is a time of day I revisit often in my work for the feeling of serenity and peace that the evening light evokes.

Sabrina Stiles - Soft Canyon Light
Sabrina Stiles, “Soft Canyon Light,” Pastel on Paper, 18 x 24 in

Soft Canyon Light

This painting was fun and effortless, which is a joy when it happens. It started with the design and the movement. I applied a thin watercolor underpainting and topped it with soft fluid mark making which captures the feeling of the hazy impending weather rolling through the canyon. 

Sabrina Stiles - Southwest Mirage
Sabrina Stiles, “Southwest Mirage,” Pastel on Paper, 10 x 10 in

Southwest Mirage 

Southwest Mirage is an example of work I am currently expanding on.  It is all about creating something beautiful from a simplified landscape or the feeling of the landscape. It’s about the process and the materials as much as it is about the subject.

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