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Sarah May, Block 21 Prints is an Art Teacher and Printmaker living in Connecticut, in the United States. Originally majoring in Spanish, she pursued her love of art through a Masters in Art Education. Sarah has been teaching for almost 2 decades, and has run two art businesses on the side, as well as raising a family. She loves projects, and has a number in process including a children’s book and a 100 day challenge, which she shares in this episode.
What you will learn in this episode:
• The journey from creative kid to art teacher and business owner
• Sarah’s creative projects and process
• The 100 Days of Water Challenge
• Block 21 Prints and the business of art
• Sarah’s favourite creative tools and resources
The journey from creative kid to art teacher and business owner
Sarah was always a creative kid, who loved art, colour, patterns and making things, but she says she was never an amazing artist. After majoring in Spanish in college, she eventually got a Masters in Art Education with a focus on printmaking. As part of her Masters, Sarah had to do a show at the end, like a thesis. So she did a whole show on reduction prints (a form of block printing) of food. She found it a challenging but awesome project.
Once she finished her Master’s Degree, Sarah began her career as an Art Teacher and is now in her 19th year of teaching. When she had her first child, she was inspired by the process of making a fabric print on baby clothes. Sarah ended up starting a company called Monster in the Closet, which she ran for 7 years on the side, as well as teaching and having another child.
Sarah’s Creative Projects and Process
Sarah really likes doing projects, and recently she did a solo show after being inspired by the Christina Perry song Jar of Hearts and a project she ran with her art students at school. She posed the question to the students, ‘If you could put something intangible in a jar to save it, what would it be?’ and they used it as the basis for an art project. Sarah’s example print was the concept of Art in a Jar. From there, their minds came up with all sorts of ideas, such as Childhood in a Jar, and Summer in a Jar. She ended up with a whole series and exhibited at the local library.
One stop-start project Sarah is creating is a Children’s book called Master Shy Monk and the Muzz. With themes about friendship, taking risks and overcoming fears, it’s about a monkey who loves music but who is too shy to perform, and his friend the fly who helps him. Sarah has been so focused on managing business, teaching and family that she hasn’t been able to focus on the book to finish it yet, so it’s been an ongoing project for a few years now.
Sarah sketches out a lot in advance, and uses a lot of pictures as a guide or reference. She never really knows if a lino-cut will work in advance. Unlike with painting, where you can re-work it as you go, once something is carved, there’s no going back. That brings an element of stress to the work but Sarah also finds that aspect thrilling. Often times a print she thinks will be great turns out slightly disappointing, but equally, there are times when something she isn’t sure about turns out great.
Recently she entered a competition for a local brewery with the theme ‘Road Less Travelled’. Sarah used inspiration from a pair of her husband’s old boots. Although carving them was very difficult, they came out much better than she expected and Sarah is very proud of the work. She says she rarely suffers from artists block, but does get frustrated by the overabundance of ideas that she can’t always complete because there isn’t enough time.
The 100 Days of Water Challenge
Sarah’s doing a self-initiated ‘100 days of water’ challenge which was actually inspired by an interview I/Tara did on the Your Creative Push podcast about 100 day projects. Sarah thought the idea was cool and because she loves projects and enjoys a challenge, she decided to do one. She goes to Cape Cod every summer and finds it a peaceful and happy place, largely due to the ocean, so that’s why Sarah decided to make the project to incorporate water into her art. She’s keeping it fairly organic, with a bit of a calm/gratitude theme. There’s lots of yoga, nature, wave-like patterns and blue colours. She’s even thinking outside the box and doing water in different forms such as snow or ice.
Block 21 Prints and the business of art
Between closing Monster in the Closet and starting Block 21 Prints, Sarah was a rep for Jamberry, a direct sales company that sells vinyl nail wraps. She got really into it and found it really fun, but eventually started missing art again. When she started Block 21 Prints, she brought all those other experiences and contacts from the direct sales company with her, and it really helped her focus on Block 21. Sarah learned a lot about business, customer service, taxes, and organization from being a Jamberry rep, and she also gained a lot of confidence. The experience of doing the shows and parties to demonstrate the product for Jamberry helped Sarah gain valuable skills that she can take with her to vendor fairs and farmer’s markets for Block 21 Prints. She used to be intimidated by vendor fairs, but now she’s learned how to put herself out there with confidence and to share genuinely what she loves, which is her art. The worst somebody can say is ‘no’ and it doesn’t have to personal, and now Sarah feels she’s better equipped to engage in those conversations in a genuine way.
Sarah has a website and an Etsy shop and sells her work online as well as at farmer’s markets. The farmer’s markets and vendor shows are great places to meet people and Sarah enjoys getting to know people. She believes being genuine and positive is important, because you never know what impact you’re having and even if a sale doesn’t come to fruition immediately, that connection might come back in a few months or a year later. Sarah also gets a lot of work through word-of-mouth, and she takes commissions too. She enjoys commissions, not just because getting paid is amazing, but also because it stretches her to do things she wouldn’t normally have attempted.
Sarah’s Favourite Creative Tools and Resources
Sarah loves sketchbooks, for drawing and note-taking. She also loves paper and washi tape, and finds the colours and patterns of Japanese style origami patterned paper very inspiring. She loves the store Paper Source.
Some of the books that have inspired her are the Griffin and Sabine books, motivational books like The Secret and any Children’s Books. Sarah likes listening to podcasts, and other than The Idea Medic, she also loves Your Creative Push and Artists Helping Artists. Fascinated by Artists and Art History in general, she has connected with the works of Van Gogh and the printmaker Hokusai in particular.
Where to Find Sarah: