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How Sara O'Connor Began Painting

Artist Interview of Sara O’Connor by Gretchen Jones

When did you begin creating art? Have you always been interested in painting?

I was actually more interested in ceramics growing up and never thought I could paint! I had considered going to college or trade school for pottery, but it’s a brutal business on the body so I went to college and decided to go to law school on a whim. I’d never really done painting growing up. The most I did was a beautiful, but unfinished butterfly painting in middle school; I think from the 7th or 8th grade.

It sounds like when you were young, art was mostly for fun. So what prompted the shift to becoming a professional artist as an adult?

Well, I needed to go on medical leave from my fancy schmancy attorney job at one point, and I needed something to do. My husband had old paint lying around, so I thought I’d play around with it. When I was a kid, I used to relax by mixing up and sorting pearler beads. I would dump hundreds of them in different colors together and slowly separate them all back out by color before repeating the process again and again. It was very calming when I was anxious or upset as a child. I hoped to reproduce that soothing feeling with paint.

What you’re describing sounds like stimming.[1]

Looking back, that’s very likely what it was, though I had no idea what to call it. I just knew it was soothing! So when I needed to take a mental health break from my job, I thought about buying more of those beads, but I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on thousands of them. So when I noticed my husband’s leftover paint, I thought I could recreate something of the pearler bead activity using small dollops of paint. I painted my first pointillism piece, entitled Marble Swirl, in 2015. From there, I kept on going slowly but surely. I’ve experimented since then, but that instinct to play with the texture and combination of points of color is where my artist’s heart lays.

Your art is very sensory, it sounds like you were drawing on that aspect specifically based on your past activities – pardon my pun.

Yes! The multiplying of the micro – that small point of color – was a deliciously obsessively calming outgrowth of my pearler bead activity. But it’s more than just touch, there’s a kind of hunger for it, you might say. When I was a kid I used to eat those pink, yellow, and blue candy dots that came on strips of paper, and I’m going for a bit of that feel as well. There’s something so satisfying in looking at a raised dot and the desire to interact with it in some way – whether to touch it or eat it – is kind of irresistible. And I’ve noticed that that resonates with other people as well. People seem to want to touch and taste my art. Like you said, it’s very sensory and instantly seems to draw people in because of that. In fact, I frequently have to tell admirers at my art shows to not touch my art until they take it home with them, but that’s a different conversation!

We will definitely circle back around to that! So, you started painting with leftover paint. When was your first art show and what was that like?

My first “show” was in a church in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. I can’t remember exactly what the church was called or the event. But, I sold one piece and booked one commission while I was there. That might sound small, but I honestly felt on top of the world!

Everyone has to start somewhere! Speaking of which tell me more about the evolution of your art style from the beginning to where it is now.

Like I said earlier, I began with a less textured pointillism. The dots were less thick than they are now. You’ll notice with my more recent pieces that all of the dots have a peak to them, like a Hershey kiss. I didn’t develop that until later in my process either. At the beginning, the dots were fairly flat, less textured. I didn’t develop the more heavily textured pointillism until a year or so after my first piece, and my floralism wasn’t until four more years after that.

I developed the heavily textured pointillism out of a desire to deepen that delicious sensory experience that began the entire process. Looking back, I think of that early pointillism like a seed, a tiny dot that kept growing and growing until it became a beautiful, multi-petaled, heavily textured flower. So, you could say the dot of pointillism grew into the flower of floralism! Finally, there’s one other style I call “strips” that I create out of the scraps of paint I collect over several months of painting, because I don’t want my collectors to miss out on a single drop of delicious color.

[1] Stimming is repetitive or unusual movements or noises. Common stimming behaviors include nail biting, hair twirling, tapping with a writing utensil, or body rocking.

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Maria Tolles
Maria Tolles
Mar 08, 2022

Love learning more about you and your process!

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