I spend at least ten hours a week looking at artwork and found Sarah J. Webber’s website when I was looking at western paintings. Sarah lives and paints during the summer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and primarily does animal studies. Her work, in my opinion, reaches out to the viewer with each painting conveying a different emotion. I urge you to go to her website, sarahjwebber.com, and look at her beautifully crafted work.
Sarah is an associate member of the American Women Artists and an associate member of the Tucson Plein Air Painters. This interview was conducted by phone several weeks ago with Sarah at her winter home in Tucson, Arizona. Sarah is a graduate with a degree in fine arts from the University of Minnesota.
Randy Rasmussen (RR): Sarah, you grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Will you describe for our readers what your childhood was like and how it influenced your career choices?
Sarah J. Webber (SJW): I had a normal Midwestern childhood. We played kickball, road our bicycles in the streets, went camping and fishing. My parents were wonderful and I was exposed to classical music and theatre. I was the ‘tomboy’ in the family and loved to go fishing with my Dad. I think you could say my sisters and I grew up in a Brady Bunch household.
RR: You told me when I initially contacted you that your family came to Door County for a fishing trip?
SJW: Yes, my father wanted to fish in Door County and we came and fished in 1992. It was a guided trip and we not only enjoyed the fishing but also the scenery. I still remember the beautiful landscape.
RR: How did you make the transition from St. Paul, Minnesota to Jackson Hole, Wyoming?
SJW: As kids one of the places the family enjoyed camping was in the Tetons near Jackson Hole. My parents retired to Jackson Hole and one or my sisters operates the Jackson Hole newspaper. It seemed like a good place to go and of course I love the west.
RR: Your list of influential instructors is extensive but is there one artist you could name that really helped you as you began your art career?
SJW: Glenn Dean influenced me early in my career probably as much or more than anyone.
RR: What made you decide you had what it takes to become a working artist?
SJW: I had a career selling art and was working at Sotheby’s gallery in Carmel, California. This was in 2001. I started painting miniature landscapes for fun, and then, started selling them on the Internet. They sold very well. I knew from the reception my work was getting I wanted to try painting full time.
RR: Sarah, how would you describe your work?
SJW: I am a fan of Hawthorne. He said we “essentially paint light falling on objects.” I call my work “painterly realism,” a bit contemporary. I use brushstrokes with feeling. My palette is limited and my two favorite colors are viridian and permanent rose.
In my paintings I strive for a harmonic color pattern and my mood affects my work. When one looks at my work closely the importance of the brushstrokes becomes apparent.
RR: What led you to painting animals?
SJW: As a child, as did so many artists, I drew all the time. I actually didn’t start painting until I was 30. In our home we had a C.W. Anderson book about horses, this being my first drawing book.
As a teenager I spent hours drawing our Labrador, Juliet. Since I began drawing I have always loved the expressiveness of faces and this has carried over to my animal paintings.
RR: If you could paint for one day with any living artist who would it be?
SJW: That is a difficult question. I think it would be John Moyers, one of the greatest western artists.
RR: I notice you do some landscape paintings. Do you find this work as challenging as your animal paintings?
SJW: I actually started out painting landscapes. My instructor was a wonderful painter, Bill Freeman, who has since passed away. It is hard for me to edit a scene to improve the composition and get to the essentials. I see the scene, I enjoy it but animal faces just seem to make more sense to me.
RR: Has your work changed with your increasing ‘paintbrush miles?’
SJW: It has changed. It has become more detailed with a much more complex surface texture. I am using more paint to create a more effective painting.
RR: At the bottom of your website there is a self portrait which is seemingly introspective. When was this done? What emotions were you feeling?
SJW: This piece was done for a show and I was facing a deadline. It was an extremely hot day and unusual for Jackson Hole, humid. Thunderstorms were approaching and I was racing to finish the work.
RR: Thank you.