Artist on File: Sarah How

SARAH HOW – Painter, mixed media and photographer

I am always intrigued to visit an artist in their studios, and my afternoon with Sarah How was no exception. She is a vibrant and bright woman with zillions of ideas and plans for the future. Listening to her talk about her work was inspirational and energising.

Sarah has a great love and appreciation of movement and texture and her current project, Seascapes, lends itself perfectly to its exploration.

I can so easily imagine standing on the beach of her mixed media work called Sea Spray watching the shapes of the water as the wind throws the sea against rocks on a stormy day.   It was fascinating to see how Sarah constructed these acrylic paintings, employing a part-collage technique. She writes her own stream of consciousness poetry, which is ink printed on tissue paper. Sarah also dyes colours into the tissue and rips the words and colours into strips to build up the collage that is worked into the art.

 ‘I like to incorporate found or recycled objects, such as wood shavings and sand, into my work. I have a collection of sand from wherever we go.’   She also creates these paintings in miniature and mounts them on a small artists’ easel. ‘It can take me weeks to decide on a title for a particular artwork. I think the title of a piece is important to convey what I was thinking and it adds to the subject matter’.

Sarah was born in Wembley in 1973 but soon afterwards her family moved to South Wales and it was here she spent her early childhood near the sea. This possibly accounts for her fascination with all things coastal.  She eventually moved back to Middlesex and then to Watford where she took her A levels at Parmiter’s School.

Art and English were Sarah’s strongest subjects and she also took drama. ‘I loved English as a subject and our English teacher encouraged us towards creative writing, even allowing us to illustrate our poems with drawings. We studied Poets like Lorca and Blake, and these fired up my imagination.’

After completing an Art Foundation course in Watford, Sarah went on to study Illustration at The University of Wolverhampton and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996.

After leaving University Sarah worked in merchandising for a greetings card company and then with an international art company in Watford for 8 years. They imported art, mirrors and frames from the Far East and Sarah gained invaluable experience restoring paintings and mastering the alchemy of mixing colours. She also had an eye for what would sell and was promoted to Buyer, travelling to Hong Kong and visiting factories all over China.

Sarah now co-owns a camera business in Chiswick with her husband, Andrew Sands, who is a Natural History photographer. They met through friends around the time of her first exhibition in 1997 at the Green Room at The Palace Theatre in Watford. Sarah and Andy share studio space and have since exhibited their work together many times. The couple are expecting one of the happiest of events later in the year. ‘I am due to have our first child in November, we are so very excited’.

They love travelling to isolated parts of the UK such as the Scottish islands and the Gower Peninsula in Wales.  ‘I love the remoteness of an island you have to take a ferry to; where there are no phones and people practically apologise if they end up walking on the same beach’.  Sarah developed a deeper understanding and love of photography through Andy and joined a camera club to extend her knowledge.

Being an artist, she had a natural eye for composition and this is evident in the beautiful photograph ‘Hanging on’, which was taken in Burry Holms, Llangennith Beach, on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales.  

This image was the Runner Up in the ‘The British Wildlife Photography Awards: Coastal and Marine Section.’

Sarah’s photographic work demonstrates a love of texture and simplicity.  Using a Nikon D700, she captures the alluring shapes and swirls of Mother Nature in a stylish and sophisticated way. She sells her photographic work under her married name of Sarah Sands.

Sarah showed me her precious moleskin sketch book, a constant companion on her travels, in which she likes to capture ideas and inspiration spontaneously. Turning the pages and seeing the sketches and ideas was a treat. I fell totally in love with the whole look and feel of the book, as it is a captivating glance into the inception of an art work. The sketch pictured here has a little written reminder of the scene: ‘some random place/nature reserve. Andy gone in search of butterflies. Chiff Chaff singing and bluebells still out.’ 

Sarah was telling me about a weekend course she attended to learn about the techniques of the old masters and specifically their approach to layering paint.  There is always once piece of work an artist cannot bear to be parted from and Sarah’s is a 36 x 48 inch oil on canvas called ‘In the Clouds’.

Gazing at the transfixing seascape, it drew me into the scene and I found the colours of the sky and clouds hypnotic. ‘I love this painting and am happy with the way it turned out, although I prefer to work in a medium other than oil as it takes so long to dry when layering. The canvas hangs in our room upstairs as I wouldn’t want to sell it.’

My eyes feast on the paraphernalia of an artist, palette knives and brushes and boxes full of colour and it seems the only medium missing from Sarah’s stash is watercolour. ‘I prefer the strength of colour achieved with other materials. I like to produce quirky one off originals. Although I do use Oils, for me, they can produce the effect of being too real.’

Always listening to classical and new age music whilst working: ‘I find the music relaxes and inspires me’.  One of Sarah’s creations is this semi-abstract acrylic painting ‘Fish ‘n’ Chips’. A seaside bay that feels full of warmth and intimacy.

Charity and mentoring
Sarah returns to her illustration roots for the MS Trust’s charity annual ‘The Secret Art Show’. This unique online exhibition gives people a chance to buy an artwork for £45. All the paintings are sold anonymously; so it is only at the end of the show that people found out whose art they had bought.

Sarah has sold work at the annual exhibition in Ayot St Lawrence in aid of the upkeep of their two historic churches. Artists donate 25% of the proceeds to help the tiny community of 45 dwellings maintain their memorable buildings.

Helping children who would like to be artists is something that Sarah relishes. She opens her studio doors to young people who have expressed a wish to make their living in the art world.  Sarah answers their questions and, with her boundless enthusiasm, opens their eyes to the various creative career possibilities.  

Exhibitions and Commissions
Sarah has held numerous exhibitions and whilst showing her work at Esporta in Northwood she was commissioned to create four panels for the interior of a yacht. ‘I often speculate where those paintings have wandered to, across the seas’.

She was also commissioned to create a mixed media work for the headquarters of Dixons.  ‘The piece was called Life’s a Game. It’s based on the game of Snakes and Ladders and was all about life balance’.

Sarah's work has been selected for many Exhibitions at Obsidian Art in Stoke Mandeville and annually exhibits at the Cow Byre Gallery in Ruislip.  A permanent selection of work is available to purchase from Art at 88 in Berkhamsted.

The Rudolph Steiner School in King’s Langley will be holding a Contemporary Arts Fair and Sarah has been invited to exhibit along with around a 100 other artists. The show starts on the evening of Sunday 7th October and will go on for 2 days.

Sarah will be at the Art Exhibition and Sale at Harpenden Public Halls on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September. She is a regular participant in our Open Studios project having taken part for the first time in 2000. This year Sarah will be exhibiting work at her studio near Watford on the weekends of the 22nd/ 23rd and the 29th/30th September 2012 - 11am to 4pm.

Please try to see Sarah’s work during our Open Studios as I know you will enjoy the experience as much as I did.

Contact details for Sarah How are:
Address:  Sunlight Studio, 5 Lavinia Avenue, Watford, WD25 0LF
Tel:           01923 441614