There are obviously about a million extremely talented artists on Instagram. Everyday, my feed is filled with wonderful pieces by artists from all over the world. Every now and again, I will reach out to an artist and you will get to learn a little bit about their process and inspiration.
Sarah Gay-O’Neill (@heysgay) is a Boston-area artist who actually an artist who reached out to me and I couldn’t be happier that she did because she is a fantastic artist with an incredibly impressive portfolio.
If you get the opportunity, I strongly suggest that you her out on Instagram, where she often posts live videos of her creating art in her sketchbook, or you can check out her website here.
SZ :: When did you first begin your work in illustration? What types of things did you draw then vs now?
SGO: I’ve been drawing my whole life from as early as the time I could hold crayons. It all started with winning coloring contests when I was 4 years old and being awarded prizes. For example, I submitted to a coloring contest at the local supermarket when I was 5 and won a pizza/pool party for my whole family at the Holiday Inn. From then on, my family encouraged my drawing abilities and similar awards and recognition continued to push me to exercise my gift.
As for subject matter, it’s funny…if I look at the stuff I was drawing as a child…the only thing that has changed…is my technical skill. I’ve basically been drawing the same ideas exploring nature, questions like: “Who am I? How do I fit in this world?”, etc.
Though nowadays, I sometimes just move my drawing utensils around, simply as a meditative exercise. Relationships between colors, textures, etc, can sometimes provide a mental respite that doesn’t always involve a ‘finished drawing’ as much as a literal journey in mark-making. Have you ever hear the saying, “Sometimes the ride to the picnic is more fun than the actual picnic…”
Drawing can be that for me. The experience of the making can sometimes outweigh the need to reach an end product- that is something I maybe was less aware of as a child.
SZ :: Did you go to art school?
SGO: I did! In 2003 I moved to Boston, MA. to attend Massachusetts College of Art & Design (the only public art college in the country). I studied illustration & animation as well as received my Masters in education. I have called Boston my home ever since <3.
SZ :: What has been your most fulfilling project?
SGO: I have been very fortunate and have had a lot of cool projects & gigs that as a younger artist…I never would have dreamt of having.
This past year… a little dream came true: I was asked to install my art on the exterior of one of Harvard University’s newest residential buildings, spanning an entire city block. The mural depicted different aspects of the neighborhood & life in Boston.
That has definitely been one of the coolest things I’ve ever been invited to do.
SZ :: On your Instagram, it seems that you’ve been going out into nature to illustrate, what are you looking for when you are in nature?
SGO: I go to nature for answers. What I mean by this is, I look for the patterns and cycles that may be existing in my life…in nature. Relationships between the elements, plants, rocks, time, space….’woo-woo’ stuff. While I am not a religious person at all, I am spiritual and I have found that combining nature and my art practice to be soulfully rewarding. I can examine, explore, and ruminate on ideas by illustrating them. Fixating on the textures, line weights, colors, etc. allows me time to mull over ethereal feelings and my sense of wonderment.
Nature is awesome, and I am so stoked that warmer weather is nearly here.
I have to be outside!
SZ :: What projects are you working on now?
SGO: Something that I am most excited about is that I’ve been invited by Montserrat College of Art and Design to have a show with my partner Chris O’Neill (his IG is: @Thumbsoneill).
While I have been fortunate to have shown my art in a number of galleries as a solo artist and involved in many group shows…this is especially unique because Chris and I have been making art side by side for 17 years….and yet we’ve never actually crossed the threshold to collaborate and/or have a two-person show together. So this is new and interesting. Our work is pretty different and I am eager to see where we go/ what comes from it.
Additionally, although I just gushed about an upcoming gallery show, I actually have my sights set on more public art.
While gallery shows have their place in the art world, having just had the opportunity to do the mural for Harvard and seeing how the community has been engaging with it…I am suddenly very drawn to putting more work in public places.
Galleries have been places predominantly for privileged people to congregate…. And while I do respect the museum/gallery scene, there is a real need for more public art.
Everyday we are bombarded with advertisements and media telling us how to be, what to do, feel, experience, etc.We need places to rest our eyes and hearts that open us up to feeling more deeply…more connected, allowing us an opportunity to consider ourselves in the world, to ask bigger questions, instead of being pushed to dissect ourselves until we’ve picked ourselves apart to a point of not even recognizing who we areor what we even want… because we are so overwhelmed by media….
We need more public art.
SZ :: How has your style and colour palette evolved over the years? What inspired this evolution?
SGO: Ha! This is a really great question. It’s funny, a few years ago I came across old drawings from my childhood…and wouldn’t you know it…I am basically drawing the same stuff…just with more technical skills?!
And what is that about…?
I guess like most artists, I spend a lot of time rolling around in my head trying to figure out ways to communicate these big existential questions I have about myself and the world around me. Even as a creepy kid I was endlessly curious about why I exist. I was always asking my parents bizarre questions like, “When we die…how long does it take for us to become bones…?” I really remember asking my Dad that question…a lot. In many ways…I’m still asking these questions and exploring the answers in my art. So aesthetically,my ‘visual voice’ hasn’t changed too much- I just have the ability to render my ideas more precisely.
In recent years however, as I enter actual grown-ass adulthood, leaving ‘young adult’ land…and given our current political climate…much of my work has become more charged and feminine. I find myself wanting to reclaim and take up space with images of powerful female figures…mirroring her form with other strong imagery…like mountains and lakes. To me, both are seemingly static, yet ever patiently changing by growing and/or eroding.
As far as my palette goes… I do have a pretty steady spectrum of colors that I work with- sort of sticking with colors closest to CMYK. I’ve been using alot of Magenta & Cyan especially.- I find those colors to be so aesthetically pleasing when used together.I do however have little ebbs and flows into other palettes that I think are seasonally influenced.
I also really love working with neon colors- like super hot pinks and bright chartreuse. I think like I described above..I am feeling driven to take up space…and loud colors take up visual space.
SZ :: Are there other artists that you can cite as being inspirations to your work, either now or in the future?
SGO: Ooooh definitely. There are so many artists and figures that have influenced who I am as an artist. My gosh, where do I begin?
Immediately coming to mind, Carson Ellis has always been a huge inspiration. Her storytelling, charm, wisdom, and the depth that she creates in her illustrations…have definitely pulled my own hand to draw.. Yuko Shimizu’s stark females, and incredible line weights….. Margaret Kilgallen and her simplistic, bold women and her graphic lettering; not to mention- she was just an overall incredible woman, her story is just tragic and beautiful. I absolutely adore her. While these artists are all illustrators, I am absolutely inspired by many other artists and/or movements that aren’t necessarily 2D artists.
Sophie Calle and her exploration of identities, voyeurism, etc. Janine Antoni and her deeply existential explorations; and there is so much more and I could go on forever. I am a deeply curious and grateful person, inspired by so many various things.