In this series of blog posts we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2015. Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Dugan of Sarah Marie Studios who will be teaching Cyanotypes - an alternative to enhance your creative process
How I Got Right by Getting Dirty Again
Two years ago I was bored.
It wasn’t the romantic kind of “ennui” one finds with artists; I wasn’t “dissatisfied;” I wasn’t searching my work for answers. Photographs of me didn’t show a woman longing for what was slightly out of the picture frame, like some wistful hipster on display in a past issue of Kinfolk. Nope, I was just flippin’ BORED. This concerned me. I wasn’t “right.”
My identity growing up was “Sarah the Artist.” With many artists being storytellers, this was the perfect role for me, since I also liked stories and reading. Let’s be honest: the Irish, we like our storytelling via long and roundabout tales. When I channeled my Irish side and crafted a story with my drawings and illustrations, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction.
During a frustrating time as a painter in art school, a Nikon FM2 found its way into my hands. Hearing the sounds of 35mm film advancing through the camera gave me pause and made me ask: How can a machine create? Where is the craft? Is this really art? Eventually, I grew to love the smell of the darkroom as much as the smell of linseed oil. I took pleasure in exploring the artistic process behind the image-making. I embraced the instant gratification of the photograph emerging from the developer, finding far more satisfaction in those pans of chemicals than in my painting. It became the most effective tool in my storytelling arsenal.
I began by telling my own stories through photography. Then I began to tell others’ stories, first on film and then using digital. I even began to get paid for it. The number of others’ stories being told began to grow, at first slowly and then exponentially. I recall one wedding season where, between the middle of April and the end of June, I had exactly two days off. I think I slept for one, and took my mom out to celebrate Mother’s Day for the other.
All this work and very little play started to wear on me; to quote Bilbo Baggins, I started to “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.“ White dresses caused my eye to twitch. Chicken and the Cha-Cha-Slide immediately put my teeth on edge. Country clubs and hotels were beginning to blur and fade into each other. The hora and The Hustle were becoming just a cacophony of sound. I even started to hate cake (which, as any good Québécois knows, signifies a big problem). Okay, perhaps there was a tad of hyperbole in that last paragraph. I’ll never hate cake.
Something had to give. I decided to take a step back and figure out how the act of creating, which I had always loved, had become nothing more than a formula like the ones found on a cheat sheet made for a high school chemistry class. I went on an “Art Cleanse” so I could figure out how my creative process had gone so wrong. At first my cleanse foundered; even though I thought I had stepped back from pursuing weddings, I still second shot the very type of events that drove me batty to begin with. I was still tapping out over way too much tulle. I wasn’t being true to my quirky, Star Wars loving, fire engine red haired, “painted” arms and feet self.
Thank god I found roller derby.
Just like that FM2 found me in art school, roller derby, too, found me when I needed a jump-start to my creative process. Here was something I knew NOTHING about that was loud and fast and brash…kind of like me. There were naughty nicknames and all kinds of sweat and smells; women embraced names such as “Pukeface” and “Slam Grier.” These women were 20 something and 50 something, all sizes and all types. Some of the derby dames were cheered on by their kids, some by their punk styled boyfriends and some by their wives. You don’t fit in much? Great, come on over and hang out. I couldn’t wait to get to a bout and photograph it; derby was the most anti-wedding thing I had seen. I was awarded my derby name. I loved every piece of it.
And, all the sudden, I also loved creating again.
It’s been a slow build back to a place where I’m starting to be satisfied with my creative process and progress. I’m jumping in and playing with lighting and composition. I’m trying out vintage approaches like cyanotypes and encaustic. I’m searching for ways to bring it all into the weddings I photograph. I’m even trying to make time to illustrate and draw. I’m getting my hands dirty again, finally, and it feels good.
Some might say all of that time being complacent and on a time-out was wasted; there’s some truth to that. By putting myself on the practice team for a while, I may never be able to build my business’s volume and income back up to where I was 6 or 7 years ago. Being a photographer - being an artist - has morphed beyond just creating these last few years. I have quite a bit of catching up to do…and I may never get back to where I was before. But, if that’s the price I had to pay to now love each and every opportunity I am given to create – which I have this year – I’m okay with that. I’m finally working with people who want me and want my creativity; they like how I see things. Most even like my hair.
I’m on my way back to being “right.”