Sara Willadsen – Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

“Woolly Eyes,” Laser-cut paper, acrylic paint, graphite, gel pen, ink, found images on paper, 22¾" x 22¾", 2014

“Woolly Eyes,” Laser-cut paper, acrylic paint, graphite, gel pen, ink, found images on paper, 22¾” x 22¾”, 2014

Briefly describe the work you do.

I make pictures that satisfy my curiosity in aesthetics and found materials. Combining these articles with reappropriations of my own work allows me to employ past patterns and marks as prompts for new structures and environments. The aggressive process used to construct these secretive spaces is kept in balance with the consciousness to know when to stop.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I was born and raised in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Like most artists, I started creating things at a very young age. I was constantly restless and wanting to make something, as I have always been a highly visual person and needed to be occupied with some kind of project. Living in a small quiet town helped to foster my curiosity in art and led me to pursue many of my artistic interests at a young age including painting, photography, and various crafts.

“Front,” Laser-cut paper, graphite, latex, hum

“Front,” Laser-cut paper, graphite, latex, hum

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

My studio practice is primarily a solitary one.

Since I like to begin a piece with some kind of wash or mark(s) already on the surface, I often reappropriate many of my own paintings and drawings as well as found pieces, often ones with unintentional and chance marks. These then become prompts for new spaces.  

I rely heavily on pareidolia to pull ideas from my subconscious and bring order to the chaotic marks left behind. This psychological phenomenon tricks the brain into seeing whole objects from fractured information. When I see abstract images or designs my mind fills in the gaps so that I see structures and planes. My mind searches out spaces to explore in everything I observe, so I start with a jumbled mess of unrecognizable shapes and pull out a space I see in it with pencil marks and continued patterns. These prompts usually result in structures and spaces that resemble places I have recently encountered or experiences from my past that have visually stuck with me.

I often move from one piece to the next so I am always working on multiple pieces.

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

When I started going to school for art I never really thought about the external effect I would have on others, but I have come to find that through teaching and engaging with younger artists, I have become somewhat of a role model.  I think my current studio practice reassures and demonstrates to other aspiring artists that they can successfully pursue their own practice just as I observe with well-known artists that have taught me and/or influenced my work.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I feel that my brain functions at its best at night, but I work on pieces whenever I have the opportunity. Since I work as a freelance graphic designer during the week I have to devote nights and weekends to my studio practice.

“Middle Ground,” Laser-cut paper, fabric, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on paper, 26” x 26”, 2014

“Middle Ground,” Laser-cut paper, fabric, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on paper, 26” x 26”, 2014

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

When I began painting and drawing five years ago in undergrad, I created a lot of desolate night scenes from around Sheboygan County. My interest in landscapes is still present in my current work as I take inspiration from some the same Sheboygan surroundings, but in a less straightforward and representational way. I now combine these ideas with found materials and other ephemera I collect to create an image of a new environment.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

One of my former professors, Geoffrey Todd Smith, has made a great impact on my studio practice. During a studio visit with him in grad school, he suggested that I give myself rules to work by so I don’t always resort to my default instincts, which to me can get stale and too repetitive. I am very open and receptive to experimentation in my work, so this method continuously keeps me engaged in what I am making and often leads me in exciting directions.

I draw much of my inspiration from artists such as Mark Whalen and Edward Hopper as well as my surroundings and places I see every day.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I think I would have some type of non-profit job that works with animals. I have always been concerned with the well-being of all animals and could never commit to a career that doesn’t align with my morals, so this would probably be one of the only other jobs besides being an artist that would make me feel like I’m making a positive contribution to the world.


Headshot_WilladsenSara Willadsen was born in Sheboygan, WI in 1987. She received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Northern Illinois University in 2014 and her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Lakeland College in 2010. Working predominantly with paint and various found materials, Willadsen’s work explores ideas of abstract spaces and structures inspired by her childhood spent in Sheboygan County. She has had work shown at the Museum of Wisconsin Art and exhibits frequently in group exhibitions. Willadsen lives and works as a visual artist and freelance designer in Sheboygan.


All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.  



About 365Artists/365Days

The purpose of this project is to introduce its readership to a diverse collection of art that is being produced at the national and international level. Our goal is to engage the public with information regarding a wide array of creative processes, and present the successes and failures that artists face from day to day. The collaborators hope that this project will become a source for exploring and experiencing contemporary art in all its forms.
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