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"The Most Personal Form of Expression"--Meet Local Artist Sarah Bedford

Yes, I got behind for a month on my Spotlight on Women series; sue me. I've been busy, what can I say? That felt like a legitimate excuse, until I conducted the interview with Sarah Bedford, local artist, teacher, photographer, mother of three, and all around badass who gets more done in a day than I do in three weeks.

You might remember me mentioning Sarah when I wrote the blog post about the Creative Awakening class I attended at Art in the Loft. She taught us how to use ink and watercolors to experiment with color and technique, allowing and encouraging us to simply enjoy the process without judging our work or expecting anything out of it. The class was like being a kid playing with finger paints--intriguing, enjoyable, pure fun. The verbal reminders she gave us about not labeling our own artistic abilities, and leaving behind any preconceived notions about what we were or were not capable of did wonders to create a relaxed, open atmosphere.

I never had Sarah as an art teacher, but I've known her all my life. In addition to being Superwoman, Sarah is also my cousin. She used to babysit me, tell me stories, draw me paper dolls. She was my hero growing up, and during difficult times in my life I've found myself wondering, "what would Sarah do?" If you know her personally, you know that she's a dedicated mother and friend, and one of the most unrelentingly sweet and genuine people on the planet. If you know her professionally, you know she's a seriously talented artist who goes above and beyond for the arts and her students. And if you don't know her at all, read on and be prepared to discover a new friend you didn't realize you needed.

Do you have a moment in your life that you can remember becoming interested in creating art?

I always enjoyed drawing, but likely no more than any other child.  I would sit up at a writing desk on my grandmother's sun porch, and soak up the warmth and sunlight of the room as I drew from an old, weathered copy of a "How to Draw Horses and Ponies" book.  One benefit I had was that I was encouraged by my family as a young child, and I remember them exclaiming how exquisite they thought my drawings were.  Likely exaggerated claims, but I relished in the way I was made to feel special.  That drive for appreciation has carried into adulthood, although I don't really get patted on the head anymore.

What sort of mediums do you use, and what's your favorite?

I felt compelled to attend Art School to major in Drawing and Illustration, because it felt safer; safer in that I knew how to draw.  I did not know how to use iMac computers in the Graphic Design labs, I had never touched a piece of clay, and I was sure Automotive Design wouldn't be my forte.  Needless to say, I have a lot of experience with a pencil.  Not to mention charcoal, conte, etc.  However, I lately have been experimenting with watercolor and ink.  I suppose not unlike Henri Rousseau, people find my watercolors interesting because I haven't been formally trained to use them.   I also enjoy photography, but I miss the photography classes I had in college and developing film.  I do love capturing special moments for families, couples, and children, but I also miss the artistic merits of taking a photo for the sheer joy of capturing a vantage point that others might not consider.

Where do you find your inspiration?

For some reason, I continue to be drawn to the parallels of neurobiology and our physiology, particularly with the mirroring of things like dendrites and root systems.  I try to show the interconnectedness.  I also have been focused on photographing the intersection of man and nature for a few years now, but not always in an organic way.  Those images might portray how man's need for convenience shadows natural landforms.  Music also plays a great role in my artmaking, and I feel like I can't create without a good soundtrack.  What I listen to varies, but I tend to sway toward alternative rock or sounds that are drippy and sensual.

How do you advocate for the arts, and why is it important to you?

I believe very strongly in what I do.  I'm not there for the paycheck.  I truly believe that I can help students foster a greater sense of imagination and creative problem-solving.  I believe with all honesty that the Arts are integral to education.  I've seen firsthand the students that struggle to get through their school day find solace and comfort in a place to build their personal expression.  I used to always wonder why the arts are scrutinized, and I realized that it's because art is the most personal form of expression.  We are born creators, but somehow we stop taking chances, and that creativity is stifled.  Those that don't have grit give up, and turn into stakeholders that say, "I can't even draw a stick figure."  Beneath that is, "I can't draw a stick figure, and I won't try because I don't want to be judged."   Therefore, I encourage every single student and break down the barriers of 'better than'.  The feelings and ideas that turn into creation are true works of art, no matter the level of talent that releases them.  And I also have been working hard to bring recognition to the arts as valuable to education at all levels, even into adulthood.  Abstract thought and non-linear growth are the hardest to measure in a world of standardization, and it is my goal to break the barriers to show that perhaps this circuitous growth may turn out to be the most fruitful as we educate tomorrow's leaders.  I feel lucky and privileged that I get to teach children the value of their humanity.

Einstein used his mind's eye to deduce that objects travel at different perceived speeds relative to light.  Time and space are relative as well.  Mathematicians played a key role in helping find the correct formula that we know so well today, but it was his own creativity and ability to visualize problems that led him to developing the theory of relativity.  Einstein cracked the code of time, space, matter, and gravity by using the experience of visual images.  If this isn't enough evidence to maximize the amount of creative, visual, musical, language, social, and performing arts in schools to complement math and science, I don't know what is.

What are your degrees in, and where did you go to school?

I have an associate in liberal arts degree from Alpena Community College, I attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit with a focus on Illustration, and also Eastern Michigan University for the rest of my undergrad with to receive a bachelor of fine arts degree.  Then, I attended Spring Arbor University for a master of arts in education.  I am considering enrolling again in an MFA or MA program.  I love to learn.

What advice would you give to young artists in the area who feel they don't have the right education or opportunities to pursue a career in the arts?

You know, there are so many opportunities and resources available online right now.  However, I will never feel more immersed in the arts as I do when I make art with my friends and attend functions.  My advice is to find like-minded people.  If you're in school, voice your opinion to school leaders about what resources you would like to see offered.  Seek out local resources as well.  Our art communities are growing!  Northeastern Michigan is actually considered a 'cultural dead zone' to grantors, but that means more money is allocated to our areas, and sometimes not spent!  Check out the local scenes and promote local creative arts, including theatre, drama, and dance.  Be authentic.  Push boundaries.

What was your experience with the Creative Awakening class from an instructor's perspective?

My goal for the class was to provide a space for adults to create art in a nonjudgmental way, utilizing techniques they can access again when they need to regain their inner balance.  I wanted the artmaking to be about the tactile senses, and focusing on process, not product. I opened the class by asking students to create an artwork as an extension and concrete manifestation of their experiences, creative an abstract work so it would be both a challenge and a joy to allow their creativity to flow freely. The creative awakening class was amazing, and we are looking at expanding the opportunities!  It has always been an interest of mine to help develop programs that provide art in a therapeutic form, and I have been doing my research and working on ideas that will be presented soon.


If you haven't yet, 'like' Art in the Loft on Facebook to get first looks at any upcoming classes, including the possibility of another creative awakening. Otherwise, there are several pieces of Sarah's art currently on display, and they are definitely not to be missed!

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