We had the good fortune of connecting with Sara Schalliol-Hodge and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sara, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I was definitely born an artist. In my first-day-of-kindergarten photo, I’m proudly standing in front of one of my paintings (which is displayed on an easel that my dad made me, but we’ll get to that later). I had a natural interest in art from a young age and I was lucky to have parents who encouraged almost all of my artistic whims. I never focused on one medium for too long because I wanted to explore them all. In highschool, I threw pottery, melted glass into beads, sewed clothes, made pinhole cameras, learned to weave, and built furniture with my dad. I’m probably missing some things, but you get the idea. I’ve always wanted to make everything. I don’t just want to make a shirt. I want to design the fabric, find a way to manufacture the fabric, draft the pattern, and then sew the shirt. For better or worse, I refused to consider anywhere but art school for college and I only applied to one school- the Savannah College of Art and Design. I was fearful of becoming one of those “starving artists” that everyone seemed to warn me about, so I made sure to select a path that was more applied art than fine art. At SCAD, I learned and embraced the world of design, which I hardly knew of as a career path before. I studied Industrial Design with a focus on Furniture Design, which seemed like a great fit for me. Industrial Design married my love of art and creating with my technical aptitude and detail-oriented personality. Even as a kid, I never seemed to be able to produce just one of something… once you figure out the details and the best way to make something, why stop at one? I was giddy to learn about different manufacturing methods and still nerd out over production methods. In short, I have always had this intense need to create and I have been fortunate enough to get to pursue this need not just as a hobby, but as a career. Though I have other marketable skills, I think my ability to visualize, design, and turn an idea into reality is my super power. Being artistic and creative is not a choice I make or something I aim to do, it just is who I am.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The easiest way to explain what I do is to say that I am an artist and product designer. I create fine art which consists of mixed-media block prints and illustrations and I also design products that are produced by small manufacturers. Sometimes these two categories feel separate but often they overlap quite a lot. My product line consists of original fine art prints, archival prints, cards, stickers, embroidered patches, enamel pins, bandanas, tea towels, knit hats, ornaments, and enamel mugs. With this mix of products, some are more fine art based while others are much more designed, but overall everything feels cohesive. Nature is my biggest inspiration and that is abundantly clear in all of my “goods”. I seem to be always thinking about the dichotomy between nature and man, manufacturing vs hand-making, and what home means and my work reflects these themes whether apparent at first glance or not. After studying industrial design in college, I worked designing portable lighting, fixtures, fountains, furniture, and then interiors. Even when I was working in the design world, I always continued with my fine art practice and was able to have consistent gallery shows of my work. Soon after I had my first baby (I now have two kids, ages 7 and 4), we moved from Anchorage, Alaska to Denver, Colorado. My interior design job in Alaska had been very flexible and allowed me to work part time after my son was born, which was amazing. I had hoped to find something similar in Colorado so that I could have that elusive work/life balance that is crucial to surviving as a new parent and maybe even fit in a little time for art. I interviewed for some design jobs and somehow managed to get an offer for every single position I interviewed for, but I didn’t accept any of them. None of the companies I spoke to would entertain anything less than full-time work and 45+ hours a week seemed to be considered the standard. My husband encouraged me to see what would happen if I pursued my art more like a business. I was reluctant to step away from the professional design world, but I didn’t see a way for it to fit into my life anymore. I’ve been scaling my business each year, trying out new ideas and products, and exploring how I can make things that are true to me but also profitable. I think I approach things from a different perspective than many artists do. I am acutely aware of the time I spend making something, where my specific item fits into the market, and what someone might pay for it. This all sounds very businesslike, but there is a decidedly un-business-like element to everything I make as well, which is that it “feels like me”, “makes me proud”, and/or “is something I personally would want”, which are admittedly kind of slippery concepts.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love going to thrift stores, craft stores, artsy boutiques, and breweries. If one of my friends was visiting Denver, we’d have to visit a few Arc Thrift Stores and hopefully find some treasures. I have taken many visitors to Fancy Tiger Crafts because not every city has such a hip and awesomely curated craft and sewing shop. Since we’d be on Broadway, we’d also need to visit Meininger because I am always in need of one art supply or another. I love walking down Tennyson Street, and I’m sure any friend of mine would need to visit Jolly Goods, High Point Creamery, and César Chávez Park. I think running is a great way to sightsee, so I might take my friend on a running tour of Crown Hill Park, Sloan’s Lake, or the Clear Creek Trail. And last but not least, no visit to Denver is complete without some microbrewery visits. I’d take my friend to Mountain Toad in Golden, Denver Beer Company in Arvada or Denver, and Joyride Brewing Co by Sloan’s Lake.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I mentioned earlier that my parents were very supportive and encouraging. I’ve been very fortunate to have been surrounded by nurturing people for most of my life. I was a shy kid who struggled with self-confidence and sometimes depression, but I had teachers and coaches who seemed to see something in me and try to coax it out. I think that sometimes people on the outside can see what we can’t see in ourselves. In highschool, I was aggressively pursuing art and competitive rowing. My art teachers and coaches during this time were 100% there for me, somehow pushing me to achieve more without expecting more than I could accomplish. I also have to give a shoutout to my husband, who is a big supporter of my business. He might believe in my brand even more than I do. He encouraged me to step away from working for other people and see what would happen if I worked for myself. He has big expectations for what I can accomplish and his confidence gives me confidence. I have to mention a tiny conversation I had with my highschool art teacher, Mrs.Goodman. At the time, I was very dedicated to pinhole photography and seemed to be bursting with new ideas and concepts to explore. She recognized how prolific I was and asked me what I would do when I had used up all of my ideas. Where would I find new ones? I’m not sure I had even considered yet that I could run out of ideas, but we discussed that I should immerse myself in music, movies, books, the outside world, etc. Thinking about this now, I realize how wise she was to recognize in 16 year old me that not only would I eventually run out of ideas, but that I would likely panic when it inevitably happened. Knowing how to “recharge my idea bank” before it ran out feels like a gift she was giving future me. Even now, I try to take my ideas seriously and keep an “idea book” rather than a sketch book. I’m also always reading books, watching movies, and exploring nature. Would I do this stuff anyway? It’s likely. But because of this little talk with my art teacher, it feels like I am being proactive, filling up my idea bank, and giving my future self the gift of an idea.