We had the good fortune of connecting with Zara DeGroot and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zara, what role has risk played in your life or career?
You have to risk it to get the biscuit! It’s also a cost/benefit analysis. If you take a risk, what could you get as a result? What could you lose? Risk is kind of a paradox, and it comes in many different forms. For small business owners who support themselves, their family, and/or a staff, the stakes are economical and much higher. With matters of the heart, risk could mean heartbreak or feeling stupid and exposed. On the flip side, in this COVID-19 new world order, taking a risk could cost a human life. I guess what I’m trying to say is, risk is a spectrum! To loop this back to making art… I’ve actually spent some time thinking about this question. What is the risk with making art, in whatever form? Perhaps the risk is coming face to face with your own limitations. Or acknowledging something about yourself you’ve either suppressed or forgot. On a more practical note, I don’t rely on selling my COVID-hobby paintings to make a living and put dog food in my puppy’s mouth. So, I can’t speak to risk in terms of anything more than an exhilarating feeling! That said, with anything that is personal to you, the biggest risk is putting it into the world and showing it off. The most ~~risky~~ thing I did this past year was probably sharing the progression of my art on social media. As silly as that sounds, it can be unsettling sharing what you’ve created with people, even your closest friends, who can look on with the eyes of critics. But the reward? Sharing something that you find beautiful and meaningful, and that brings you life and joy. I can’t speak about risk in terms of art and creating as anything more than that.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started painting a lot during the first wave of COVID. It started out as a way to unwind and take my mind off of Andrew Cuomo’s daily news updates. It quickly turned into realizing that I’ve spent years repressing my natural tendency to self-express through art. I was definitely an artistic, creative, and very dramatic child. I probably was born with a lot of feelings and emotions, and a disposition toward existential crises! I did a lot of art classes all the way through high school, but for me, it felt more of a competition between myself and my classmates, so much so that I always thought I sucked. I don’t believe young people should be given a grade for a form of self-expression. My mom is one of the most artistic people I know, and during the first COVID lockdown, I picked up some of her paint brushes and just went for it, still certain I sucked but eager to get my mind off of the mass COVID hysteria. It was a form of therapy to get through the long, uncertain days, but after a few months of painting nearly every day, I realized I didn’t hate a lot of what I had made. So, I decided to sell the best pieces on Instagram as a fundraiser for three organizations I love. I ended up donating a hefty amount to each. That’s definitely when I realized there was more to this hobby than just passing time after a day of working from home. As cliche as this sounds, up until this point, I hadn’t felt this type of deep joy and peace that painting gave me. The isolation that COVID brought, in many ways, was restorative. And, aside from the literal act of painting, I genuinely love packaging something up for someone, writing them a little note, and covering it all with stickers. So when people wanted to buy something, it just made my day. After that point on, I got a few commission requests, which still blows my mind. I started experimenting more with different styles (why just have one?!), and trying out new types of paint. Eventually, I set up an Etsy shop, and within one week, I sold about $500 of my pieces. Again, mind-blown. At this point, I paint because it makes me feel less crazy. But it also makes me feel the right type of crazy. It’s kind of like my own space where I don’t have to worry about doing something the “right” way because when it comes to making art, there is no right way. In a society where our worth is defined by how well we stick to the script of predetermined corporate success, having a space to simply do something without feeling internally and externally judged and criticized was revitalizing. That said, I’m by no means a professional. While I fantasize about painting more seriously in the future, right now I’m experimenting with my style and trying to challenge myself more by thinking outside the box and freeing my mind. As far as my style goes, I clearly love painting women and I love using bright colors! I could write an academic article on my thoughts around this (this is already long enough!), so I’ll leave it at this: Nothing says more about a woman, the oppression she feels, the standards she’s held to, and the role she’s expected to play, better than the look in her eyes.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If Cowboy Lounge was still open (biggest RIP ever), we’d be spending an evening there square-dancing to Toby Keith and stealing cowboy hats off of patrons’ heads. Denver is the best in the summer. The summer agenda goes as follows: – Dinner and drinks in LoHi (recently tried Senor Bear, would highly recommend). – Rockies game (in an ideal world, Nolan Arenado would still be on the team, making the experience 100% better) – Howl at the Moon for some wholesome singing and dancing, and mingling with whichever former Bachelor contestant is around that night. – Pizza from anywhere. – Brunch the next morning at Root Down. – Afternoon movie at The Alamo.
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?
This year, anyone who has said anything kind about my paintings deserves a shoutout. It’s been a hard time with COVID and seeing the kindness and connection we’ve been able to cultivate despite it is the biggest shoutout! Practically: – Janie Klapko, great friend and health coach (@janieklapko and @invisiblematters_ on the ‘gram) – @RozieJune on Instagram (community of women and amazing magazine; the founder Lily I believe is an actual angel) – Kate McKee (@k8mckee and @andthenshecreated) for fostering community, kindness, and a place to simply enjoy the act of creating. – Chelsea at @MaesMenu, for setting an amazing example of what it looks like to fearlessly chase what makes you happy (in her case, starting a food blog!!) and for being one of the first people to buy my art 🙂