West St. Paul artist Sarah Lew

Sarah Lew: #100circles Daily Art Project

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West St. Paul artist Sarah Lew is painting circles every day for 100 days. It’s a project she’s dubbed #100circles, where she posts each day’s artwork to Instagram and sells it to the first person to claim it. The first day’s piece was $1, the second was $2, the third was $3, etc. Any pieces that don’t sell within 48 hours are available in her online shop for $25.

It’s part creative challenge and part making art accessible. However you look at it, it’s a fun art project full of creativity and color. Follow Sarah Lew Studio on Instagram to see the latest work and try to claim your own—before they’re gone.

“The 100-day project was to get myself out of my head about creating and simply get back into the habit and flow of regular mess-making.”

Sarah Lew

About Artist Sarah Lew

Being a full-time professional artist is the dream Lew works toward, but for now she juggles a few day jobs to pay the bills. She works as a full-time nonprofit curriculum and training manager, as well as a learning experience designer for local organizations and a yoga teacher.

Lew and her partner Michael (who is colorblind, relish the irony) moved to West St. Paul in 2019. They’ve been together for eight years and have a Chihuahua named Marley and a Dalmatian/Lab mix named Pepper.

Sarah Lew with painted face
One of a series of portraits of Lew with a painted face.

A Conversation With Sarah Lew

We had to find out more about this creative challenge, so we reached out to Lew to get the story.

What inspired 100 paintings in 100 days? 

The 100-day project seems to be a concept across time and space with creators. A quick Google search says it was the brainchaild of a Yale professor in 2006, but I’ve seen many creatives use this as a way to jumpstart a series, get out of a funk, or just to have fun and commit to creating.

I was inspired to jump in here and now because, to me, the feeling of being an artist in quarantine has shifted. Toward the end of 2020 I was not creating nearly as frequently or freely, yet seeing people I admire or am inspired by seem to have endless inspiration. The 100-day project was to get myself out of my head about creating and simply get back into the habit and flow of regular mess-making.

Why circles? Reminds me a bit of the work of Alma Thomas. Were you inspired by her work or have any other artists influenced this project as a whole or even individual pieces in this series? 

Circles are a constant theme in my work. A quote I find showing up in my world frequently is:

“The whole world is based on rhythms. Everything happens in circles, in spirals.”

John Hartford

All my art comes from a meditative and intuitive space. I draw a lot of influence from water, especially ripples in the water. “Drops of Joy” was another project I dove into with circles. I like the constraints of having a shape to work within but otherwise letting whatever happens, happen. Wassily Kandinsky inspires my art in the way shapes can play with one another in a space to evoke emotion, but I take most of my inspiration from things in nature—stones, rings in tree bark, textures on leaves, etc.

This is quite the exercise in creativity—do you ever hit a wall and come up blank? What do you do then? 

All the time! My purpose in pursuing the 100 days is to push myself. I don’t preplan or think about what I’m going to paint before I sit down. It’s a practice in listening to my intuition and doing what feels right in the moment. You’ll notice that I’ve been sticking to blue, but clearly had some days where my energy or mood was different and resulted in other colors (or mediums) coming to the forefront. When I hit a wall and come up blank, sometimes I’ll just put my brush in the middle of the page and let it move with my breath until something settles in. It is definitely a practice in surrendering and drawing back to the core of what art does for me, which is to express things I can’t always find words to. 

Be honest: Do you ever finish a painting early one day and start on the next day’s painting? 

I try not to! One of my goals for this endeavor was to get myself making art every day but also not to add stress. So while I don’t paint ahead, I definitely skip some days when I forget or fall asleep too early or can’t find the motivation. Because… life.  

How long have you been doing art? 

I have been prioritizing making messes since my first art class as a child. I’ve enrolled in art camps and tried every medium I could get my hands on. I studied art and art history in college, but I made the leap to selling and opening commissions in 2015 when I moved back to Minnesota after a few years away. 

Given the starving artist stereotype, I think a lot of people wonder how artists make a living. Which makes the economics of a venture like this fascinating. How does a project like this help you make a living? Are you able to support yourself with art? 

One day, that’s the dream. I work full time for a nonprofit in St. Paul and bring creativity into my every day life and all aspects of what I do. One of my goals with art is to always make it accessible. A project like this helps spread more affordable art but also keys into a community that furthers my growth as an artist. As soon as the sidewalks free up I’m hoping to draw some circles in front of my house and leave some chalk for people in the neighborhood to fill in how they want!  

What inspires your artwork? Tell us about your aesthetic. 

I answered this a little above, but I am constantly focused on the relationship between creativity and mental health and the human condition. There are so many complex things happening in our bodies and minds all the time! And to represent that, even abstractly, in another form helps with my own introspection. I am constantly questioning the world around me, and sometimes representing those questions through color and shape helps open up new ideas and solutions. 

The past year has been a challenge, to put it mildly, and we’re just starting to come out of the doldrums of winter. How do you think art and creativity can provide meaning and help in times like these? 

Art and creativity provide so many benefits (I love it so much I sometimes offer trainings on it). Whether creativity to you means doodling, building something with your hands, making music, stacking stones, or whatever it might be, it allows us a chance to reconnect with our bodies through mindful practices. Especially in times when stress is high, grief is present, and instability is common, it’s important to find a release somewhere. And with creative communities I have found that that kind of release typically connects you to other like-minded people who will join you in the journey. 

What do you love about West St. Paul? 

We love so many things. We love how many neighbors do cool and fun things (like ornaments you can take from the sidewalk!) We also love that there are a lot of people in West St. Paul who care about big things and are using their voices to speak up for that.

I love being able to take morning walks down to Amore Coffee for iced coffee no matter how cold it is. That when our fence was in question, [Council Member] Lisa Eng-Sarne stopped by to talk personally with us and support us. Or when our ceiling collapsed our neighbors were so willing to offer help. This is the community we’ve been seeking and we’re excited to add a little more art to these spaces.

Thanks to Sarah Lew for sharing her insights with us. Be sure to visit her website and follow her on Instagram. You can also check out the postcard we commissioned Lew to create.

We can tell local stories thanks to your support.

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