Sarah Todd found success almost by accident.
The 33-year-old Preston Hollow resident was trained in classical realistic art. She got a bachelor’s degree in studio art from UT Austin and a master’s in design from Florence Design Academy in Florence, Italy, where she also spent time studying under master gilder Alison Woolley.
Todd taught art in between her degrees, and after leaving Florence, she moved to Dallas and started teaching at the private school Wesley Prep. She worked commissions on the side to supplement her income and build her brand, and given her training, she was doing mostly portraits and sketches of houses. When she put up one of her abstract paintings in a Wesley Prep auction, she was inundated with calls and commission requests for more.
“After that, it was just kind of wild,” she says.
Soon after, Todd quit teaching and became a full-time artist. She and her now-husband, Kelton, picked up and moved to Tampa, Fla., which they used as a home base for a few years while traveling and living across the world. Their adventures took them to South Africa, England, Paris and the South of France before they landed back in Dallas in 2018.
So your career really took off after that first abstract piece sold.
People really loved that piece. I just had so many commissions, mostly from that school. That’s kind of how it started.
Do clients make specific requests, or do they pick from a selection of your work?
It depends. Some clients will have seen something of mine that’s already sold and they’re like, “I really want one just like it.” A lot of times, though, they want me to come in and create what’s best for their space. We’ll design it together and agree on colors and style and all of that. The client is very much part of the process. They come to the studio before the final coat is put on so they can make any changes.
So you’re a realistic artist by training, but your success is in abstract art.
I still do realistic art. Every once in a while someone will request that, or I just do it for myself. But I find it very therapeutic when it’s abstract. I get to be very free to do what I want, and in return, the viewer can also see what they see. It doesn’t have to be what I see. In realistic art, it’s, “OK, that’s a flower.” There’s not much to decipher.
How do you get inspired?
We travel a lot, and usually when I travel, I have small canvases with me and I do little paintings. Then I do an interpretation of that painting really large when I get home. I’ve done that with a Europe series and a South Africa series and a Colorado series. I love watching the way the sun hits the water. Reflections are so intriguing to me. The metallics that I use reflect, and the resin is like a high gloss finish and is very reflective as well.
Talk about the materials you use.
I like to use high-end materials. It makes a much better statement. I use gold-leafing. Genuine silver leaf is also very popular. There’s also 21-karat gold, which is more of a champagne gold. I use diamond dust, which is a really cool material. Andy Warhol even used it. I use museum-quality resin, so it doesn’t yellow over time or anything and it protects the pieces. I also don’t have a super large inventory of art that’s already made, probably only 20 or so pieces in stock right now. I know a lot of artists have hundreds that are available and ready, but that would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars just to keep.
Do you have a favorite piece?
“Night’s Melody.” It was a diptych. It looks like angel wings. It’s black with pure gold and silver. That was my first one that didn’t have any color. I was very intimidated by it at first, but it was actually really fun to do. I love the contrast that it created, it’s just so vibrant. It really gave me confidence to start pushing myself to do different styles.
How do you get in your creative zone?
You’re gonna think I’m a weirdo. I listen to “Harry Potter” on repeat. I love it. It’s one of those things that I don’t have to pay attention to because I know the next word, but it’s also very entertaining. Every once in a while I listen to music.
So how many times have you listened to the full series by now?
Oh my God, hundreds. I mean, I’ve been doing that since college.
Do you ever create pieces you don’t like?
I will have someone do a commission that I would not do on my own, but they’re very persistent. But there’s never been one that I’m like, “Oh, I would never show anybody this.” I definitely make sure to keep the integrity. I have to do what I like, and if someone says, “I want you to paint something,” and I don’t want to, then I just say, “That’s not really my style, I think you should find another artist.”
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
I think a lot of artists get caught up in doing things that they’ve seen other artists do, but you’ll be a lot more successful if you find your own style. Keep exploring, don’t just stick with one thing. Find your own and people will really appreciate that and see it as different.
What’s next for you?
My ultimate goal is to have my own galleries. I’ve had three pop-ups now, and they were all really successful and a lot of fun. My main goal is to have one in Dallas, and then eventually one in New York, one in L.A. and one internationally. But really, Dallas is our next big focus.
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