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Sandra Hogan McDermott

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Class of 1992


B.A. (Art with concentration in Graphics, minor in Biology) Salem State College


Every artist has something in their life that stirred them to do what they do. My earliest memory of making art that mattered is a bookmark design competition sponsored by the school library when I was in first grade. Using crayons on construction paper I drew an image of Dr. Doolittle with his animals. I won! That experience stirred something inside and began a life-long commitment to both art and animals, and ultimately a career in Natural Science Illustration. As a Natural Science Illustrator, plants and animals are the subjects represented in my art. Birds and their inherent momentary appearance provide particular enjoyment (and challenge!) to observe and sketch. To create my artwork, a great deal of time is spent in the field observing and sketching plants and animals from life. Recording their shapes, colors, textures, behaviors and generally capturing the complexity of a habitat are the purpose; all things that would aid the creation of 2-dimensional drawings for reproduction. The intent is to capture as much detail as possible given the conditions. While the practice of field sketching is the foundation of everything I do artistically, the medium and my purpose for creating has evolved. Some years ago I took to watercolors with serious intent, experimenting in the medium and immersing in a creative process I like to call “purposeful play”. The medium and course of discovery pushed my artistic approach to a looser, more carefree and uninhibited way of creating. Becoming conversant with the intricacies of watercolors, first by mastering a balance of pigment, water and paper then a balance of light, space and form, allowed me to enjoy the process of painting while developing a recognizable and unique style. Compositionally, I am after simplicity. With that in mind, I’m always thinking about how to create an image with the fewest strokes possible. Taking some influence from Japanese art, I choose to leave ample negative space around the main shape in a composition. It’s within the main shape that I want to let the alchemy of watercolors create interest. Anything else is subtle context. Building upon the intricacies of watercolor and a philosophy of simplicity, I strive to balance “essence” and “reality” of a subject rather than a scientifically accurate rendering. Beginning a painting with the paintbrush rather than a pencil, I capture a shape, pose or action immediately, to mirror what I would experience in the field, forming the combined character and fluidity of the subject with quick brush strokes. There’s a deep personal connection with that “moment of expression” and by abandoning the drawing process altogether I can focus on the best part… pigments, water, brush and paper. I use each one with purpose but never know exactly how it will all work. THAT is where the excitement is: the knowing…but not knowing. Harmonizing all these elements presents a time of endless cognitive play! My identity as an artist is deeply woven into my love for natural history, led by a sense of curiosity, stewardship and joy. I love being outdoors and feel honored when a moment is shared with another creature. No matter what direction my art moves, it will always be entwined with nature, whether through form, color, subject, or medium. My intent is to bring colors, shapes and movement together in an abstract representational way that gives life to my paintings.