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  • Writer's pictureAllen Crater

Authors, Artists, and Makers Volume 15: Sarah Landstrom

Updated: Feb 29


Sarah Landstrom holding a painting of a trout by water

It's no secret that I love fly fishing, and possess a particular fondness for art - especially paintings. While my personal taste typically tends to run more along the lines of oils, fairly tight impressionism, and natural earth tones, sometimes I come across work that completely arrests me because of how unique it is – because of its bold and unapologetic vibrancy. That was the case when I found the work of Sarah Landstrom – a well respected artists, angler, conservationist, and, as it turns out, fellow Michigander.


Working at a large scale, Sarah paints primarily in acrylic, employing vibrant colors and expressive mark-making for a bright and distinctive style. She incorporates her landscape/figure painting background to create movement within each piece.

 

Alongside commissions, originals, and prints for sale, Sarah has also worked with Loop Tackle as their Artist in Residence, and helped raise funds through CalTrout, Casting for Recovery, and individual lodges by creating custom YETI Designs.


I was excited fort the opportunity to interview Sarah for the Artists, Authors, and Makers feature of allenoutside.com. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Smiling female fly angler wearing red jacket holding a trout

Q: Sarah, thanks for doing this interview. Let’s start with some background information. You grew up in Michigan and it sounds like that is where you first learned to fish – off your grandpa’s dock, is that right?

 

A: Yes! Mostly little pan fish or catfish honestly. But he definitely instilled a love for fishing and observing. I absolutely love Michigan. It has so much to offer if you know where to look.


smiling young girl on grandpa's shoulders

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your childhood, growing up in the mitten?


A: Most of my childhood was spent outside! My parents would send me out with a sticky note that stated when I needed to head back. Looking back, that was an absolute dream. I just wandered in the woods finding creeks and made tree houses with other kids in the neighborhood. I hope I can be that calm and hands off one day.


Q: In a previous interview you mentioned being “genuinely afraid” of the fish in the lakes, which I find humorous but also relatable. It’s interesting to me that these things that were maybe once feared have now become the objects of your affection, protection, and even some of your primary subject matter. How did that evolution take place?


A: Fish are so mysterious. Growing up we would float down rivers and there was always the joke of “wait until they nibble” that terrified me. Anytime I witnessed a fish swimming by me as a kid I assumed that I was lunch. Obviously, as an adult, I learned to love it. Although I will say I am still terrified of sharks no matter how small. Freshwater state girl.


Young blonde woman in in yellow jacket sitting in front of a boat with a dog

Q: It sounds like you enjoyed art when you were a kid, but that you really didn’t consider an art career until you were encouraged by a college professor. Can you talk about that moment or that conversation and the change in courses – I’m always amazed, looking in hindsight, at how small moments can be so life changing?


A: When I was in my Sophomore year of college, I took an art elective at Carroll college in MT. The professor, Ralph Esposito, told me,“you need to transfer.” I had never considered art as a profession prior to him making that statement. The college (which I would highly recommend) didn’t have an art program, so I ended up at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Huge shock. Going from Montana to midwest city. But I was able to focus, and that is where I found painting fish when I couldn’t actively pursue them.


Smiling young woman holding an insect in her hand

Q: From Michigan you moved to Montana to study Environmental Science at Carroll College in Helana, then, switching to an art path, you moved to SAIC in Chicago, and then over to CCA in San Francisco for grad school. Now you are back in Michigan living in a small cabin on the Little Manistee River. The places you have lived seem at the polar extremes of rural and urban, and very different from each other. Do you see any connections to those places or those very different types of settings, and your life and your work?


A: I am a firm believer in finding happiness no matter where you are. This was the first “totally my choice” move. I’ve always known that I wanted a place in Northern Michigan around all of the fishing that I love. I love Urban, I love rural, I do not enjoy the suburbs. Observing the way people live is so interesting at different extremes. I would definitely recommend that any young person takes the opportunity to try out different spaces. They might surprise themselves.


Vibrant painting of a trout on a black background

Q: Ok, I‘d like to talk about your work. One thing that is very identifiable about your style is the vibrant colors. In a previous interview you said: “My sense of color is so intense and exaggerated. When you first see a fish fresh from the water it’s so dazzling. I’ll sometimes laugh when I look back at original pictures and the true colors, but I’m not interested in painting the true colors, I’m interested in capturing my experience.” In a different interview you went on to say: “I used to fight it, and force myself to paint in more neutral colors, but now I understand that it’s just better to follow my instincts.”  Can you talk more about how important color is to the story you are trying to tell, or the emotion you are trying to capture in your paintings, and also talk a little bit about following your instincts?


A: The longer you do anything, the more confidence you gain. For me with painting it took a while. Everyone has a different experience when it comes to how they perceive color. I can’t see through another person's eyes, but for me it is so vibrant in the moment. My art has also been described as “loud” but really it is my experience. For me the volume is always on High. I find so much joy in seeing color and how it changes with movement. 


Young woman holding up a painting of a trout

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your “process?” It sounds like you will often reference images for color and pattern but then use artistic license to highlight what the experience means to you. But how does it all start? How is the idea solidified? How do the first colors find the canvas? How does the subject take form? How do you now when a work is “done.”


A: Usually I will start with a warm undertone because I paint in cool colors most of the time. When it is a commission or something specific I use photos so I don’t get too lost in the recesses of my mind when it comes to how I remembered the image. I really enjoy marrying structure with color - so the anatomically correct form of a fish for instance, with my version of their colors. They sort of amplify each other.


Q: You were quoted in a previous interview saying: "Art is like slow suffering; trying to reason with yourself and your artwork.” That really struck me. Can you elaborate?


A: I think especially early when you’re questioning the foundations of the composition, and right at the end - it is so easy to be emotional about a piece. The piece is really a part of you. You are the only one responsible. It's a weight but also an intense release when you find the end.


Bright and vibrant painting of a trout

Q: In some of your other interviews you mention a professor named Paola Cabal and also fellow Michigan artist, Derek DeYoung, as influences or maybe even mentors to you. Can you talk about those two and any other mentors or influences you’ve had in your career?


A: I was sort of an odd-ball in art school especially being in a metropolitan area. Paola was also odd in the best way. She interpreted light in a way that made people shift their thinking. I will forever love her for making me feel that I had license to make whatever work I wanted to even if it meant defining “spawning” to classmates during critiques. 


Derek is a big name and I sort of fan-girled him my senior year of college. I wanted insight because I had no idea of what to do with the work that I was making. He was so kind. He spent hours with me, letting me pick his brain, showing me his studio, meeting his amazing wife who runs the business side of things, and really giving me a jumping off point. There are so many choices that I made based on that interaction that I am immensely grateful for. 


Female fly angler holding a brown trout

Q: Besides painting, you also explore other art forms such as weaving, paper making, and knitting. Can you talk about that and maybe how they are similar, different, or complimentary?


A: I think that form can be found no matter the medium. I find fibers therapeutic and practical. I would love to explore it more in the future. Especially weaving. I think making pieces based on specific fish would be rad. But I have infinite interests. I hope to have the time to explore these crafts beyond what I have done. 


Note: Anyone interested in fibers should absolutely looking into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There are amazing scholarship programs.


male and female fly angler standing in the flowers

Q: Okay, most folks hate this question, but how would you define yourself as an artist or define your work?


A: My work is my experience and I like to think of it as another form of language. Seeing how people resonate with certain pieces is so interesting. Especially children with the lively colors. It is hard to make a brief statement about how I would define myself. But I am generally quiet and I enjoy listening to others. My art is one way of getting people to talk.

Q. Favorite artists. I’m always curious to know who inspires those that inspire me. So, who are some of your favorite artists (painters, musicians, writers, etc.) and why? Who inspires you?


A: Oh gosh. That’s a tough one. I love impressionism. But I honestly think that music has the biggest influence on how my work turns out. The mood translates. Favorites though: Art - Tamara de Lempicka, Music: (cliche) I could listen to Neil Diamond on loop, and writers: I don’t have a favorite but I love non-fiction historical books and recommend “Women’s work - the first 20,000 years” by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.


Sarah Landstrom holding a brown trout and holding a fly rod

Q: Okay, now I’d to talk about life outside of work. You’ve obviously found a passion for fly fishing. Can you share how that came about?


A: I loved that fly fishing was something I could add to what I was already doing. I loved backpacking, being outside, traveling. For me fly fishing was this neat way of viewing different spaces. You can make it solitary and meditative but it also has the flexibility to become a community undertaking. I am so thankful for the people I have met through fly fishing. So kind, generous, and creative. The best of us.


Sarah Landstrom fly fishing in a clear stream

Q: And you’ve had the opportunity to fish in a lot of really cool places for some really cool fish. Are there a few that stand out as some of your favorite?  Why?


A: I will forever have Chile in my heart. Jaw dropping landscape and the fish - there are no words. And on top of it, the people are absolutely incredible. And thankfully very patient with my limited Spanish. 

But for those who can’t leave the states, there is so much that the homeland has to offer. Domestically, I would say my favorite place would be the California Coast (I can hear Michiganders being upset) because of the diversity. You have the ocean, coastal rivers, mountain ranges etc. The variety is incredible.


group of people riding horses through the water in the mountains

Q: As a follow up to that question, what’s still on the bucket list for you?


A: I desperately want to go to Mongolia and Croatia. Both trips were squashed because of covid so they are high on my bucket list. 


Young blonde woman wearing camo while duck hunting

Q: What other sports, hobbies, or interests do you have? I think I saw that you were out duck hunting recerntly. What else?


A: I do enjoy hunting! Although I will admit that I am not the best. I grew up around hunting and find the culture fascinating. I aspire to be a moderately good huntress one day.


As far as hobbies, I really enjoy running, drinking too much coffee, and chatting to anyone over 75. Art and my sewing/fiber practice on top of fishing take up a ton of my time. I can’t imagine not having things outside of work that bring you joy. 


Young blonde woman with pigtails, waders and red jacket near a white horse

Q: I’d like to quickly talk about conservation. I know one of the intents of your work is to create an awareness around fish and the environments they depend on. Can you talk more about that?


A: Art obviously isn’t action. It can bring awareness or fund action. So for me it is important to find a balance of selling and also creating work that will benefit conservation. I work with Caltrout, the Mayfly Project, Trout Unlimited, and the Henry's Fork Foundation to raise funds. I am a strong believer in “boots on the ground” and especially educating kids on passive conservation. That could be just picking up trash as you fish, or investing in the research being done on your local watershed. It is not a difficult step and no matter your situation, there is good you can do.


Q: It seems you have a passion for education and conservation, are there other things you are involved in on those fronts?


A: I worked with groups like The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council this past summer on a project about buffer strips in vital components to our local watershed system. For me this was especially exciting because it was accessible to anyone who would pass by the building. 


overhead image of a trout painting

Q: What’s next…art wise, fishing wise, life wise–anything exciting on the horizon?


A: I just turned 30. So I am extremely excited to continue the relationships I’ve developed in my 20’s and travel with the confidence I’ve gained. I think this will fuel my life and my work. Please, if you are able - travel. Even if its just out of state. Meet strangers, learn and listen. It is such a gift.


Q: Your website is http://sarahlandstrom.com and you are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sarah.landstrom, and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sarah_landstrom/ are these the best ways to get in touch with you?


A: Yep, those are the best places to get in touch and see recent work.

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2 Comments


Guest
Feb 26

Thanks for the wonderful interview with an amazing artist and person.

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Allen Crater
Allen Crater
Feb 26
Replying to

It was certainly my pleasure to highlight her work and her story.

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