As far back as she can remember, Sarah Williams has been fascinated by art, both making and experiencing it. Born and raised in Vallejo, California, Williams had always drawn, but it wasn’t until a high school art class opened her eyes that she really started pursuing art. She also credits the class with giving her social cachet, if not a way to sidestep her otherwise bookish and teacher’spet personality and discover an otherwise hidden world. “I was very academic and a bit of a goodygoody in school,” Williams recalls. “But through art, I was able to gain the respect and friendship of a few graffiti artists in my class. I was exposed to this whole creative community.” Soon she was going on graffiti missions with the boys, learning about the etiquette, hierarchy, and canon of the street art/graffiti world, as well as making her own mark. Williams credits the experience with supercharging her ideas about art, saying, “This was the first time I felt community, as well as competition, through art, and it was all wrapped up in this adrenaline rush.”
As high school transitioned into college, Williams followed the art that had enthralled her as a teenager, albeit in a bit more formal, structured environment. She attended the University of California Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor of arts, specializing in printmaking, as well as english literature. “I changed my major too many times trying to convince myself to do something more practical than graduate with a degree in art. But I couldn’t resist,” Williams remembers. It was then she realized that she wanted to take a shot at surviving in a creative industry.
College also gave Williams her first professional art gig. During her senior year, she won a competition to design a wine label for Bonny Doon Vineyard. “Designing wine labels or labels for microbrews had always been a goal of mine,” she says, adding, “I showed up with about a dozen hand-illustrated designs, determined to win, which I did.” The reward? Three months of work with the vineyard’s creative team and her first experience with the digital medium.
After graduation, Williams stayed in Santa Cruz and Bonny Doon Vineyard took her on as a design intern. This, along with a gig at Broprints, a printmaking shop in Santa Cruz, gave Williams outlets for refining her style and aesthetic. Williams’ current work finds a subtle spot between cartoons and impressionism. Rendering objects she sees around her—like buildings, streets, and trees—with a structured but equally loose linework, she evokes a vivid but hard-to-place nostalgia for the simple harmony found in the forms that make up the everyday.
Composing things like Victorian houses or city streets, Williams expresses the familiar with an illustrative style that is both elegant and casual. Her work is divided into different themes, like “California” or “Black-andWhite,” each with a unique but cohesive style. To create her work, Williams often sketches by hand, usually in her kitchen next to a “fluff-ball dog” or in bed, then cleans the drawing up in Illustrator. Later, she runs to Kinkos, where she gets a high-res scan to “digitally develop the piece with color using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.”
“It feels like I’m finally starting to carve out a niche for myself. This is rewarding even in my tiny little beach community.”
– Sarah Williams
As for what she’s trying to say with her work, Williams points to the little things, the physical mundanity that makes up all of our lives. A front yard with a car, a random street with an apartment complex, a fading Victorian; Williams takes all of these otherwise ignored dynamics and infuses them with the beauty they’ve always had. On a deeper level, Williams says, “The work attempts to discuss the sacrifices we make in order to live in this paradise [of California].”
Currently, Williams works three jobs, including her art practice, which only allows her to squeeze in art at night or on days off; but she’s not discouraged. “It feels like I’m finally starting to carve out a niche for myself,” she says. “This is rewarding even in my tiny little beach community.”
As for the future, Williams shows no sign of slowing her creative output. Her dream is to design for beverage or alcohol companies, but she shares, “Regardless of success or failure, I’ll never stop creating.”