Occasionally, I post an essay or review when I feel inspired to share things other than recipes with my followers. According to the statistics, that must be a good thing as my review of Julieanna Hever’s book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, and my interview with Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, rank in the top 5 of my hundreds of posts.
In that spirit, I want to continue having interviews with people who can better speak to what they do than I can. This interview is with Sarah Kiser, an amazing artist and animal rights advocate. If you are not familiar with Sarah or her art, I hope that this interview will change that. Enjoy!
TVW: How did you get started in creating the art you do?
SK: I’ve been creating art ever since I was a little girl. I grew up in a family surrounded by artists on both sides of my family. Practically every member of my family and extended family is an artist. I grew up drawing mostly portraits, and also cats. For me, art was a love affair. It was my way of escaping into my own little world.
In high school I took every single art class I could. I found that my art classes were the places I was most happy and relaxed. I loved it. I applied to a prestigious art school, Columbus College of Art and Design, and was accepted, but it was too expensive and I never even tried for a scholarship. Instead, I chose to go to a local college whose art department I thought was not a great one, so I opted to study elementary education instead. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to actually make a living being an artist, but I knew as a teacher I could. My plan was to be a school teacher for 3rd grade or so. I knew I’d be a good teacher as I’d been a gymnastics teacher as well as a preschool teacher and loved it, but my heart was still in art.
Three years into college, I got married and decided to stop going to school. About 2 years later, I had my first baby, and it was when he was about 6 months old that I decided to paint a mural in our apartment for him. I was confident I could do a good job because I’d painted murals before, in my own bedroom when I was a teenager. Once the mural was finished, it occurred to me that others might like the mural. I went to a local church, showed them photos of my mural, and asked if they were interested in a mural too. They asked me where I had heard that they were looking for someone to paint a mural! I told them I had no idea they were looking for someone to paint a mural for them! I lived close by and just thought I’d see if they were interested. So they hired me, and it was an insanely long job (Noah’s ark with all the animals). I had to trek there each day for about 3 months, with my baby in tow, for a few hours each night, breastfeeding on demand, and painting in between feedings. When I was finally finished, they loved it, and even gave me a bonus.
TVW: What is your inspiration? Do you do art other than for animal causes?
SK: My inspiration comes from many things. I have many different styles that I flip between, and each style kind of has a different inspiration. My portraits of women are usually about emotion. I like my portraits to have a message, which is usually very clear – if you look in their eyes, you can read it, though the message is probably different to each viewer. I like it keep it vague; I don’t usually tell the meaning behind these pieces.
They are cathartic for me, therapeutic, almost like writing in a journal or spilling oneself to a counselor. I bottle lots of my emotions and feelings right into my portraits. I work very hard at making the expression and the feeling come out just right, and when they don’t, I get very frustrated. And then I try again, and again, and again. As an animal rights activist and vegan, I see so much suffering, read so much about the unfathomable cruelty behind the industries that commodify animals, and it hurts my heart. My artwork helps me unleash those feelings.
SK: My artwork that centers around animals is inspired by my being vegan. When I was younger, the only animal that I really ever painted was a cat. I focused over and over again on cat after cat after cat. Just like with my portraits of people, I try to infuse emotion into the cats through their expression and their eyes. I developed quite a following with my cat portraits.
When I became vegan after being vegetarian for close to 27 years, I wanted desperately to be able to use my art to help animals, but I just didn’t know how. In my mind, I had decided before even trying that I simply couldn’t paint cows or pigs or chickens. My friends kept pushing and encouraging me though to try. My thought process went from “Oh, I can’t” to “Well, maybe I could try” to “Ok, I am trying” to “I did it!” I love to be able to focus my art on animals that so desperately need us to speak up for them.
Over the years, I’ve learned so much and grown so much as an artist. I’ve been able to do things with my art that I’d never dreamed of doing before. One of those things is working digitally with my artwork. I’ve been able to do some pretty incredible things, like animating my artwork, and it was learning some of these simple elements that ultimately lead me to making my animal rights videos, of which I have 5 now. I wanted to create a clear message that was positive and uplifting but also very blunt and truthful and no holds barred. I used to get into very long and exhausting arguments on Facebook. I started to see that I was repeating the same things over and over and over, and it got me thinking that maybe I could just put these points I had into a comprehensive message. I’d already been doing some video editing for my sons’ wrestling videos, so I had a bit of experience video editing.
So I opened up the video editor and started putting in the points I wanted to make. It seemed so bleak and plain. So I thought what about throwing in some of my artwork in there too? It could kind of break things up; make it more interesting and engaging I hoped. So I went through my files and started pulling anything that I thought I could use. All of my artwork is pretty positive and happy, though my portraits are more melancholy. It seemed to work for me. But it still needed something more, and that is when I started working on animating some of the pieces. It’s very time-consuming to get even the littlest moves animated, but I figured out how to do it. It takes so many illustrations, but for me, it’s the best kind of work there is. I love creating art. So that is how the first video came to be. As time went on and more videos were created, I produced more and more artwork specifically for the videos.
Now I spend a good deal of my time coming up with the story line, the words, and then thinking of just the right artwork for each scene and then I get to work crafting the illustrations. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. My next video that will come out is going to be titled “No Such Thing” and it is going to bust the notion that there is such a thing as “humane” meat, dairy, eggs. There simply is no such thing and my video I hope will prove that.
I believe that my videos are helpful because many people simply won’t watch a video that has graphic violence in it. I hope that if they won’t watch those (and I think everyone should), that maybe they will at least watch mine, and that maybe my video can be a starting point to get them thinking. I make mine gentle enough that even children can watch them. I want to try and take a very serious problem and pare it down and make it very simple, simple enough yet concrete enough that even kids can get it.
My art has been used in auctions trying to raise money for animals in need, for farmed-animal sanctuaries, and for women and children in need who’ve been victims of violence. I also will be donating annually a percentage from certain pieces of mine on my Fine Art America site to Peaceful PrairieSanctuary, whom I just adore. I continue to donate pieces to good causes. It feels really good that I can use my art to help bring awareness and bring needed funds to these causes.
TVW: Where can people purchase your art?
SK: My art can be purchased off my website at: http://www.artbysarahkiser.com/ and on Etsy at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtbySarahKiser and at these galleries: http://www.artbysarahkiser.com/wheretobuy.html
TVW: Thank you so much, Sarah, for taking the time for this interview. Your art work and your activism is inspiring. I am honored to have one of your pieces, “The Elephant in the Room,” hanging in my living room. Your art makes me wish I had more wall space!
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.
What a talent! I love the magical worlds that Sarah creates – Always intertwining her unmistakable hope for justice and peace in her visual messages.
We should all be very grateful for her contributions to the AR cause. I know I am!
Thanks for the great interview!
i loved reading this interview and learning about an artist activist whose work i so admire but don’t know personally. the animals are so fortunate to have such a creative advocate on their side. thanks for your blog, rhea.
Great interview! I love Sarah’s art and her generous spirit! Many times she has offered her time and bountiful talents to help with a project of mine. She’s an inspiration and a dear friend.