Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sarah Becktel, ArtSpectations Best of Show Winner (non-signature)

CPSA would like to feature our non-signature Best of Show winner, for the fall ArtSpectations, Sarah Becktel!  Her piece "Eternal Companions Diptych" is so elegant and unique.

Eternal Companions Diptych - Sarah Becktel
9.25x15.5 inches, Colored Pencil & Acrylic on Strathmore Mixed Media Board

Jeff George, the judge for the Fall ArtSpectations, had this to say about Sarah's work:
"Eternal Companions Diptych is a touching and compelling jewel. The uncomplicated composition with its subdued background, brings added focus to the solemn faces. A brave and powerful work."

We had the pleasure to speak with Sarah, to learn more about the art and the artist. 

Can you tell us a bit about your process and inspiration for your winning artwork?
My recent work has focused on the relationships between humans and animals; specifically how people choose to connect and engage with animals.  Taxidermy is this really bizarre practice in which an animal is first killed, and then its body is taken apart and the skin re-formed into this preserved object. In a way it’s quite gruesome, but at the same time, the practice requires a lot of work and technical skill.  The time and craftsmanship that goes into creating a taxidermied specimen suggests an appreciation of the animal and the work, and the result of that work is an animal being given the possibility of being observed and appreciated for much longer than its natural life would allow.  So for many people, I think taxidermy presents this complicated, mixed emotional response of sorrow, horror, awe, appreciation, and humor.  I’m really drawn to things that elicit such a wide range of opposing emotional responses; it just interests me.
I photographed these two sheep while I was participating in an art residency at Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming.  They were hanging in a bar, but I wanted the drawing to convey more of an intimate, home setting.   I like the idea of these heads hanging in a house and overlooking a person’s ongoing life.  Even though they’re more object than animal, their life-like quality makes it easy to imagine them watching and thinking.   

How did you come to find a love of colored pencils?
All of my concepts start with preliminary sketches, and as I develop an idea, sometimes it feels like it should be an oil painting, and other times it feels like it should be a work on paper.  When I’m working on paper, I just find colored pencil to be the right fit for me.  It’s a very versatile medium capable of creating both loose, painterly effects and tight, elaborate details. 

Are you a self-taught or a classically trained artist?
I started studying with an exceptional artist named Rebecca Tait when I was 10.  I had always wanted to be “an artist,” but didn’t really know what that meant until then.  Rebecca’s focus is classical realism, and she gave me an amazing foundation in observational drawing.  From there I was hooked- I took art through high school while also taking additional classes at a few art schools in Philadelphia.  I started attending life drawing classes as soon as I was old enough to be admitted, and that was a huge benefit; working from a live model improved my drawing and observation skills immensely.   I went onto college and graduated from the Tyler school of Art with a BFA in painting.  Since then, I’ve continued to take occasional classes and workshops to further my studies of figurative drawing and painting.

Classical training has been a big part of my artistic life, but I think it’s important for artists to find balance with their instruction. As an adult artist, I’ve spent a lot of time just working alone in my studio.  You can grow and discover so much by working and experimenting on your own.  When I do take a workshop or class, I then take some time to myself to process what I learned and figure out how it best applies to my work. 

What do you love most about being an artist?
I love that I get to share my thoughts and ideas with the world in a visual way.  I often find it difficult to express myself with words, but I find it so fulfilling to create visual art that can express an idea or tell a story.  I strive to create work that hints at narrative while not giving away the whole story, because I really enjoy engaging the viewer and starting a dialogue.  I love to let the viewer fill in the blanks and finish the story.  Everyone brings their own history to the table when they view artwork, and this allows for endless possibilities of interpretation.  It’s really amazing.   

The hours are pretty great too!  I’m a late to bed, late to rise kind of person, so being in a field where I can make my own schedule is awesome.  Sometimes I draw at 2am just because I can.   

How do you see yourself progressing – as both an artist and as a person?  Where do you see yourself in the future?
As an artist, I hope to create artwork that is both fulfilling and relevant to me, while also being engaging and significant for viewers.  Of course I hope to establish a successful career where I am financially supporting myself through my art, but the quality and relevance of my work will always be my number one priority. 

Along with my position as Product Research Director for CPSA, I also work as an artist educator for Gamblin Oil Paint and Strathmore Artist Papers.  These jobs have given me the opportunity to educate artists about the materials they are using, which is such an essential part of an artist’s education.  There are so many products available, and it’s really important for artists to have the knowledge necessary to choose materials that are safe, high-quality, and the right products to support their specific working methods.   I love being able to help artists with this, and art materials education will be something that I continue to participate in throughout my life. 

What words of wisdom would you share with someone who is new to colored pencil art?
Colored pencil is a medium that lends itself to drawing and rendering in a very tight, realistic way.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s part of what I love about the medium.  But I would encourage artists not to get so wrapped up in the technical side of the medium, that they lose sight of why they’re creating art in the first place.  Great art is a balance between technique and concept, but I think a lot of beginning artists just focus on creating something that’s realistic looking.  Don’t take “that looks just like a photograph” as the ultimate compliment.  As visual artists, we have the opportunity to create work that surpasses what a camera can do.  And honestly, if it looks just like a photograph, why did we bother turning it into a painting or drawing in the first place?  
Thank you Sarah, for sharing a bit of yourself with us, here and through your artwork.  Congratulations once again on your win and the award of $250, you're very deserving!

To see more of Sarah's work, visit her website:
To view the other winners and entries to ArtSpectations, visit:
For more information on CPSA or to become a member, please visit:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sarah's art is really incredible. I hope to see more.