MIDLOTHIAN, TX — Putting pen to paper can be an assignment. Painting a picture of nature might be a hobby. Doodling shapes and designs is, for many, a habit like biting fingernails. But for an artist, creating a scene where before there was simply blank space is not any of these things. Creating art is second nature. For recent Midlothian graduate, Sarah MacDonnell, drawing fantastical creatures and landscapes comes naturally. Whether using simple pen and ink, common colored pencils or rare India ink, Sarah expresses herself by creating original, imaginative artwork.
Sarah has lived in Midlothian since the fourth grade. She moved from DeSoto, where her mother is a nurse at the high school. Her father owns a boat mechanic’s shop in Grand Prairie, and she has a brother who lives in Irving. Sarah has been drawing fantasy scenes for as long as she can remember. “I have sketch books from kindergarten or first grade of dragons and horses and the like,” she said. Some moms keep their children’s early drawings for sentimentality, but for Sarah, her early work foreshadowed the drawings to come. “It’s just how I feel like I can express myself,” she said.
Until recently, Sarah had not taken any classes outside of school, though she did spend her senior year in AP Art IV. “I applied and was really excited to get accepted into the AP program for art,” she beamed. She takes her education very seriously, as evidenced by the fact that she graduated in the top five percent of the class of 2012. Sarah’s excitement for her AP acceptance was based on more than just getting into the program. “I always think there is something I can do to improve, something else I can learn,” she said. This summer, Sarah attended a summer workshop through MHS, and she immediately saw the benefit. “We spent most of the time working on still life, which is not what I am used to, so it made me practice and get better.” Sarah usually focuses on fantasy drawing, which is partly an extension of another of her passions.
For many years, Sarah has worked on and off on a series of novels. “They are kind of along the lines of the Narnia series,” she explained. “I have a few select people I let read them, but they aren’t something I would publish.”
Sarah gets some of her best inspiration for her artwork from the stories she has been crafting since her early teenage years. “Early on, I would see something in a book and want to draw it,” she said. “But now, I will have an idea for my books, and I will want to draw that. I have been working on the writing since sixth grade or so, but every few years, I end up throwing everything out and starting over.”
Most artists have a particular atmosphere and routine in which they best create, and Sarah is no exception. For her, the routine starts with a workspace. Since she prefers drawing in sketchbooks, Sarah does not need an area that is either large or fancy. “I have used my brother’s room ever since he moved out years ago,” she confessed. Once in the room, she sets a certain ambience. “I usually turn on the TV, and I definitely have music — very loud music. I did a search on my iPod, and there are 34 different genres, so it could be anything. But there is definitely always music.”
Much like her preference for simple sketchbooks, Sarah most often uses one of the more common mediums: colored pencils. “With classes at school, you use everything. My favorite is colored pencils, but I also like using simple ink, sometimes.” Unlike oil paint or watercolor, coloring with pencils can be somewhat tedious, since there is such a small surface area in the utensil itself. As such, many of Sarah’s works have been very time consuming. While holding a piece roughly 1 foot by 2 feet, she tells of the time involved. “For something like that, I would get home around 4:00 p.m. and work until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning,” she shared.
“Then I would have to finish it the next day, so about 12 hours to finish one of those.” Sarah does not mind the time spent, though it did mean she was unable to finish as much of the work as she hoped. “I am not the fastest worker. I get lazy sometimes, but at some point I will finish the carousel series I started for AP Art.”
Though she uses certain materials more than others, Sarah has worked with many different artistic means. “One day I went to the Dallas Zoo and drew some of the animals with oil pastels. I rarely use them, so I was mainly just experimenting,” she confessed. She has also enjoyed working with a more unique substance called India ink. “The ink is cool,” she said. “You can use it for fine lines in a calligraphy pen, or you can wet it and it is kind of like watercolor. For the pieces I did in class, we would draw with a pen first. Once that dried, you could put another layer, but what you drew originally wouldn’t wash out. It’s kind of fun, you use the same thing for precise lines and to get more washed out tones.” Though she has excelled in her artwork, especially in the last few years, Sarah has other interests, as well. “I play a lot of video games. I like fantasy games, but really anything. I even thought about going into the video game design business, but it is hard to get started.” She also uses her art in some less traditional ways. “I do some character designs for tabletop games for my friends,” she stated. “I have thought about opening a store online to design characters.” There is one other pastime she used to enjoy, but unfortunately, it has been lost in her past. “I used to read a lot, but once I got to high school, there was not much time for reading anything other than textbooks. I don’t think that will change soon, either,” she said.
In spite of her passion for art, Sarah is shifting directions for her college career. “I am studying medical technology, and my goal is to work in a hospital lab,” she shared. “I like the idea of working in the medical profession, but I am not as good at working with people.” Sarah has created some amazing masterpieces in her young art career. Though she is not studying art in college, one look at her work makes it seem likely that she will continue creating fantastical scenes straight from her imagination.
Written by Zachary R. Urquhart.