When Sara Sokol picks up a paintbrush or a scrap of recycled paper, she sees more than just a blank canvas in front of her. Instead, she sees hope and a sense of healing. As someone who has battled with anxiety and depression much of her life, art quickly became a form of therapy.
“When I’m painting, it allows me to shut everything out and focus on what’s in front of me, which gives my anxious mind a break and relaxes me,” Sara says. “It also allows me to express myself and my emotions, whether it be through the colors I’m using, soft or harsh brush strokes, or the story that particular painting is telling.”
Sara has considered herself an artist her entire life, but it wasn’t until college that she began to truly develop her talent. This is also when she discovered the initial inspiration for what would later become her first mixed media painting series.
“I was introduced to the cave paintings of Lascaux, France in my first art history class, and I was completely fascinated,” Sara says.
Sara took this newfound love of history and created her own series of cave paintings using recycled paper which mimicked the feeling of cave walls — a technique she learned while studying hand paper making at Oxbow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan. The series became her first solo show, titled “The Art of Survival,” which told the story of her battle with mental health. The series was exhibited at the Box Factory for the Arts in 2014, putting her on the map as a local artist.
Over the years, Sara’s artistic style began to evolve as she explored telling the story of her life through the titles and imagery of her pieces. While recycled paper continued to be her medium of choice, Sara’s “Flowing Water” series represented a more calm and stable time in her life. Instead of cave walls, the texture depicted land and rock formations with subdued colors and soft, blended brush strokes.
“Painting the smooth flowing water on these pieces was especially calming and meditative for me,” Sara says.
A few years later, Sara’s artistic career took another turn when she and her husband began spending their winters in Florida after realizing their dream of buying a condo in Fort Myers. In place of recycled paper, Sara was in search of a new medium that would be easier to use and allow faster drying times. That’s when she discovered acrylics. Inspired by the colorful Florida vibes, and in an effort to decorate the blank walls of their new condo, Sara began painting the world around her.
“My ‘Florida Life’ paintings are bright and colorful — inspired by sea grass, palm trees, lotus flowers and waterscapes,” Sara says. “I began experimenting with thin, colored glazes as well as thick strokes with a pallet knife. I fell in love with the versatility of the acrylic paint.”
As much as she loved the Florida landscape, when Sara and her husband found out they were expecting their first child, she knew it was time to return to her roots in Michigan in order to be closer to family. However, she brought a piece of the sunshine state with her which now serves as the muse for her latest series “Waterscapes.”
“We went to a park on one of our last days in Florida and I knew I wanted to capture this exact moment in my life,” Sara says. “Now, when I start a new painting, I use those photos as inspiration — the dancing lakes, the big blue sky and all the beautiful life growing in the water. My ‘Waterscapes’ series is different from much of my past work in many aspects — new medium, new application techniques and definitely new color scheme.”
Over the years, Sara has come a long way in terms of her artistic career and her struggles and triumphs with mental health.
“Much of my older work represents a lot of my dark times, which was a story that had to be told, but now I just want to leave all that darkness behind and bask in the light,” Sara says. “I only want to celebrate the good stuff. You are what you surround yourself with, and I just want to be happy.”
To view Sara’s work firsthand, or to purchase a piece of your own, visit her studio located adjacent to the Mason Jar Café at 210 Water St. in the Benton Harbor Arts District or, find her online at sarasokol.com.
Photography by Emily Sobecki