I was first introduced to the floral artwork of Sarah Simon (aka The Mint Gardener) during a Watercolor Summit Class. I was a beginner to the world of watercolor, and the way that Sarah talks about art and how she helps you explore your creativity and find your own style inspires you not only to pick up your paintbrush for the first time but once you start you won’t want to put it down.
This November Sarah released two books, The Plant Lady (a gorgeous coloring book that will get your creative juices flowing) and Modern Watercolor Botanicals: A Creative Workshop in Watercolor, Gouache & Ink which not only gives you the essentials you’ll need to begin your exploration of the world of watercolors and florals, but also breaks lessons down by beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Sarah, her husband, and their two daughters make their home in the Pacific Northwest.
When did you first discover your love of art?
Some of my earliest memories are working with paper and my hands. We are born to be creators. However you express yourself, all of us are meant to be creators. Art isn’t something we do to make money. Most of us abandon it. I feel like it started at an early age for me and I’ve just never stopped. I would take a hiatus at times because people say if you can’t make money from it, it’s not worth doing.
I’m the oldest of five and so there were periods where I was focused on grades and getting a degree that made sense. When I started going the route of biology and chemistry, I remember how I would always draw the experiment on the top of my paper and then after class, I would go up to my teacher and ask if could get extra credit for drawing the experiment. Even with chemistry and biology you are still creating, which is the essence of what art is.
So the short answer is… Always and forever.
What was it about watercolors that made you choose them as your preferred medium?
I was a new mom and I had been playing with acrylics and every time you use them you have to use ALL of them. Most painting mediums (acrylics/oils) require you to work for several hours and any paint you don’t use will be wasted. With watercolor, I could reanimate the paint and could start something and then come back when I had time. All I had to do, was add water. I could create, but I was still able to put things on pause. It was practical and efficient and then I just fell in love with it.
Do you have certain hues that you find yourself working with more often than others?
No matter what I do, I can’t get away from Payne’s Grey and I don’t think I want to. A lady from Portland asked if the Pacific Northwest inspired my artwork, and I didn’t really realize how much it did until we went to Hawaii last year. While there, I realized how lush everything was and I started painting in a completely different color palette. So I am inspired by the colors all around me. It’s harder for us (artists) to see patterns of how we work at times while others are always analyzing what we’re doing. So I would definitely say that I am influenced by the Pacific Northwest. Grey’s and greens are predominant in my palette, so I’m influenced by all the grey and green around me.
When creating your work, you primarily use Princeton brushes and a Grumbacher Round 5, which you consider to be one of your favorite brushes to paint with. What is it about these brushes that set them apart from other brands?
Points on brushes are gold. If the point is gone, it’s gone. So I’ll style with the Grumbacher. I can get a really clean look, but I don’t often paint with them. I paint with the Princeton brushes because they are inexpensive and once the point is gone I can move onto the next one.
In addition to creating stunning floral watercolor pieces for your Etsy shop, both you and your husband are avid gardeners. When did you first discover your love of flowers?
We’ve been married for over 10 years and when were dating and before we married we thought we were perfectly matched, but after we married we realized that we didn’t have anything common. So at that time, we realized that marriage is a meeting and I had put my husband in God’s place and expected him to fulfill a lot of my hopes and dreams and he had done the same for me. So we had to step back and realized that together we were better and we could serve Him better.
Our gardening is actually a form of worship. I was born in California and my mother has pictures of me with flowers, and I have always been surrounded by them.
My husband had been around gardening his whole life and when we had a 6-month-old, we realized that we had more in common with the garden and at that point, it became about fulfilling that dream and goal. Now our two daughters are in love with gardening as well. Everyone has a job and it’s a very natural bonding time. It’s also a natural step to go from gardening to painting. When I feel like I can’t paint I can always dig in the dirt and I’m often refueled to go back and paint again. So they feed off each other.
What are your favorite flowers to paint?
It’s actually not a flower that’s my favorite, it’s the greenery. Flowers stress me out to paint because there’s so much pressure for it to be a focal point. There is always a bit of a tense feeling when I’m painting them. While with leaves, they can dance and move with the wind and you can’t really go wrong. I definitely enjoy leaves more, but if I had to pick a flower, it would be dahlias.
How do your surroundings (your garden) and the city around you, serve as inspiration for your artwork?
I think because it’s so naturally a part of our lives it helps inspire me. If it wasn’t something I naturally leaned towards, it wouldn’t be as inspiring. I think that the garden came out of a natural desire.
There was only one tree when we moved in and we revamped it and added a greenhouse and chickens. We have 10 trees now and so many beds for growing things. I have always been interested in gardening and my mom and grandmother were both painters, but they weren’t able to continue. So I feel like I’ve been able to do both which is probably because I have 2 children and they both had 5. If I didn’t paint I would be very frustrated.
Last year I had the chance to take your class through the Watercolor Summit, and you offer other online classes through your website as well as hosted and private classes. What is the most rewarding part about sharing your passion for art with others?
It has allowed me to communicate with other people in a very deep way. So often when you are in a room of strangers, finding a way to communicate with groups of women, in our culture, can be difficult because there are so many cliches that we put on people (ie stay at home mom, career mom). Teaching allows me to see people coming to a table together, working with their hands and there is no box to put them in. This opens up lines of communication and people have started painting groups afterward and talking about in-depth things in a public place. I’m amazed about how painting disarms people. So paint becomes a way to communicate in a wholesome in-depth way.
Your first book Modern Watercolor Botanicals: A Creative Workshop in Watercolor, Gouache & Ink was released on 11/12. What inspired you to write your first book?
I think I was inspired because of all the classes I’ve taught over the years and realizing I can’t be in all places at once. I was able to write something that would reach any time zone and that it would communicate my heart. I’m an Enneagram 3-4, so I’m an artist-achiever.
The idea of seeing all my work as a capsule in one place was very appealing. I could capture everything I learned and had the ability to reach more people. I’ve always loved to write and now I was able to share both my love of writing and art in my book.
What did you enjoy about writing and creating the artwork for your book?
I love reverse-engineering things, which goes back to biology. I like to see the end first and then reverse to get people there and create their own piece. I’m giving you the building blocks and then you can do your own thing.
I designed it at three different levels; beginner, intermediate and advanced. By the time you’ve reached the end of the book, you’ll be able to create with your own distinctive style. Everyone has a unique fingerprint on what they’re called to do. Through the creative workshop, they can build the skills they need, so when their true creative calling comes out they can use the skills they’ve learned.
In your Instagram Insta-Stories, you share about the vinyl sticker wrap project for the utility boxes in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. Tell me a bit about the project.
I actually used to live in Ballard. It’s still in the Greater Seattle area and Ballard is just such a cool spot. We lived there for 3 years, but we wanted to have a garden and there was no room for it.
The project began when someone who had seen some of my art shows contacted me. I immediately thought it would be such a cool way to put my art on something.
I used to live in England and what I loved about it was how everything on the streets from the street lamps to the telephone polls was engineered with so much thought. Many times in cities things are just so ugly and utilitarian and everything is just put up in a hurry. In England, even the light posts have unique details and I loved that function could be made beautiful. Here in the US, people will often graffiti the utility boxes, but now someone could enjoy my art who might not have walls in their home to hang art.
As a mom, how do you share your love of the artistic and floral world with your daughters?
What I’ve learned is when my daughters want to create, I just put out the paper. We are often painting side by side. It’s messy but I’ve learned to embrace the mess. We can clean up later because they are young for such a short time. I feel like walking past the mess and allowing them to paint how they want without rules, is one of the biggest gifts I can give. I love inviting them into my world and embracing the mess that comes with it. A lot of moms are so exhausted and don’t think they can paint, but I have to let them make a mess, so I can make beauty.
Website: https://www.themintgardener.com // Etsy: The Mint Gardener // Instagram: @themintgardener
All photos in this post were provided by Sarah Simon