Meet Darra Sargent (@deardarlingdesignstudio)
Need your rainbow fix? Baltimore hand-letterer and watercolor artist Darra Sargent @deardarlingdesignstudio discusses the inspirations for her retro, playful tie-dye art style, gushes over her love for watercolor and reveals her guiding life mantra in her interview for the Bee Paper blog.
You are a well-rounded artist who explores all mediums and different types of art. What is your favorite type of art to do and why?
This is a hard one! Honestly, my favorite type of art changes all of the time, but I would say the biggest artistic constant in my life has been portraiture. When I first started making art in a serious capacity, which was my freshman year of high school, I immediately fell in love with drawing people. For the next 4 years, that’s pretty much all I did, unless I would get a specific assignment to do otherwise. To this day, I still return to portraiture at least once a month, and it makes me the happiest to do it!
As far as mediums go, it’s watercolor all of the way. In my work, color and texture are the most important things, and watercolor gives you both. You can have one tube of paint and get 20 values of the same color from it easily. In my opinion, watercolor gives you the brightest, most vibrant colors because, most of the time, it’s transparent and you get that glow of the white paper showing through. When it comes to texture, watercolor gives you granulation, those darker dried edges, and that little cauliflower effect. There are so many organic and uncontrollable shapes and textures created from watercolor that I just live for! I could go on forever about my love for watercolor.
Tell us about the Walgreens visit that inspired you to do calligraphy.
Well, about two years ago I had just had my son (well he was about 8 months old) and for those first few months of new motherhood, I was obsessed and sucked into him! I literally did nothing but stare at his pretty face, so art fell to the wayside for the first time since I started making it. I went to Walgreens, probably to pick up some baby stuff, and I saw this adorable coffee mug with an inspirational quote lettered on it! I went home and googled forever and finally found out it was Modern Calligraphy! Even though I had used pointed pens for years for pen and ink drawings, I had never tried calligraphy because I had only seen the Old School Gothic or Copperplate styles and they didn’t appeal to me. When I found out about the Modern Calligraphy movement, I instantly wanted in. I grabbed my pointed pens and spent the next few months’ worth of my son’s naptime figuring it all out!
What role has calligraphy played in your life?
Oh man, calligraphy has changed my life so much. The first way it changed it was by introducing me to the Instagram art world. I had an Instagram account for personal photos, but I had no idea that this entire world of artists and calligraphers was right there waiting for me on there. I now have such a supportive online community, and I have made so many new friends.
Secondly, because of calligraphy, I am now able to live my dream of being a full-time artist. I always say that wedding calligraphy is my “day job”, because that’s what brings in most of my income, but it’s not 100% my passion. Don’t get me wrong, I love lettering on every surface possible, and making someone’s wedding day so special, but it’s not the same as just making art from the soul. By doing wedding calligraphy during the day, I am able to be home to spend the time I have left over to focus on my personal work, and to be home with my son full-time. I couldn’t ask for anything more out of a career.
Favorite Bee Paper product and why?
I love Bee Paper! Even before I had spoken to anyone from the brand, it has been my favorite. I was looking for a nice cotton paper and I found the Bee Paper 100% Cotton Watercolor Paper! I was surprised at how affordable it is for a cotton paper and even more surprised when I used it. I instantly fell in love. Now, I only use this watercolor paper. I love the Cotton 6×9 sheets for quick pieces, and I love my Bee Creative Watercolor Art Journal for bigger pieces, and for pieces that I want to make sure are protected from light exposure!
Your work is so incredibly vibrant and colorful, as if you wring out a tie dye shirt onto every page! What is your process for picking those stunning rainbow hues?
Thank you so much! That’s exactly what I strive for! Nowadays, choosing my colors is second nature, but it took me a while to figure out exactly how to get the look I wanted. Even though it looks like I use so many colors, I only ever use 3 tubes of paint. I have a yellow, a blue, and a pink that I have come to fall in love with and I use the same three every time I paint. I never mix the colors on my palette either. I let the watercolor move around and do its thing, then let the colors mix on the page. From those three primary colors (I know pink is technically not a primary, but it gives more neon tones than using red) I get every single color of the rainbow on my page by the time it dries!
What has been the most challenging part of your artistic journey and how have you overcome it?
The most challenging part of my artistic journey was definitely a time in my life when I had no energy or inspiration to create when I was in a very bad relationship. No one is going to be inspired to do anything, much less make art, when they’re depressed. I was in a deep depression for a while and I finally decided to leave the relationship that I was in for almost 6 years. Even though the thought of breaking up my son’s family was terrifying, I got the courage to do it, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Not even a week after I left, even in all of the hectic unknown, I started creating again, vigorously. I had a new found love for myself and a new inspiration. So, if you are ever in a situation where you feel like you need to get out of it, do it. Even if you’re scared. I promise you, it will be so worth it.
Which artists, or people in your life, have been the biggest inspirations to your work?
The first inspiration I remember having as a child was Lisa Frank! I loved and had to have everything they made! I still carry a vintage Lisa Frank backpack from the early ‘90’s. I loved their colors and their playfulness; it just made my days so much brighter by having Lisa Frank stuff in my hands!
As I studied art, I found out about Chuck Close, and he’s been one of the biggest inspirations to me as far as portraiture goes. He is just so amazing and has had so many hurdles to jump, but he always comes out stronger.
I also love Bonnie MacLean, and many other psychedelic artists from the 60s. When I’m working on a lettering piece for myself, and I’m going for a vintage look, I always find myself visiting her works, and others from that era for inspiration.
My work has changed and evolved so much in 2018 and I really owe that to one person. I have someone in my life that inspires me every day by making me feel like my most authentic self is appreciated. He loves tie dye and The Grateful Dead, so he always helps me come up with new ideas for colorful, outside-of-the-box pieces. He is really my muse, my soulmate, my best friend, and when I’m around him, I feel the most free. He allows me to really make what I’m feeling and to turn off all of the outside noise.
What is your life mantra and how does it play a role in your artistic style?
Over the years my mantra has become “You can do anything, but not everything.” Like you mentioned before, I explore a lot of different mediums and techniques, and I’ve always been that way! I’m the kind of person that can do anything I set my mind to, because I do not give up. I am a watercolorist, a digital artist, a portrait painter, a pen and ink illustrator, a lettering artist, a singer, a cook, a mom, the list goes on. Everyone always asks me “How are you so good at everything?!” and the answer is determination. If I want something, I will do whatever I have to do to get good at it. It’s a blessing, but it’s also a curse, because I always have so many things I want to learn and try out! So, over the years I have had to remind myself that, even though I can do anything I set my mind to, I cannot do everything at once.
My mantra plays a role in my style because I think I’m known for being unpredictable. You don’t know if I’m going to start an acrylic portrait series, then post some calligraphy on rocks. I strive to make my work very vibrant and exciting, and the element of surprise just adds to the crazy excitement!
Any advice for artists wanting to try calligraphy?
DO NOT GIVE UP! I’ve learned a lot of artistic skills throughout my life and calligraphy was definitely one of the hardest to learn. It was easier to learn how to do photorealistic portraits than it was to letter with a dip pen. It takes a lot of practice, and muscle memory to be able to do it consistently. So, the more you work at it, the better you will get! Also, don’t compare yourself to others. In the beginning, I really wanted my calligraphy to look like all of the amazing ones I see on Instagram, and it’s just not going to happen. Like handwriting, and drawing, we all have different ways of mark-making. Yes, you can learn specific calligraphy styles but it’s always going to look a little different than everyone else’s. Don’t put that added pressure on yourself to make your art look like something else. Spend that time to focus on finding your own style and figuring out what will make you stand out from the crowd!