Conversations with an Artist: Sarah Hanna

Sarah Hanna Lettering Artist, Painter
We met Sarah Hanna at an event and were captivated by her vivacious personality and supreme hand lettering talent, live, in the moment. After chatting for hours, a friendship was born. We've been bringing her into the shop ever since for live Valentines events, as well as a collaboration on our bespoke map, and have been carrying a variety of printed matter Sarah designed: holiday notes, thank you cards and a gorgeous gold foil wedding proclamation inspired by the landmark decision by the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Sarah is a professional artist with classical-training in the calligraphic arts and in stationery etiquette and she is also a painter and an arts educator specializing in visual and culinary arts. We're excited to share more about what drives Sarah in our latest Conversations with an Artist.

Sarah Hanna Live Valentine Cards at Poet and the Bench

Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul. 
I was in college and had some extra time on my hands after dropping a class. I called my mom (an incredibly accomplished visual artist) for a list of art supplies and a little direction. I wanted to learn to paint by recreating a piece I had seen in a book in her art studio.

To date, it is still my favorite painting. I did not hide my pencil sketch marks on the canvas, and, while the painting is pretty, it is the reminder of my learning curve and the ability to say "I want to do this" and make it a reality that I love the most.

What themes do you pursue in your calligraphy? your painting?
I have designed wedding invitations for over 20 years, so 'lasting' and 'love' are the first things that come to mind....immediately followed by making the recipient of the art feel honored.

I also paint oversized, abstract acrylics on canvas. I use my calligraphic background to embed meaningful words and phrases into the art. The words are rarely legible, but the emotion comes through. Plus, I like putting a 'secret message' in the mix. If it is a private commission, I ask the patron for purposeful words and use them throughout. It adds a layer of depth to the work. 

When I work with children for my Art in Residence program, we spend time developing themes like 'what makes my family special' and 'how am I unique and how can I show that in a work of art?' 

Sarah Hanna_Art in Residence_Abstract Landscape
Sarah Hanna_Art in Residence_Rothko Inspiration
Sarah Hanna_Art in Residence_Rothko Inspiration_Lucas

Tell us about what influences the direction for your calligraphy.
A lot of the work I do is custom, so I am simply facilitating the client's vision. I ask the right questions, and more importantly I listen to the answers. 

For weddings, I look at the venue, time of celebration, and, if they have a wedding website, I look at the images and try to capture the spirit of the client from photos they have posted. Pictures don't lie, so it's easy to translate those underlying tones to fine lettering or line art. 

Sarah Hanna Hand Lettering Child Poem Calligraphy
Sarah Hanna Calligraphy_wedding invite

How has your work developed over time?
I have become more precise in my calligraphy, and I have allowed myself to become more loose with my painting. I credit the children I teach for the second development. 

In my art life, "perfect is the enemy of good" has been a major struggle for me. I am learning to let that go–which is either a result of fatigue or sharpened skill. Either way, I'm grateful. 

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My lightbox. 

It's true that I use tech in a significant way in my studio, but give me an old school analogue set up with a light box and I can make something wonderful come alive.

Sarah Hanna Calligraphy Lettering Artist Painter

Do you collect anything?
Sea shells.

I grew up in the Caribbean. Walking along the shore to pick up shells is the best way to spend a morning. The loveliest design can be sitting in the sun waiting for you.....or you can spot a bright flash of perfection that gets washed away if you don't reach it in time. I do not always collect the prettiest ones. I collect the most unusual ones. Later, I can be transported back to that shoreline simply by running my fingers over the ridges. 

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
Molly Jacques, who is admirably generous with her art marketing knowledge, was talking about ideas being plentiful. She said, "Get used to failure" and I found it soooooo liberating. 

I am sure I've heard this in a variety of forms over the years, but in the wake of the pandemic forcing me to overhaul my business model from fine wedding papers to private art instruction, I heard it more clearly this time. 

What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Charge what you're worth.
Say no more often.
Introduce yourself as an artist. It's not a hobby. It's a profession.
You're doing great - keep going.

Poet and the Bench Bespoke Map of Mill Valley, West Marin, Stinson Beach, Wine Country, Cheese Trail, Sea Ranch

Designed with Sarah, find our letterpress Day Tripping map here, or come to the shop for "our curated guide to some of our favorite places" and we'll give you the small digital size as our gift to you! Our stock of Sarah Hanna artful correspondence and other paper matter changes through the seasons, so take a peek here on the regular!

For the love of tactile paper,

~ Bonnie & Jeffrey

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