Interview With Visual Artist Sarah Rauner

There are two Texas towns on my 'favorites' list of places we can drive to in a reasonable amount of time on a Saturday. One town is McKinney, and the other is Waxahachie. Why do I consider them favorites?

They have preserved a large number of houses built in a bygone era. The beauty and grandeur of those homes still stand for eyes to behold. I have driven through the neighborhoods and I have walked through them.

For me, the sense of a connection to the past is soothing. Not everything about the past, of course. The good things. The sense of family gathered and drinking lemonade on the wrap-around porch. Taking time to just be.

The first thing I noticed about Sarah Rauner's work is her use of homes and buildings from the past in her pictures. However, what really got my attention was the way they are distorted in some ways, leaning heavily, or somehow twisting to my eyes. To my interpretation, the houses are sturdy. Hearty. Survivors.

There is more to Sarah Rauner's work than older homes. There is a sense of community and place. However, as you will see, she is a versatile artist who draws from a number of influences and genres to create an eclectic collection of work.

Sarah Rauner

The Last Bearing

In your Etsy profile, you make several statements I think are very interesting. To start with, you write “I am organized chaos” and “I am an artist in my mind, still trying to deliver it from my mind...” Could you explain these statements and how they color what you do?

I diagnosed myself as organized chaos about three years ago when asked to do a self portrait for a challenge. We were to create a photo describing ourselves and after several days I came to the conclusion that I am “organized chaos“. Chaos is where I live. Everything I do is chaotic, it's just the way my brain works. And that carries over into my artwork.

I’ve tried to do clean minimal work because I love that kind of art, but my mind just doesn’t see it that way. If you were to open a window and take a peek into my brain, first you would probably be scared, then you would find it exhausting, I find it exhausting. But definitely don’t try to fix me because then I would be lost. There is a method to my madness. My house and mind may be chaos but I know the where and why of every random object and thought there. Which leads to the delivering it from my mind.

I constantly see pictures in my mind. I have always felt I had the heart of an artist. I started drawing and writing poetry at a very young age. I received my first camera at the age of five and took art classes in school. But I’ve always struggled with the feeling of mediocre. I couldn’t produce the intensity I saw in my mind. But the digital world has allowed me to start doing so.

How does what you do affect your state of mind?

Creating has been the best therapy for my mind. It's kind of a release for me, gets out some of the clutter and makes room for more. Sometimes I have such random thoughts and images go through my mind that I feel they will make me crazy. My art calms my thinking. It helps me not feel confined.

How does a sense of chaos help you create your work?

I think the chaos helps to keep me creative. I have so many things going through my mind at one time that they overlap and pile up and that, a lot of the time, is what  inspires a vision. I am able to process many thoughts at one time.

Glyndon Hotel

If I Could

Late Again

When viewing your work, I thought I saw influences of realism, surrealism, and abstract art. Would you say that is true? What would you say are your influences and inspirations?

That is definitely true. My first love is abstract, which seems ,for me, to be the hardest to create. But most of my work I would describe as surrealism. I love to create whimsical or fantasy images. I like to create a scene that almost looks normal but is definitely not. I want my viewer to get a glimpse into my imagination.

Some of my influences are Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali….yes two different worlds, but I love the everyday people in NR stuff, but love the chaos and sickness of Dali. Call me weird, oh yeah most people already do.
How did you get started in your craft?

About 7 years ago I started working with a friend of mine as a photographer, mostly portraits and such. It was my first digital camera and my first experience with Photoshop. I started with Photoshop 7 and she and I together, one day at a time, figured it out. At the time I was also working as a nail tech and did photography part time. Two years ago I went full time into photography and digital art. And in the two years I have been full time,  I have acquired Photoshop CS2. And with the help of tutorials online have spent hours learning as much as I can to help in this process of creating "Art".

Dreams Do Come True

Paint This Town

The Rising Sun Cafe

Some of your pictures have a vibrant, heightened-color type feel, such as 'Dreams Do Come True,' while others feel as though the final effect is watercolor or is muted in some way, such as 'Paint This Town.' Some subjects within your images are proportionally in tact, while others have obvious distortions, such as in the proportions of the buildings in 'Rising Sun Cafe'. Many times these elements seem to be mixed within one picture.

How would you describe your art?

I often don’t even realize I am mixing distortions with realistic objects, it just happens. I guess this comes from a little personality quirk I have. I hate perfection in the sense of perfectly neat and straight. Objects in my home are never centered or even. My furniture, if I can get away with it, is slightly crooked. Nothing ever matches perfectly, my photography is always a little off from what is considered technically correct. Although I try to do “normal”, my brain isn’t wired that way. So my art is almost never “perfect”, it is always, in some form I guess, flawed. So I guess there it is – “Flawed”.

But we’ll just call it photo manipulation/digital painting or digital collage.

I think it is fair to say that many of your pictures utilize a heightened imagination, even fantasy. Do you see the images in your minds' eye before you begin, or do ideas come to you as you manipulate the images?

I have been asked this many times and the answer is both. Some come to me as images, some in words, some even in dreams, some never take on a recognizable form, just a feeling.  But sometimes I have no idea what to do until I start manipulating and throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the image. But some are truly inspired and those are my favorites. Like “The Last Bearing” or “Freedom Dancer”.

Little Cowboys

The distortions in the houses in many of your images got my attention first. In the case of “Little Cowboys”, the juxtaposition of the house makes it seem as though the house is climbing skyward to my eyes. What inspired you to use distortions in that way?

Again the dislike of perfect form I guess. And I like to evoke "unrestricted thought" and create distractions from reality. Normal is highly overrated.

You mention in your Etsy profile, “ I need to photograph.” However, your work goes beyond the photograph. Most if not all are additionally manipulated in some way, with varying degrees of departure from photo to painting in effect depending on the image. What drives your need to photograph? What drives your art thereafter?

I once started asking people around me if they could have 3 superpowers what would they be, and mine were to take pictures with my eyes (for obvious reasons), to be invisible ( I could take pics anywhere of anything/anyone without compromising the scene) and to be able to teleport (so I could go anywhere I wanted in the world and take photos).

Everything I do is motivated by photography. Everything I see is a potential photo op. If I don’t carry a camera with me everywhere and take photos, I am haunted by moments I missed, you can't get them back, you can try to recreate them, but its not the same as catching that untainted moment.

When I upload photos onto my computer I immediately start to imagine these captured scenes or objects combined. Some photos are perfect left alone, but most can be better. I always imagine the six million dollar man theme song…Gentlemen I can rebuild it, I have the technology, I have the capability…lol.

I often wondered why my photography was so odd now I know it was meant for something different.

Taking 'Bville 3' as an example, would you mind describing your creative process of photo manipulation?

Bville 3 was a commission piece, two of the homes included belong to my customer and her sister and she wanted to create a Brooksville scene including their homes and surprise her sister with it. This piece was one of the easiest for me because the sisters' home has Halloween-like decorations on it year round, so I immediately was drawn to a somewhat eerie feel.

Every piece is inspired by a thought, a statement, a request, a dream, a fear…etc. The manipulations just sort of follow how I am feeling at the moment. Some days they are more extreme. It is actually quite a process that can take hours to days to weeks to complete. Some pieces can include a hundred different photos, some only a few.

The hardest thing for me creatively is sometimes I can spend days on a piece and trash it because I don’t want empty images. I have to feel some emotion when I look at it, even if it just makes me laugh, or say to myself “what is wrong with you?”

What tools are essential to you for what you do?

Well first of course is my Nikon. Then, obviously a computer, in my case a [1-terabyte] laptop.

I use several different programs, but the main one being Photoshop. Then the greatest invention ever the Wacom tablet. The tablet and pen has changed my world. Not only does it make my work much more precise, I can draw and paint digitally to create original pieces.

There are a series of images in your work from your hometown of Brooksville, Florida. Would you mind describing Brooksville?

I have lived in Brooksville for about 16 years now, most people have been here their whole lives. It’s a small town where everybody either knows you are someone related to you. We are about 50-60 miles north of Tampa. My family and I moved here from Tampa. We wanted to move our children out of the city and give them a different lifestyle than we had experienced.

Parts of our little town have hills, believe or not, in Florida, which is what attracted us to this area in the first place. The downtown area is small but has a beautiful courthouse and the old homes are amazing.

There are two homes you see in several of my pieces, one is referred to as “The Lemon House” sometimes (the house in “The Parsonage” and the other is sometimes referred to as “The Saxon Home” (the house in “If I could”) . The Saxon home is literally falling apart, which makes it that more interesting, but sad…It is my dream home, although I will never own it. Another home in some of my pieces is actually a museum and is haunted if you like that sort of thing. There are still many homes I have yet to photograph that are beautiful old homes. I just love the Victorian era and I guess that is the style of a lot of these homes.

I really love this town, I feel like it is “home”.

Welcome to Bville

Christmas on Main

Bville 3

How did you become interested in using Brooksville as a subject for your work?

It all started with “The Saxon Home” , I was so in love with it, I just had to photograph it. Then of course I knew the resident of “The Lemon House” and asked if I could photograph it. Then as I was admiring the photos one day my daughter walked up behind me and said, “You should make a cityscape of our little town of Brooksville.” My mind started reeling. A few weeks later “Welcome to B-ville” was unveiled, just in time for my first art show ever. Art in the Park in Brooksville .

It was such a huge hit that I have just continued with the theme. The Brooksville pieces are one of the biggest sellers in our little café downtown “The Rising Sun Café” ,which is the focus in the second of the Brooksville series.

I do love this town, we are struggling (businesses) but we have hope. Our biggest attraction to the town of Brooksville was The Christmas House which closed a few years ago, it was sad, and it has hurt our community. But we try to support each other. The Rising Sun Café has done a great job of supporting the local artists and farmers by displaying many different talents in their café , they rotate artists to display, and have been a big part of our Brooksville market every Saturday for local vendors to set up and offer their products to the community.

When I viewed, “Lyrical Beauty,” I felt there were so many possible interpretations to the picture.  Was that intentional?  If you had a specific meaning in mind, does it bother you if the viewer has a different interpretation?

Absolutely not, that is my greatest joy to create something that can have so many different meanings. I have had people in tears telling me what a certain piece means to them, while others just shake their head. Its just like poetry, the many interpretations is what makes you want to read it over and over….makes it more interesting to talk about.

But don't worry if you don't get it....you are not always supposed to, that is what makes it fun, the "Why?"

I just recently had a customer ask to be put into the “Zooscape” piece. This piece was a request from my oldest daughter who had just finished college with a zoo animal technology degree, so it was just a silly, fun creation. But this customer saw it as a representation of his life….he said he feels like he lives in a zoo most of the time, and it showed the chaos of his kids, grandkids, work, etc. So I incorporated him and his family into the piece and it hangs in his office. I found this funny, but interesting that such a silly piece still spoke to someone in someway.

Would you mind telling about 'Freedom Dancer'? How did you create this image?

Freedom Dancer

Well I was hired to take photos of the child and later requested permission to use her in the piece. The field is actually is a field in Brooksville, but the barn and road leading to the barn are from Kentucky. I added a sky and texture, an owl in the tree and there it was.

This barn was one of my first distortions, it just fit. The tricycle in the piece actually sits on my porch and was added later to add the sense of play. It started out much more muted but I wasn’t happy until it was brightened up and more texture added. I painted over the grass quite a bit to get the color and depth right. It came together fairly easy because it was so inspired.

In terms of visual perspective, the viewer sees the girl at a distance, as if being removed from her emotions might be part of the point of the image. Was that intended?

I tend to put objects in the forefront of most of my pieces, but this one was different. I felt putting her in the distance portrayed the illusion of being completely unaware of onlookers or even caring if they were there. I wanted the viewer to almost feel as if looking through a window and accidentally coming across a private moment, and then finding themselves so captivated that they want to be a part of it.

Would you mind telling about what is going on in this image?

“Freedom Dancer” is one of my favorites and always attracts attention at shows. Its one of my more simple pieces that came about after a photo shoot with a little girl and her horse. A customer had adopted this little girl from China when she was 9 months old. Her head was shaved, her motor skills not developed well, speech not where it should be….but you would never know any of that now. She came dressed in a tutu and boots and I asked her if she could dance….and she did. It just struck me how free a child is, not only innocent and naïve but uninhibited. What is going on here is freedom. Freedom from the worry of judgment.

What appeals to you most about what you do?

I love that my photography is still the main ingredient in my artwork. If I don’t take the picture first I can not manipulate it into a piece of art. And when using the wacom tablet and pen I can draw and paint digitally as well.  And with digital technology, the more I learn, the more I realize the possibilities are endless.

Thank you, Sarah! I appreciate the opportunity to get to know more about you and your work!

To see more of Sarah's work, stop by Sarah Jane Images or her Facebook page. Additionally, you can see her work on Flickr or visit her Etsy shop.

All images in this interview are used by permission, are the property of Sarah Rauner, and are copyright protected.

This interview can also be read on the blog Scoop.it!: All About Arts curated by Karen Steffensen. Her blog states "“This collection is dedicated to learning in and through the arts- (drama, dance, music, visual arts).”

Post Script:

I was intrigued by Sarah's descriptions of the Saxon House. Sarah graciously provided me with some links for more information about it. Additionally, I found some photos online by various photographers, sort of cataloging this house. I have an interest in preservation so this topic appeals to me. It helps me to see why Sarah felt a strong connection to it.

I am including this one since it also shows the state of the inside of the house. Then there is this one, and finally this one.

I want to add my sentiments to all who hope it will be rehabilitated and restored. The mind reels at the splendor that this house, no doubt, once was.


  1. Hello, I am happy to announce that the Saxon house has been purchased and is being remodeled as a venue for weddings, parties and such! I am very excited about it!

  2. Sarah,

    That is great news! That really gives the preservationist-loving part of me a really nice bit of good news on this rainy Monday morning.

    I hope you will keep me/us posted when they get it ready? I would love to post the link up here on the blog.