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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Interview #16--meet Sandy Williams!

I'm delighted to introduce Sandy Williams--FINALLY!  And thank you all for being so patient...we had several technical problems, plus we're both pretty busy, so here, at long last, interview #16!


I've spent most of my life living in the same house in the same little town in Southwest Lower Michigan.  Niles sits on the banks of the St. Joseph River and is called the "City of Four Flags" because the flags of France, Spain, England and the U.S. have flown over it.  Relics from the fort that used to stand here can be seen in the Fort St. Joseph Museum, along with the famous stuffed and mounted two headed lamb.  The museum also houses a dozen pictographs painted by Sitting Bull. 

My house sits next to the acreage my grandparents purchased in 1924 and farmed for many years.  My father grew up there, plowing the fields with horses, and when he married he and my mother built this house in 1954 and raised seven children.  I'm #3.

My Mother is a gardener (I should say GARDENER) and it's from her efforts over more than fifty years that our grounds have been filled with an unbelievable variety of flowers, as I found out when I started to catalog them in one of my journals.  I've worked on it for two summers now, I'm still not done and I've had to start another book.

When I first began drawing and painting seriously, in my early twenties, most of my subjects were horses in every shape and form.

But it wasn't long before I naturally turned to painting realistic botanical and wildlife subjects.  I'd found subjects and a medium that I've worked with for over twenty years now -- Natural Science Illustration using gouache.

My main medium is gouache because of the amount of detail I can achieve.  In Natural Science Illustration accuracy is key and I find gouache to be the perfect medium to show every little detail in a plant, down to the hairs on the stem.
When I started taking Kate's watercolor pencil class in February of 2008 I picked up on some of the threads on line about how satisfying it was to keep an illustrated journal.  I bought my first Moleskine the first week of March, 2008.  On March 8th I began to notice problems with my eyes but was still able to start my first journal pages on March 9th.  I made it part way through the second spread when the bottom fell out of my world and I was unable to finish the little sketch I had started of my brother's dog.  Within a week my vision deteriorated to the point that I could no longer see my computer screen.  For the next few weeks I worsened until I was living in a thick, white fog, unable to recognize people or objects around me . . . no more flowers, reading, writing or creating art.  No more anything, except doing the round of doctors who could find nothing wrong with me. I was in a state of shock and bewilderment.  After being diagnosed with bilateral optic nerve atrophy I was told that I would be fine.  My vision would return, but the problem was with my optic nerves, not my eyes, and the nerves are the slowest part of the body to heal.  There was  no course of treatment, no pills.  Only time would cure it.  It's been 3 1/2 years and the doctors were right.  My vision is returning and I'm well on my way to complete recovery.  I spent the first year totally dependent on my support people, my angels, and on my dog.  She had no idea anything was wrong -- she just knew that we were together 24/7 and that was fine with her.  I'd put her on her leash and go out on to the back porch.  She'd stop at the top of the stairs until I could grab the hand rail and go down the steps safely, although I never taught her.  Then, little by little, my vision began to return.  What a day of celebration it was when, over a year later (in April of 2009), I found I could read a large print book.  Soon after that I reconnected my internet and found the on line community I'd had to leave behind.  So, until November of 2009, when I started taking Kate's on line journaling class, my journal stayed on my drawing table, open to that unfinished page. It still wants to open there even though I've added many journal pages since.

I've found journaling to be extremely helpful in dealing with my challenges.  Every few months I find myself going back to the first page I completed when my vision started to improve to renew my spirit.  On that page I outlined some goals for my life and hopes for my future after a very difficult time.
Most of my journal pages are completed with pen and ink and watercolor pencil.  I find that for my personal journal the "what" I have to say is more important than the "how."  I want to get something down immediately without fussing around or experimenting with a new medium, etc.  I do like to try new things but I just don't generally do it in the journal that my family has come to enjoy passing around at our almost monthly gatherings.  And when I started journaling I was still almost color blind and the watercolor pencils were the easiest to use because their colors were clearly marked.

When I started to journal I had only a personal journal about my experiences and things that happened in my family.

Then I started a "Sketching in Nature" journal to record the landscapes and catalog the flowers around me.

Then a friend gave me a tiny journal I keep in my purse that I use usually when I get stuck waiting somewhere.

And then there's the Re-purposed Children's Book Journal (from Faint Heart Art) that I use to practice drawing and painting the kids in my family.

I have another journal I take to record places of interest -- our museum, street scenes, our Art Association Gift Shop (now closed).

And I recently started a journal just for gouache studies -- botanicals, horses, anything I feel like doing that I spend a little more time on and this journal is one I made myself, with my favorite 140# hp watercolor paper. 

Do you see a pattern developing here?  LOL!  My journals are proliferating like rabbits and each and every one holds memories of  times, places and things that I hold dear.  My life now is going in a dozen different directions at once and that's reflected in my art.   I've added another great joy to my life -- teaching painting in gouache, starting specifically with "Botanical Illustration in Gouache," available on my web site (http://soundofwings.com/Learn_Gouache_Online.html)  either as a DVD or in downloadable form.  I touch on materials, health hazards of our profession and blending techniques.  I've used a very limited palette, since in this economic climate it can be tough to invest in all the art materials we'd like to have.  And then we get right in to the step by demonstrations, learning how to work with gouache while painting Four Colorful Flowers and then a Trillium grandiflora (one of my favorites) and all it's parts. I was thrilled when one of my students won an award at a local show with her first on her own botanical illustration.  I'm currently working on "Painting Animals in Gouache" and should have it up and running and available on my web site in December.  And then it will be on to "Painting Birds in Gouache," probably to be released at the end of January. 

So, with everything going on,  it's been difficult to journal as much as I'd like.  When I get an idea I usually jot it down so it doesn't slip my mind and then, when I have time, usually in the afternoon, I work on my next journal page.  Sometimes there's not a lot of "designing" going on.  I just need to tell a story or record a thought.  When I do a page recording the flowers that are blooming within a two or three day period, I have no idea how the page will look when it's done.  I used to sit outside and draw the flowers on the spot, but now I pick a blossom or two and bring them in to my drawing table.  The page develops as I do a walk about and bring more blossoms in to fill it up..

My journals have become partners in my life.  My personal journal crystallizes feelings, events and memories.  Its become a unifying element in my family -- they love to read it and often say they "didn't know that."  Some of the stories that my brothers and sisters and I have grown up with were never related to the next generation and they now see my journals as record keepers.  My "Sketching in Nature" journal has allowed me to do something I've been wanting to do for over twenty years -- catalog the plants that grow on our property.  When I paint botanical works in gouache it's very time consuming and at times almost painful.  But with my journals I feel free to loosely and quickly sketch my subjects.  The journal has become an indicator of "when" each plant blooms as well as " what it looks like."

At the ripe old age of sixty I've seemed to have developed a kind of mantra, a phrase that keeps popping up in my life quite frequently -- "I can't wait to see what happens next!"  What turn will my life take?  What people will I meet?  What things will I see?  Check back and take a look at my journals because it will all be there!


Sandy, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us...it's inspired me more than once, and I know it will our readers, as well!

Once more, here's Sandy's web page: http://www.soundofwings.com/
and her Flickr account... http://www.flickr.com/photos/11285869@N03/

Take your time, and enjoy!


  1. What a wonderful personable interview. Well worth the wait.
    I bought Sandy's DVD for painting flowers in gouache and am so happy to hear there will be more.
    Thanks for sharing so much Sandy. I can relate to the eye problems but mine was nothing compared to yours. I had scar tissue on my retina that needed to be surgically removed and that was so scary for artists. Things are much better now.

  2. I've looked forward to your interview, Sandy, for such a long time -- and as Teri says, it was worth the wait! You and your art are such treasures for us all. I'm looking forward to the new DVDs!

  3. Sandy, it was so nice to get to know you a bit through this interview. I love your "what next" attitude. Your perseverance through the tough time with your eyes is an inspiration, as (of course) is your work. I'm off the have a good peruse of your website.

  4. As Teri said, "well worth waiting for interview."

  5. Great interview Sandy, your story inspires me in more ways than one. I have M/S and going blind is one of the things that happens to me when I have an 'episode' it is scary and makes me so appreciative of the beauty of the world around me... my drawing skills aren't that great but I'm loving journaling too.
    I love your 'what's next' attitude.

  6. What an enjoyable read and a feast for the eyes to see all of the different ways you express the world around you! It's wonderful!

  7. Sandy, It's so good to get to know you a bit more. You and your work are truly inspiring. Go girl!

  8. very interesting. Love your horses! That's how I started with drawing and now expanding

    The ideas of different journals is good. I always have lots on the go but never seem to keep one per subject :)


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