We spoke with the tremendously talented photo journalist Sarah Sherman and versatile, adept musician/painter Leo Lawrence about life as working as an artist power couple and finding comfort in the chaos of big city living.
Sarah, you lived in Michigan the majority of your life before you made the move to LA this past year, mid-west to west coast. That’s a huge life-changing event. Have you noticed any major transitions in the type of work you create since the move?
Sarah: I knew it was going to be nice all year round, but I didn’t actually expect it to be so nice… all year round. My favorite place to go and take pictures of people is on the Santa Monica beach in my neighborhood. It’s an open beach with lots of families, and depending on what time of day you go, men in suits who’ve just gotten off work, plunging fully clothed into the ocean in their suit pants and button-downs.
You see people in their most relaxed state, with their families or spouses, playing in the water, sleeping in the sand. And of course the seagulls there are great and not exactly friendly, but curious enough to entice with a French fry to hover close to you for a photo. Before moving to California most of my work dealt with the single young person—now I find myself drawn to families and babies a lot more. There is something so special about people enjoying themselves on the beach—they go into their own worlds, as if no one else is around and it’s almost like watching a family in their own back yard.
You both have Society 6 pieces featuring your own work. What’s it like seeing your art on pillows, mugs, tapestries, shirts, etc?
Sarah: When I see my images in the home, it reminds me of the small moment that I decided to raise the camera and make the photo. Most of my work is journalistic and un-posed. It’s essential that I can make those choices quickly before a moment is gone, which doesn’t always happen. When I see my images on the pillows in the house, it reminds me than any moment could be that defining moment where you make one of your favorite images—you just have to get out there.
Leo: It’s really rewarding to see my work on items like pillows and mugs, especially because the drawings are related to my music, so it’s more like really limited custom band merchandise. To see a goth rock logo on a plush pillow and thermos is really awesome. It makes me feel like a pop star. It’s really really fun, and in some ways I feel like I’m taking myself even more seriously as a performing artist by having my logo on household items. It’s easier to visualize my work carrying a greater weight in future; becoming images that proliferate culture; ideally having a lasting visual impact.
What are your go to methods for setting up a space that helps cultivate your work flow?
Sarah: When setting up my work space my number one go-to is to light a candle. It might seem silly but it feels like all the stress and tension in the air gets sucked into the flame and burned up right away. It feels safe and cozy, which is the best space for me to be in when I have to do writing, or accomplish a long stretch of work. I also make sure that my workspace only has the items I need to get the job done—no extra stuff to remind me of other projects, errands, events, or things that could get me distracted. I love candles with the wooden wick, even when you can’t see them you can hear the crackling of the fire and it brings you back to a place of stillness. Another essential for me is BACK SUPPORT! This is why I LOVE the society6 pillows so much. I can work from anywhere in my home and feel comfortable enough to get into the zone.
Leo: Whether I’m writing, recording music, or working on visual art, having an orderly space is always a prerequisite. A cluttered space makes me feel mentally claustrophobic. I feel I have space to move and create when my workplace is akin to an empty canvas (no spills, bed made, and society6 gear in it’s proper place ;). I also always light a candle when I settle in to work, and sometimes some palo santo in my room if I’m going to write. These actions are ritual ways to activate my work flow, and a relaxed but focused attitude. The scents and glow of the candle help transport me to a space beyond my everyday, where otherworldly possibilities exist in art. I listen to music sometimes when I’m working on visual art, but sometimes silence is nice too.
You both are hard working artists in a competitive city. How do you find fulfillment amidst the hustle?
Sarah: Whenever I am making new work, I feel fulfilled. I feel fulfillment in making a really good photo, knowing I have it on my camera’s film, like a gem stored inside a rock, until I take the film to be developed and it’s finally free to see the world!!
Leo: I find fulfillment in my work. When I’m excited about what I’m working on, the hustle becomes much less noticeable, and I feel more that I am riding a current as opposed to swimming upstream. I chew on ideas as move throughout my day, even when I’m not working, so much so that I also make sure to take time NOT to think so much about the work; the hustle. I believe in a balanced hustle. I’ve discussed this recently with a friend, where we both agreed we’ve been raised in a puritanical culture that stresses one isn’t working hard unless they’re suffering and exhausting themselves. I’ve come to realize that kind of exhaustion isn’t sustainable, so I make time for myself get outside, go on hikes and walks, and read… to work when I’m working, and to not work when I’m not. I enjoy cooking too.
After a long day of making masterpieces how do you two re-center?
Sarah: My favorite thing to do is take a bath or go on a night walk, depending if I need to let the excess energy of the day out, or replenish that energy store with a soak. There is something magical about the busy streets after all the people have left, and the mystical shillouettess of exploding black palm trees against a fading sky. The trees look even taller at night, and you can stop and smell the flowers without stopping traffic. Night time is my time to re-set. Before I end my day, I like to visualize a plan for the day to come. LA is so unavoidably busy—there are even traffic jams inside the Trader Joes—visualizing the next day helps me feel my priorities inside my body and set my intention before the new day comes. It’s almost like preparing a baby’s room before it’s born, although on a much smaller scale. Visualizing my most important tasks helps me to create an unshakable space in my coming day for the tasks that need to be done when theres so much life buzzing around me.
Leo: I think exercise is important. Some evenings I’ll go to a yoga class or a hike, then take a hot shower and lay down on my bed and just look up at the ceiling. I also practice mindfulness. I usually start and end my day in meditation, which has become invaluable in my centeredness. It grounds me, so that I’m not so much a ping-pong ball bouncing off the walls of my head. It helps me remember to breathe, and stay connected to my body and whatever space it’s currently inhabiting. It also helps me put my own work and plans aside, so that I can better be present for and enjoy those around me. Then, when I return to my work, I am recharged with new energy and ideas.
What’s your dream room / space look like?
Sarah: My dream room definitely has a few trap doors for me to escape into. Plants have magical healing powers, and can remind you that you’re a part of the beautiful earth, even when you’re inside. My ideal room would be functional and plant-filled, with lots of natural light. I love bright and deep colors, and plants are an easy way to bring a pop of life into any room. My grandfather was a big inspiration to my home-deco sense, and many of my favorite pieces are from his collection and are antiques. New and bright artwork is essential, but I feel grounded and connected to my true self when I see my family history represented around me and incorporated into my space.