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Artist in Residence: Sarah Nesbit

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Artist's return a plus for Peoria

The passion for art had humble beginnings in Peoria for artist Sarah Nesbit. In high school, she became a fixture in the music scene, especially at the VFW and Skate Park where she discovered that some form of art would one day become her life's obsession.

When she wasn't attending musical performances in unassuming places, she was in her bedroom listening to records or experimenting with her paints.

It was her high school teacher, Mrs. Snarr, who recognized that Nesbit had a promising future in the arts, so promising that she was awarded the Jeanette Browning Memorial Award at graduation from Richwoods High School.

A second pivotal figure was Professor Phyllis Bramson, who also recognized her talent at the University of Illinois in Chicago and continued the connection after graduation when Nesbit went to work as her professor's studio assistant.

Initially Nesbit moved to Chicago for her studies, earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Illinois in Chicago in 2000 and her Masters in Fine Arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. She admits she didn't like living in Chicago in the beginning, so she moved back to Peoria after six months to regroup.

After a year, she knew she had to go back.

"I remember my mom reminding me that I didn't like Chicago," said Nesbit. "And my response was that it was the closest city with a good art museum.

"Also, my love for The Art Institute goes without saying. It is an amazing museum and to have direct access would be invaluable for my career," said Nesbit. "I just knew I had to have that if I was going to have a future in the arts."

Nesbit's first venture into the art world was with her works using egg tempera, a paint-making process of blending pigment, water and egg. She discovered egg tempera when she took a materials and techniques class at The School of Art Institute in Chicago and immediately fell in love with it. She instinctively knew she was a "materials person" and was instantly obsessed with making her own paints. The exploration of material and process would become the driving factors in her work.

She further explains that the advantages of creating your own paint, at least in the case of egg tempera, is that it's affordable, more pure and higher quality. If the pigment is already in a water solution, the process is fairly easy to produce. If an artist starts with dry pigment, then it takes more time to mix properly and completely.

Nesbit states that egg tempera truly revisits the time when an artist was an alchemist and studio workspace resembled a cross between a laboratory and kitchen.

"It was extremely popular for artists in the early Renaissance to create their own paint by using egg yolk, water and pigment" said Nesbit. "Even though this mixed technique was replaced by oil painting in the 16th century, the medium is still being taught today."

Nesbit spent nearly 15 years in Chicago so she could be near The Art Institute, to get her degrees, and to begin her work in the art world. Over time she successfully made the transition to live off the art that she painted while living in Chicago.

"I had a good couple of years where I sold enough to make up about 75 percent of my income and then supplemented that with part-time freelance work," she said. "At one point I was also an editorial and data specialist for the Internet start-up, uptake.com, now a part of Groupon. It allowed me to work from home and the flexible hours gave me the opportunity to have studio time."

She states that her stay in Chicago was far longer than she had originally planned and that after some soul-searching she knew she was due for a change.

The next chapter in her life would involve the recent return to her hometown, Peoria. The homecoming would be two-fold.

"Chicago was getting harder and harder to live on a small budget and as an artist, I just didn't want to struggle so hard anymore," said Nesbit. "Also, it is much easier to get art jobs in smaller cities. I can't help but picture the hundreds of art grads in Chicago looking for a handful of jobs. It's daunting."

Fast forward to today. Nesbit is now working in Peoria as a part-time personal assistant and has a studio residency at Backspace Collective after finishing a seven month residency at the Prairie Center for the Arts. Her goal is to get more hours in an art-related field and still have time to work in her studio.

Even though the struggle to make it in the arts continues, she sees promise in Peoria. It's people like Michele and Joe Richet of the Prairie Center of the Arts and art photographers Doug and Eileen Leunig, who helped organize the local artist organization called CIAO (Central Illinois Artists Organization) and the opening art show of local artists at the new Riverfront Museum, who give Nesbit even more reason for the return.

She is now doing a studio residency at Backspace Collective, a gallery run by eight artists who encourage innovation and risk taking. Nesbit recently organized a participatory drawing event called Drawing From Darkness that was held on winter solstice in December 2012 at the Backspace Gallery. Anyone attending the evening event was encouraged to participate in a large group drawing executed in the dark to help celebrate the longest night of the year.

The event also coincided with the gallery's second fundraising exhibition, Drawback, a drawing show that sold artist drawings for $25 with proceeds going to the gallery.
Nesbit will be the first to tell you that she has been fortunate to have the support and encouragement from people who know what it's like to live art as a career. Her Chicago friend and mentor, Melanie Parke, has given her "great advice" in order to carry on as an artist and teacher.

"Melanie and her husband, Richard, are the goal for me," said Nesbit. "It's good to know a real life example."

Nesbit is now living her real life example in Peoria. With the inspiration of those who have guided her in art-related journey, she hopes to continue to teach, do more art residencies, and within a year, develop a new body of her own work.

Her latest paintings will be shown at Pearce Gallery, Dunlap, Illinois, in February 2013; a three person show with Lizabeth Pearce and Rebecca Draland-Doyle, titled "Moments of Being."

To see additional works, go to www.sarahnesbit.com

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