Sarah Evenson
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BFA in Print Paper Book
2016
Freelance Artist

Describe what you do for work and how you feel about it.

As a freelancer, I don't have one job or a set schedule. I get to do a variety of things, and though I'm sometimes exhausted, I'm never bored. I work as a freelance illustrator, a translator, and in various positions across the book arts spectrum—setting lead type for Hamilton Ink Spot, studio assisting for Penland School of Crafts, assistant teaching in printmaking at MCAD, studio assisting for Andy Ducett, sheet forming at Cave Paper, and working as an installer for the MCAD Gallery. Some of my clients have included Hallmark, Treat and Company, Uncivilized Books, Penguin, MHS Licensing, Lauren Krysti Photography, and Coffee House Press. I also was the recipient of the Caxton Club's 2015 Rare Books School Award and the 2017 CERF+ Get Ready Grant, both of which have greatly contributed to my success and survival since graduating. I also exhibit my work around town on a semi-regular basis and sell my work on consignment both at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and The Future.

Sometimes I can't decide if I am my own boss or if I have fifty bosses. Learning how to balance everything has been quite an experience but totally worth it. It requires a huge amount of energy to pursue this kind of lifestyle and what prevents burnout is that I genuinely love everything I have the chance to do. I frequently imagine the alternate dimension in which I chose the path that led to stability and total boredom in a non-creative field. And I'm just, like, "Thank Satan that didn't happen!" In the field I'm in right now, I feel like I'm on this amazing Odyssey of self-discovery and self-love. Every morning when I wake up I'm just like, "Awesome! What am I doing today?" and that feels so, so good.

How do you get your jobs? 

Apply, apply, apply, and follow up! I apply to everything that I am remotely qualified for (and lots of things I'm not.) I follow up with people who mention they might have a lead for me and probably 80% of the time I get work when I take the initiative to follow up rather than just wait for them to reach out. Most of the jobs that I get blossom from other jobs, in a kind of Fibonacci's sequence. When I go to a job I bring a good attitude, energy, and the very best of myself and people generally seem to notice and respect that. If people want to work with you again, they recommend you to their peers, they give you a leg up and advice when they can and they root for your success. In a world that is often quite antagonistic towards artists, that support means a lot.

Most of my illustration and freelance work had stemmed from the Emerging Talent Showcase for MCAD seniors and recent grads. On my very last day of class, my buddy Nathan Motzko encouraged me to sit in on the Emerging Talent Showcase. I brought a bunch of random stuff (screenprints, drawings, postcards, business cards, sketchbooks, etc.) and Nathan let me share his table. We both got picked up by Melanie Haroldson, who at the time was the art director at Treat and Company, and we both ended up doing work for them. Nathan also got work with their sister company Knock.

Keeping an active online and Instagram presence has also brought me jobs. People contact you to ask to use work that you've already made on products or to see if you can make something similar or if you would apply to their call for art. Or sometimes, people just want to trade and you get free stuff, which is always AMAZING. 

What was your major and how did you choose it? Was it the right choice?

Print paper book. It's hard for me to answer whether this was the right choice. I really wish that the major was more interdisciplinary because I do really think that book arts, illustration, and graphic design should be in dialogue with each other. As someone with a love of craft disciplines, illustration, and design, I really struggled to find my place while at MCAD. On the other hand, craft and technical skills I gained from Jody Williams and Bridget O'Malley while at MCAD are skills I don't think I could have learned without those four years in that program and they have really carried my career.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

That's hard! Man, I really love Bridget O'Malley, not just as a teacher but also as a person. She has written me so many letters of recommendation and helped me out so many times. Her teaching style allows students to be self-directed but not bullshitters, which is a hard line to tow!

My other, equally important answer is Jody Williams. Jody is an amazing teacher who really listens to her students and REALLY knows her craft. Anything you do in Jody's class feels like the most enjoyable and most important way to be spending the day. Jody was always there for me when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do at MCAD and she really encouraged me to just do what I love and screw all the rest, an attitude that has stayed with me.

Best thing you ever got/saw on the free shelf?

It's so hard to pick just one. I got the album "Girl You Know It's True" on vinyl which has an incredible cover image and scandalous history attached to it. For years my step-sister and I would say "girl, you know it's true" instead of "yes" to each other because of it. 

Name your one biggest takeaway from MCAD?

How to advocate for myself, express myself clearly, differentiate between useful and meaningless criticism, and make the kind of work that I believe in no matter what. The kind of education that I received at MCAD was far more than an academic one; those four years were a crucible that reshaped me entirely from the person I was when I started. Yes, I learned how to draw with charcoal, screenprint, and use Photoshop, but I also learned how to communicate, manage a huge amount of anxiety, make lasting friendships, and do what I wanted to do in the face of a huge amount of negative feedback. In those four years, I developed the confidence to really live the kind of life that I wanted to live and make the kind of work that I want to make. It's all about riding the waves and playing the long game, being open to anything but maintaining a certain level of focus.

What advice do you have for current MCAD students?

Don't let the bastards get you down! Learn not only to take but also evaluate the validity of criticism. Not everything someone tells you about how your work should look is true or valid.
ALSO: KEEP A SKETCHBOOK and DEVELOP A SKETCHBOOK PRACTICE! When you graduate you might go through a lot of instability and changes that will make regular studio time impossible for a bit and the only way to keep your practice alive is to have the flexibility to keep making. Not everything has to be "good" or a "finished project". Read Linda Barry's Syllabus and What It Is to round out your undergraduate education.

Current obsession?

IMPEACHING DONALD TRUMP, ENDING THE PATRIARCHY, AND CREATING A FIRMER, INDESTRUCTIBLE WALL BETWEEN "CHURCH" AND STATE—A MORE SECULAR AND EQUITABLE WORLD FOR ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE AND ANIMALS! I am also obsessed with videos of small dogs, like malteses, doing literally anything.