Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Bertochi.
Sarah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have always been creative, but it was not something I explored very much or even recognized in myself until much later in life. My journey to where I am today did not follow a traditional path. I did not go to art school. In fact, it never occurred to me that you could actually have a career making art. I come from a family of intellectuals, so it was just expected that I would go on to college and have a “business” career, which I did.
I enjoyed a long, successful outside sales career for almost 30 years. In that time, I worked quite a bit with architects and designers. I loved the tremendous energy and creative ideas which resulted from those interactions. It was for a very long time very satisfying work. At some point, however, I realized I wanted to “get my hand dirty” so to speak. I was no longer happy just watching others be creative, I needed to be the creative one.
I went back to school while working full-time and completed a graphic design program. It took about 2 years to finish school and at that point, I decided to retire from my sales career. I initially explored finding clients by doing more traditional branding/marketing projects. But honestly, I found the work boring and it felt too much like “work”. Around this time I discovered surface pattern design totally by accident. I took a Skillshare class by Bonnie Christine and loved it.
I knew almost immediately that I had discovered something which made me truly happy. So, began my journey in pattern design. I have been diligently working away on my pattern portfolio and have a list of dream clients who I am slowly but surely reaching out to in the hopes of one day landing a deal. I have had some measure of success but it’s a long, slow process. Every day, I learn something new and as long as it continues to make me smile I’ll keep plugging away at it.
Has it been a smooth road?
I took a leap of faith and have no regrets. I was very fortunate to have had a successful career that put me in a good position financially. I just felt that the timing was right. I now realize that I should have left my sales career 5 years prior, but I was too afraid. It took awhile to convince myself it was the right choice.
Now that I have been at it, I still have moments of doubt and wonder “how will I do this?” I do not question my decision to become an artist but rather question what to do next. “I do not know what I am doing” and “someone is going to find me out” are conversations I have with myself all the time.
My biggest challenges by far have been getting noticed and finding the right audience for my work. Sometimes it feels like I am swimming against the tide… there are so many talented artists. I just have to remind myself that their style is not my style and eventually I will find that special client who loves what I do. I’m patient, and since I am not working against a deadline, I will continue to prospect and reach out to art directors and buyers.
It’s super important to “find your tribe”. I know it sounds cliche, but a supportive community is huge. You cannot do it alone. I am very lucky to have a great team of loyal family and friends. They have supported my work and when I’ve needed it, have made introductions on my behalf that opened doors to new work.
Keep learning. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skill set. I take as many classes as I can and read whatever I can get a hold of that will help move my work forward.
Find a mentor. This should be someone that is willing to share what they know and help push and motivate you. I was very fortunate to have connected with fellow surface pattern designer, Nicole Tamarin. She provided invaluable insight when I was just getting started and was a sounding board for many of the questions I had.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Sarah B. story. Tell us more about the business.
My art practice is divided into two slightly overlapping fields, I am a printmaker and I am a surface pattern designer.
As a printmaker, I block or screen print my designs, mostly on a fabric which I then cut and sew into small accessories, bags and table linens. I sell these products online or at local shows/fairs around New England.
As a pattern designer, I create original surface designs that are sold or licensed to larger brands. Those patterns are applied to a host of different products such as wallpaper, gift wrap, fabric, stationary and small gifts.
For both practices, my process initially starts out the same way. I begin with an overall theme I want to explore and do some research online about the subject matter. I then like to take my own photographs, or if that is not possible, find images which I can reference for inspiration. I love using Pinterest for this. While I will sketch out some rough ideas in pencil, most of my actual pattern work is done digitally. I work mostly in Illustrator and occasionally in Photoshop. I recently purchased an iPad Pro and I am loving what it has done for my workflow. It’s a huge time saver.
If I am not creating a pattern to license, but rather it is something I want to block or screen print, I will not work digitally at all. I work out the pattern repeat manually by test printing on paper. Only after I have worked out all the nuances of the design will I then print on fabric.
What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
I have not experienced any barriers to my own growth as an artist because I am female. In fact, I find it to be just the opposite. The vast majority of other makers I meet at various shows and fairs are women like myself who have decided to be their own boss. I have found great support among the many small women business owners in my circle. Each wants to help support the other, not only is it the right thing to do but it helps us all as a community. When women stand together we are as a whole that much stronger.