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Posts Tagged ‘singer songwriter’

Lightning Round with Sarah Hallman

July 15th, 2009

For any Ottawan who’s into art, crafts or music, it would be tough not to have crossed paths with the multi-talented Sarah Hallman at some point — whether at a craft show, art exhibit or live performance. Sarah and I both took part in the Word Up group show I posted about, so I took the opportunity to ask her if she’d be my latest Lightning Round victim… lucky for me, she agreed!

photo by Andrew Carver

1. You’re a renaissance woman… when someone asks “What do you do?”, how do you answer?
Well, I’d say, I do a variety of things, and that I enjoy that variety. I am a visual artist and my primary media are printmaking, stained glass, and textiles. I also am a songwriter who performs every now and then, and I am close to releasing my 3rd cd.  The more regular side of my life involves working part time as an early childhood educator — I run a preschool playgroup in the mornings during the week.

2. Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in Ottawa?
I grew up in the Foreign Service. Lived in Hungary, Norway, Malaysia, Korea, and Canada. Ottawa was always a sort of home base for my family between postings. I have now lived in Ottawa for over 5 years, which is the longest I have lived anywhere. I have come to appreciate the community that grows around you when you stay in one spot.  I spent time in Montreal and the Toronto area (studying visual arts and design) and I suppose Ottawa is still a home base for me. I’m trying to learn what it means to grow roots, resisting an ongoing temptation and urge I have to get up and start over somewhere new. I do like living in Ottawa and I appreciate the support system I have here. I also like the set up I have here — I spend most of my time at home, working in my home studio, or… at least thinking about working in it, knowing that it is accessible. I have worked towards living this way for a long time.

3. Chocolate or vanilla?
Today chocolate, yesterday vanilla. Variety is good.

4. Ideal lazy Sunday?
I haven’t felt lazy in a while. How about a calm day? That would involve having wide-open time to make of it what I want.  I always feel better when I am able to be creative and productive, as most people do I’m sure.  So yeah, there would be sun and I would sit in it to ease into the day at not too early an hour.  I would exercise just enough to not feel like a blob. I would talk enough to not feel that I am disconnected – from myself and from others. And I would use my hands to make something that needs to be made and/or something that I can be proud of.

5. What are you most proud of right now?
The cd I just finished. It took a long time.

6. How and where did you learn to do art and music?
I got into visual arts more seriously at university. Studied at Concordia University right after high school. Spent 3 years there, which furthered my interest in printmaking and introduced me to textile arts. I felt that 3 years was too short a time to really immerse myself in those interests – I was only there long enough to realize what I wanted to become more familiar with. A few years later, after learning as much as I could independently, I took one year of design at Sheridan College. I needed to delve further into my creative side – to get to know it more, and to test it. It was also an appealing idea to be in an environment where I was surrounded by others who had similar interests.  That year really helped me to define what it is that I like to do, and where my strengths lie, and it gave me confidence in my abilities.

Stained glass is something that I began working with more after my year at Sheridan College – it wasn’t something that I learned the techniques of formally, other than through helpful people at a local glass store.  I have always been drawn to glass and found it an exciting medium to apply my own sense of design an colour that I have become familiar with over the years.

Music? Well, I played piano and trumpet growing up. Got in touch with my singing voice and how to harmonize etc through my mom and through choirs. I taught myself guitar on my own in my late teens. Started to navigate my way around songwriting while I was in university. I have always written things out to feel clearer and more grounded – so I had lots of words, phrases and feelings to match up to notes, melodies and…songs.
7. Happiest kid memory?
There are many – how about drawing with lake water on a hot dock on Browning Island.

8. How do you decide what to work on, on any given day?
Unless I have a show coming up, and I am working under a deadline, I am usually pretty intuitive about what I choose to do on a given day. I’ll just do what I feel or what I need. I generally use some kind of deadline to get me going though. I’m still working on disciplining myself to create my own deadlines. I figure I’ll always be working on that to some extent. I work well under pressure – especially when it comes to visual artwork. It takes a little to work up to but once I’m prepared with my materials, I just immerse myself in a given project and go with it.

Songwriting is more of a moody practice for me – it is linked more to my emotions and is a temperamental process. Meaning I can’t usually just pick up my guitar any old time and get something done. I am at the mercy of a delicate something else, which can be mysterious and magical.. and also a little frustrating. I am also more self-critical when it comes to my songs for the most part, so I have to be ready to contend with, or maybe I should say accept, some inner battles that rear up.

9. Who or what is your muse?
Emotion that I don’t know how to express in words. Also, colour.

10. What is your kryptonite?
Well, I’m going to have to go with — my own doubts… that self- criticism that I just mentioned. It does get in the way sometimes. I don’t want it to seem like I am constantly doubting myself and my efforts, because I’m actually finally feeling pretty genuinely confident in my abilities. It’s just that when I think of some definite outside force that could make me weak, or that could prevent me using my strengths, I think of how much easier it is to turn something like that off (like, say, the distraction of a television) than my own inner critique.

11. Reviews about your music use words like “world-weary”, “a veritable attic of old sounds”, “worn-in”… Thoughts?
I feel worn in, weary and old a lot of the time. I suppose that translates.

12. Who are your influences (artistically and/or musically)?
Artistically, I think over time, that I have been mostly influenced here and there by real live people who I have met, whose work I have seen. There is nothing like having seen something made by someone you know, and to hear their description of making whatever it is, to realize that it can be done. Another influence is children’s art. I sit and do crafts with young children daily — that has got to be an influence and a good one at that. Their inhibition is refreshing and a constant reminder to throw away barriers when approaching something new.  I tend to store visuals in my head for a quite a while without really noticing that I have – anything from colour combinations to the quality of a line, or an overall approach of a work, and they come out through the filter of me. Art history wise, I’m very drawn to the detail, space, colour and whimsy of the work of Paul Klee and Hundertwasser.

Musically, well there are a lot of influences and inspirations. There are songwriters/bands that pop into mind spanning from when I first began to write songs, way back when, to more currently: Red house Painters, Idaho, Lori Carson, Juliana Hatfield, Damien Jurado, Seam, Julie Doiron, Ida, Snailhouse, Sparklehorse, the Posies, The Grays, Great Aunt Ida, Shannon Wright….

These aren’t so much direct influences on my own music, or song aesthetic, they serve more as inspiration… listening to their songs have made me feel like writing music, or singing, or even performing.

13. Early riser or night owl?
Night owl perplexed by/in awe of early risers.

14. You recently got your own printing press; can you tell us a little about it and the work you do with it?
So I decided to buy a printing press (aka an etching press) this year. It has been over 15 years since I took my first printmaking class at the Ottawa school of art. I figured that at this point in my life, I could trust my work ethic enough to know that if I had a press I would put it to good use. I was finding that arranging to rent studio space to do my printmaking, and the logistics of doing so was a hindrance to getting prints made. After much research (I don’t know many people who have bought a press..hardly knew where to start), I found one I liked and with some help from family with wheels and friends with muscles, got it to my doorstep, then up to my studio (it weighs over 200 pounds!). I can print up to 22”X30” on it which allows for quite a large print.
So far I have been using it to make monoprints — printing off of plexiglass and glass plates. Presses are traditionally used more for making editions of the same print. Ironically, I’m using it for the painterly, non-reproducible stage of my prints. There is an element of surprise that the press creates that I find really exciting. I never really know what the press will do with the plates that I have prepared, which involves a bit of risk and giving up some control to the pressure of the rollers. It is a tool that so far has been a good investment for me.  I can see the potential of using it as a teaching tool as well at some point.
I highly recommend buying a printing press.
15. What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
I’m rrrreally not sure.  Sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth.

16. Any artists or musicians you think we should know about?
Alex Cairncross’ photography
Matt Ouimet’s songs
Ian Roy’s literature, videos
Andrea Stokes’ textiles, design+ fine art
Gianna Lauren’s songs
Mariana Lafrance’s photography
Amelie Proulx’s printmaking
Dave Gaudet’s songs

17. If you could collaborate with any musician (alive or dead), who would it be?
To sing with Mark Kozelek would do.

18. If you had to choose just one, which out of all the media work in is your favourite, and why?
Oh… can’t choose one over the other. They all have their own qualities:

  • Glass and textiles – predictably satisfying, technically formal
  • Printmaking – satisfying in its unpredictability, spontaneous, controlled lack of control
  • Songwriting/singing – mysterious, expressive, detached

19. What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from being your own boss?
Though still in progress… time management. Also, prioritizing.

20. Finish this sentence: “I am…”


Fellow Ottawans, you can support Sarah at these upcoming events:

Everyone else, take a look and have a listen online.

Thanks Sarah — I look forward to more path-crossings with you and your inspiring work!

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