Artist Otherwise Known As… Sarah Weiser ’17

Sophie Weiser '17 is developing her artistic style through sketching and quick but precise portraits. Jerry Li/Photo Editor
Sophie Weiser ’17 is developing her artistic style through sketching and quick but precise portraits. Jerry Li/Photo Editor

Sarah Weiser ’17 is an artist – although if you ask her about it, she might beg to disagree. “I wouldn’t really describe myself as an artist as much as I would describe myself as a sketcher,” she said. “When I try to do art and sit down for a really long time and make something, that’s really difficult for me.” (Before you take her at her word, note that Claude Monet’s now-famous oil paintings of water lilies and sunsets were originally passed off by art critics as mere unfinished sketches after he churned them out.) “When I’m fast and it’s quick and I don’t think too much about it, that’s when I make the stuff I really enjoy,” she said of her art, touching on what became the foundation of the style of the impressionist movement.

Also like the impressionist greats, Weiser is particularly interested in capturing an impression of the subjects she sketches. “I think of beauty as being a moment and I like capturing [that] moment,” she said. “I like drawing or painting things that I think are beautiful.” This tendency to be moved by the beauty of the world around her has led Weiser to create a number of extremely realistic drawings and paintings that look as if they could leap right off the page.

Weiser is a natural artist who says she started out as an infant “making smiley faces out of Cheerios” in her high chair. She developed her talent by taking formal classes and spending a summer at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in her hometown of Philadelphia, Penn. The intensive time commitments of the class certainly show in an acrylic painting of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row that she completed at PAFA. However, since then she has recognized that her best work isn’t created in a rigorous academic setting.

Two of Weiser’s strongest skills are her economy – the ability to depict a lot of information in a picture using as few lines or brushstrokes as possible – and speed, which combine to make a deadly (in the best possible way) combination. These traits are best exemplified in her more recent works, particularly in a vibrant watercolor painting of Williamstown’s First Congregational Church on a sunny fall day. At first glance, the scene seems to have been executed with precise accuracy, depicting every detail right down to individual leaves on the autumn-hued trees. But instead of drawing a tiny line for each rib of the church’s fluted columns and white-painted siding, Weiser focused on the major planes of the church’s exterior, shading to provide the illusion of volume. The result was that her quick sketch of the church appears to contain as much detail as her painting of Boathouse Row, while the church was painted more freely and joyfully.

Weiser’s skills also come together beautifully in a stunning portrait series that she began this year. With nothing but black watercolor paint, some touches of colored pencil and a strong light source, Weiser has created portraits of many of her close friends at the College. These portraits also reveal her skill in capturing the likenesses of her subjects, which is often the trickiest aspect of portraiture to master. Her sketch of Quentin Cohan ’17, for example, is immediately recognizable in its accuracy. Each of the portraits in her series were created in merely an hour.

For Weiser, time itself seems to be not a continuous stream but a series of fleeting moments, whether she experiences them herself or they occur in a more distant time and place. Along with capturing beautiful impressions of nature and the characteristic expressions of her friends, each moment preserved by her past sketches and paintings is an entry in a visual diary of sorts that show how she has changed. “I [can] look back on art I did in the summer and say, ‘That’s not how I would do it now,’” Weiser said. “It’s kind of like a marker of my own psychology.” Her interest in studying development over time is also a driving force of her intellectual life. A prospective history and Russian double major, Weiser is fascinated by the effects of political turmoil on Russian avant-garde art. “Some of the greatest art I’ve seen comes from late imperial Russia, because every weird thing you can imagine that people would believe or think about art just burst onto the scene all at once,” she said, also citing her admiration for the abstract Russian artist Wassily Kandinski.

While even her quickest works appear to be meticulous and accurate, in the future Weiser hopes to discover a distinctive personal style. “I really want my style to loosen,” she said. “I want to be able to draw people with marks on the page that are very quickly and decisively put down instead of very carefully shaded. I think the best kind of art is kind of slashed onto the page in a way, or put on in a kind of frenzy, so hopefully I learn to do that.”

While her work may not be displayed in any formal shows this semester, you can bet that Weiser will be continuing to sketch at her own quick, fleeting pace. And judging by the beauty she’s been able to capture so accurately thus far, she is most certainly well on her way to developing a unique style that is hers alone.