In the Eye of the Brown Paper Blogger

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It’s been just a little over a year since MICA grad student and art connoisseur Sara Barnes, 25, launched Brown Paper Bag, her five-day-a-week blog through which she introduces visitors to exceptional artists, in Baltimore and beyond. Today the blog, which emphasizes works on paper, lands an impressive 10,000 unique visitors a month, providing a fresh perspective on people, trends and aesthetics in the art world, local and national. We count on its electric eclectic images–Sara’s eye is impeccable, her taste extremely diverse–to wake up a humdrum day. The Kansas City, Missouri, native, who relocated to Baltimore to pursue her BFA at MICA, will begin her MFA studies in illustration at MICA this fall, while maintaining her downtown office job. We caught up with the Seton Hill resident, to learn more about the art that excites her right now, and why, by the way, she calls her beautiful blog Brown Paper Bag.

Tell us about the name!

I decided on the name Brown Paper Bag because I had more or less intended the blog to feature works on paper (but be open for interpretation), and I thought that the brown paper bag is both ubiquitous but also had the possibility to be unique and used creatively.

Why did you start Brown Paper Bag?

I kept a personal blog for about a year, dedicating one day a week to showcasing an artist who I enjoyed. That one day of the week quickly became my favorite, and it made me more interested in writing a blog that was less personal and more about art.  At the time, I had just finished taking an HTML/CSS class at the University of Baltimore. My idea for the blog coupled with my newfound web knowledge gave me the confidence to design and write my own blog.

What is your art background?
 
I have my BFA in Illustration from MICA. This fall I will be returning to MICA to obtain my MFA in Illustration Practice. (The inaugural class!)

How would you define your taste/aesthetic?

That’s something I am constantly trying to figure out, and it’s always changing! I would say that currently, I am enjoying work that has some inherent joke or humor in it, or doesn’t take itself too seriously. I like work that is a little unpredictable, in both style and content, and most notably I am drawn to a hand-crafted aesthetic that favors some combination of abstraction and realism.

What is your goal with the blog now and later?

The immediate goal for my blog is to continue to make it more collaborative and Baltimore-centric. I’d like to spend the rest of this summer talking to more local artists and visiting their studios, and also working with artists not local to me (through mail art, email interviews, etc.). Later, my goal is to not only introduce my audience to new artists, but to educate them, and support local emerging artists. …I think that the MFA program I am about to enter (MFA Illustration Practice) will really foster this.

How do you find such great artists to share every weekday?

It’s a combination of clicking on the internet. Artist websites and Flickr are really what have paid off for me in the past–it is a great way to discover like-minded cohorts. Tumblr is something I’ve started using with a bit more frequency–many artists post new work this way–and Pinterest, a visual bookmarking system.

What percentage of your artists are local?

I think there are about five posts a month dedicated to Baltimore artists and events. With Baltimore artists, I like to meet the artist, which can be tricky scheduling-wise. I have a Flickr account associated with my blog that I update with Baltimore art events that I attend.

Has your blog helped anyone sell pieces or get a show?

I can’t say anyone for sure, but I do know that my blog has helped artists become noticed by sites that might be interested in selling their work, and at the very least puts them on a radar to other bloggers or galleries.  

What is the most challenging aspect of keeping a dynamic daily blog?

I second guess myself a lot. Since I am posting at least twice a day, I am constantly checking myself to make sure I am posting quality over quantity. I also receive a lot of email submissions. Because of the volume, I am often not able to read all of them until later.

Tell us about a couple of artists you’ve promoted with training and without.

An artist that I recently featured (with training) was Steven Riddle. He’s a Baltimore-based artist, got his undergrad degree at MICA, and is now getting his MFA at Towson University. I visited his studio and fell even more in love with his work after seeing his large collage pieces in person. Currently, his new works are a take on still life–flowers in vases, etc. With my art history-themed post, Time Travel Tuesday, I often promote artists without training. One such artist is the infamous Henri Rousseau, a painter working in the early early 20th century. I’ve always been in love with his jungle scenes, and like to remind readers where modern day aesthetics might sprout.

Who are you most excited about this very week?!

This very week? The week is still young, but I recently finished a project with Canadian artist, Jessica Bell. She participated in my collaborative interview, Art Together, so I am excited to talk to her about it and get her perspective on our project. She creates beautiful collaged works.

As an artist, what are you working on just now?

Lately, I’ve been interested in the idea of building a society, creating systems, and/or designing a world. Over the past year I’ve been sewing, and since the spring have been embroidering all of my pieces. Normally, I work in a combination of paper and sewing to create a layered and slightly 3D effect.

What does the blog do for your own creativity?

I see so many different images and types of art on a daily basis that it’s constantly inspiring me to create and push the envelopes of my own work. It’s amazing how quickly I can tire of a trend after seeing so many artists create work in the same vein. I think observing this is very valuable. 

 



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