Interview with self-love artist, Sarah Williams!
Today we are joined by Sarah Williams, a self-love artist who is striving to empower individuals and disrupt society via her varied range of nude body positive artwork. Although Sarah’s return to the arts scene was slightly unexpected, the canvas has become the perfect medium through which she can promote the body inclusivity and self-love causes – and our in-depth conversation explores exactly why these topics are such important drivers behind the artist’s inspiring work.
Britain Uncovered: Hi Sarah! Thank you for joining us, and we’re very excited to hear about your work as an artist along with some of your thoughts and feelings on body confidence and self-love!
To kick things off, it would be great to hear a little bit about your beginnings as an artist. You noted on Instagram that you studied art at school but found it somewhat restrictive – but could you perhaps elaborate on some of the elements you did and didn’t enjoy about some of these early experiences please?
Sarah: Well, where should I begin? I guess you could say I didn’t really start creating ‘art’ until I took Fine Art at GCSE (well, unless you count my iconic sketches of Zac Efron from when I was 10). GCSE art was all about understanding shading, various colour palettes and different mediums and, as much as I hated sketching apples over and over again, it was actually pretty useful to understand your basics such as the importance of contrast and depth (basically lots of highlights and shading).
A Level Fine Art, on the other hand, was an absolute whirlwind of stress, never-ending deadlines, the occasional tears, and I guess not taking my 10-hour art exams seriously enough. I attempted some portraiture which, looking back now, wasn’t my finest work; and for my A2, I focused on feathers and crystal cut glass. This was somewhat restrictive as I didn’t actually pick either of these topics – I was more pushed into them after my teacher shot down all my previous suggestions. Whilst I resented him for this, I guess it paid off because I owe him a whole lot for where I am today and I was incredibly chuffed with my final piece.
Throughout all my years studying art I had a love for bright, bold colours, splats, drips and obvious brushstrokes. I admired the combination of abstract and realism, and this can definitely be seen in my painting style today.
I suppose, I took for granted the range of materials and supplies I had at my disposal during A Levels. I tried out so many different techniques and mediums and I am desperate to try some of them again, but with the freedom to create what I want. Hopefully I will be able to introduce printmaking techniques such as etching and screen printing into my work in the near future.
Britain Uncovered: When you ultimately returned to it several years later, are we right in thinking that you were primarily motivated by your passion for all things self-love and body confidence – and that the art was almost of secondary concern, to an extent? If so, would you say that your love of art has grown in the time since?
Sarah: Yes, when I started university, I was convinced I would never pick up a paint brush again.
Whilst studying my Masters in Entrepreneurship and Business Creation, I had a business idea which I used in relation to all of my assessments which was heavily focused on self-love, body confidence, inclusivity and accessible support for people with body image issues and disordered eating tendencies. However, when COVID-19 lockdowns started, my mental health suffered considerably and this was massively reflected on my assessment results – therefore, I decided to defer the second half of my MSc to the following year.
So, I was at a bit of a loss during this deferral. I have always been incredibly passionate about self-love and encouraging others to realise their self-worth, because this is something I have struggled with for many years. So, I have long desired to provide support to those struggling with body image, confidence or identity issues, yet I realised that my aforementioned business idea was only something I could pursue a lot later in my life due to lack of qualifications and funding.
It was at this point I found Sophie Tea’s live painting class and decided, ‘What have I got to lose’? After following the class, I posted a picture of the piece of artwork on my Snapchat, and the response was incredible and unexpected. I had so many people asking if they could buy it or if I could paint them one. This, I suppose, was my eureka moment. I realised I could combine my creative mind with my business mind and actually empower people and make a difference like I had set out to do at the start of my Masters.
I even went on to submit a 16,000-word business plan for Sarah Williams Art and I have now completed my MSc with a distinction and my own business!
Britain Uncovered: As you referenced above, you were quite inspired by the work of Sophie Tea, and the artist’s virtual painting class was instrumental in encouraging you to return to art. What were some of the most important takeaways and/or things you learned from the class?
Sarah: Sophie taught me to be confident when painting. I hadn’t used acrylic paint before, but she explained that it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake – throw some white paint on it and start that section again. The great thing about acrylic is it dries quickly and you can just paint layer after layer on top, which provides great depth and texture in your artwork.
Sophie seemed so brave when she was painting in her live class. She was practically throwing paint at her canvas with what seemed like no doubt and heaps of conviction, and this was incredibly inspiring. I realise now that she wasn’t brave, she was just confident in her own ability!
Britain Uncovered: Having seen Sophie’s work and used this influence to kickstart your own artistic endeavours, what are some of the key themes and messages you’re seeking to relay through your art – and in what ways does your art compare and contrast from the type of paintings Sophie’s renowned for?
Sarah: First and foremost, I want to empower individuals. I want them to be proud of where they are in their lives, what their amazing bodies can do and how, and that when we break down societal stigmas, we are all deserving of self-love.
Secondly, whilst Sophie is renowned for celebrating the female form and championing body diversity through her artwork, I want to go that one step further and use my platform to share informative content, start necessary conversations, promote inclusivity, raise awareness of issues such as eating disorders, sexual exploitation and discriminatory behaviours, and break the stigma of what is incorrectly deemed a ‘normal body’.
Britain Uncovered: Overall, why do you feel that the canvas is the best medium for you to help promote body inclusivity and all the other important movements you’re raising awareness of?
Sarah: Artwork is crucial and seen in all aspects of life. It can be used to create a thriving society with expression and emotion and can ultimately shape an individual. Therefore, consuming art is essential for one’s mental well-being and allows one to truly understand themselves – and what better way to achieve this than consuming art where you, or others alike, are the subject matter.
So, by creating art that disrupts societal norms and strives to include all bodies; fat, thin, disabled, pregnant, gay, transgender and so on, we can show-off these stereotypical imperfect bodies and spark conversations of discriminatory problems associated with various ‘imperfections’ such as; scars, stretch marks, stoma bags, fat bodies, birth defects and skin conditions. Thus, the aim of these conversations is to increase body inclusivity, empower individuals and decrease discrimination.
Britain Uncovered: Stepping away from your art for a moment, it would be really interesting to hear about some of the factors that led you to becoming so passionate about self-love and body inclusivity to begin with. Have these issues always held an important place in your heart, and at what point did you decide that you wanted to help empower people about the way they feel about their bodies?
Sarah: For as long as I can remember, growing up I was always referred to as the ‘fat kid’: I was the child crying in changing rooms because my clothes wouldn’t fit; I was the child who never participated in swimming at school due to the shame of what I looked like; I was the 10-year old who wrote in her diary that her one wish would be “to be skinnier”; I was the teenager who wrongly projected feelings of myself onto others and was thus seen as a bully or a bitch; I was the teenager who bought into diet culture and as a result, developed a binge eating disorder whilst also suffering from body dysmorphia; and I was a young 20-year old who found validation in toxic relationships and resorted to drinking every weekend.
Growing up, I had very little idea of who I was. I was confused and lost and hated myself. I believed my sole purpose in life was to look a certain way and do everything in my power to achieve this, and when I failed, I would feel miserable and beat myself up for days. It was a never-ending cycle.
The environment I was in and the people I surrounded myself with only made things worse. Some of my family and friends suffer from incredibly low self-esteem and unfortunately, this was negatively projected onto me throughout my life. These people lack understanding and awareness and so, as a result, can be body exclusive and discriminatory towards others.
The number of years I wasted hating myself partly as a result of self-destructive behaviours, but also, the impact of a negative environment, created a burning desire in me to help others. I want people to realise their true worth, I want to educate and inform others as to why this is so important, and I want to stop others wasting their years like I did. We should be proud of who we are. We are more than just the way we look, we a more than our sexuality, and we are more than our physical ability. We deserve to love ourselves.
Britain Uncovered: How would you describe your own body confidence journey through the years, and is this something that you have had to work at – or have you always considered yourself to be confident and at ease in this regard? Do you think that your self-perspective has changed or improved since becoming an artist of the empowering nude paintings you’re now renowned for?
Sarah: In the last year or so, my body confidence and self-love journey has definitely improved. I have stopped obsessing over what I weigh or how many calories I consume. I have started to celebrate the days I don’t hate my body, but I also accept that there will be days I don’t love the way I look and that is okay.
I am more aware that negative comments are a representation of the person saying them, not the person they are about, and so people’s opinions rarely affect me. Any anger I may have towards an exclusive society or discriminatory people I utilise by creating informative and educational content or having necessary conversations. I regularly remind myself that when I’ll look back on my life, I won’t remember what I looked like; I will remember the memories I made, the things I achieved and the amazing people I was with.
In terms of my body confidence, I don’t believe my self-perspective has changed much since I started my art business. However, I have developed a proactive attitude of not dwelling on negative comments or surrounding myself with toxic people, both online and offline. When possible, I choose to only keep positive and supportive people in my life.
I do believe this has played a part in my still-growing confidence in my ability to create artwork, to raise awareness and support others. It has become clear to me since starting my business that I suffer from imposter syndrome, so I do somewhat relish the positive comments and supportive feedback from my clients and peers. I am trying to work on not relying on these comments, since I shouldn’t need this external validation and I should be confident in my own ability, but it is still a good feeling knowing what you set out to do in your business you are actually achieving. It definitely encourages me to work even harder and not let that self-doubt take over.
Britain Uncovered: In your quest to normalise normal bodies, you occasionally post ‘raw and real’ photos of yourself to encourage people to love and embrace their bodies exactly as they are, which is such an important notion. How does it feel to put these types of posts out there, and what kind of feedback have you had to them? Do you sometimes find it difficult posting unfiltered and unposed images of yourself like this?
Sarah: A few years ago, I would never have shared images of myself like that, because I cared way too much about what people thought of me and I was overly negative towards myself. Any photos I would take of myself would be extremely posed, involve flattering lighting and would be deleted if it didn’t meet the societal standards I held myself to.
To be honest, I probably took hundreds of photos and only kept one (if I was lucky), and for a few years of my life I didn’t take any photos of myself, through fear of what other people would say or what I would think. I had begun to hold myself to this unrealistic body image standard seen in these highly selective photos, which meant when I saw myself in the mirror or when a friend took a photo of me, I was ashamed and I hated myself.
This is why I believe it is so important to take time to accept and appreciate the raw and real photos of yourself. If that is too difficult, then try not to dwell on what you look like in the photo but instead what you are doing. Are you laughing and enjoying yourself with your friends? If so, these are moments to be cherished; not deleted because you didn’t look a certain way.
I don’t find it difficult posting these images now, I find it highly empowering. It shows how far I have come and how little negative opinions matter to me. I am proud of who I am, posed, unposed, raw and real, and I want to inspire other people to feel this way too. I also see my Sarah Williams Art profile as a safe place to post these images as I have worked hard to create a community, rid of toxic people and full of supportive people.
Britain Uncovered: How important do you think body confidence is in relation to mental health, and do you think that social nudity experiences, and accepting your body naked, can make a positive impact?
Sarah: I believe low body confidence and low self-esteem are highly causational to poor mental health. Having a negative view towards our body image can make us feel anxious or depressed and can even lead to suicidal thoughts or eating disorders.
Therefore, accepting your body naked is crucial to benefit your mental health. Whether this is achieved by complimenting yourself in the mirror, feeling comfortable naked in front of a partner, or by commissioning a naked painting, this will allow individuals to feel proud of their bodies and see the true beauty and worth of their body, ‘flaws’ and all.
Britain Uncovered: Is diversity and representation a really important part of your art, and if so, how do you go about conveying this in each of your pieces? Do you feel as though those in minority groups have a particularly difficult time with regards to body confidence, and is this something that you’re especially keen to help with?
Sarah: Diversity and representation play a significant role in my personal and business values and is something I aim to portray throughout my content and artwork. I want to ensure all people feel seen, safe and empowered through my work and I want to develop my art portfolio to include a range of bodies that don’t come under traditional exclusive ‘beauty standards’.
Representing and empowering minorities is something I am particularly focused on, since I identify as a minority and so do more than 25% of my following. I am also aware that certain groups such as women and minorities are much more likely to suffer from negative body image as a result of oppression or discrimination.
To elaborate, sexual minorities experience intense pressures to conform to heteronormative beauty standards whilst they contradictorily view their physical appearance as critical to their sense of self. Additionally, gender minorities struggle with body dissatisfaction and have body image concerns that may lead to increased body surveillance, disordered eating, idealisation and victimisation.
Finally, females who have been sexually abused are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and increased self-consciousness. Therefore, representing these minorities in my artwork is of the utmost importance, as they deserve to feel empowered and supported and this is an issue incredibly close to my heart.
Britain Uncovered: What are some of your greatest success stories as an artist, and which piece (or pieces) do you feel best represent what it is you’re trying to achieve with your art? Is there a commission piece that was particularly well-received and helped someone view themselves in a more positive light, for instance?
Sarah: I have recently only just started creating commissions from personal reference images, since I wanted to make sure my artistic ability was up to a standard where I could portray people accurately and in a way that made them feel truly empowered. Therefore, I am yet to have a great success story.
However, my first personal commission I received was actually a set of three, so the pressure was on, and I couldn’t be happier with how well they were received. When the client sent me her reference photos she raised a few body image insecurities she had – but when she saw the final pieces, she had nothing but praise to say for the artwork. I reminded her how these were painted from images of herself and that the praise she was giving were compliments of herself. This was when I truly realised that I could make a positive impact with my artwork and really empower people to love themselves.
The client later informed me that she is an adult entertainer/dancer, a profession that is renowned for sexual exploitation, discrimination and sexual abuse. I couldn’t have felt more proud of her for disrupting societal norms, for choosing to champion her body in a piece of artwork that’s not for anyone else but her. She deserves to feel empowered and I am so glad I could support her and help her realise how amazing she is.
Britain Uncovered: Finally, what does the future hold, and how would you like to continue to promote self-love, body inclusivity and all the other really important notions that we’ve touched upon during our conversation?
Sarah: I would love to have the perfect answer for this question and a set 10-year plan, and I’m sure many people will believe I do have a set plan since I am known for being overly organised and a slight control freak.
However, I have this ongoing internal battle in my head where I want to achieve so many things. I want to take on the world and make it a better place and to do that I need to achieve X, Y and Z, but I also want to enjoy where I am in life at the moment, take every day as it comes and appreciate what I have achieved so far.
So in short, the future could include merchandise, an in-house SWA counsellor, exhibitions, digital artwork, shows/live events, an SWA gallery, or a global enterprise… who knows. Let’s just say, I am bloody excited for the future and I will never stop trying to promote self-love and body inclusivity.
To see more of Sarah’s work and to keep tabs on her progress in the arts, be sure to find the artist on Instagram over at @sarahwilliamsart. You can also get in touch with Sarah via this channel to buy her artwork and to arrange your own commission.