Feature Life

What’s On My Desk: Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones outside her painting studio on Germain Street in uptown Saint John. Image: Lise Hansen/Huddle Today

Saint John-based artist Sarah Jones has managed to make art her business.

Her space, Jones Gallery in uptown Saint John, has made a name for itself for not only by being super tiny but housing Jones’ original works that capture both the Port City’s grittiness and beauty.

But Jones also has a studio close by where she can focus solely on painting new work. We paid her a visit there to see where all the creativity happens:

Image: Lise Hansen/Huddle Today

Can you describe your workspace?

It’s kind of a rough studio space. It’s fairly large. It’s on the top floor of the Masonic Temple building on Germain Street. It faces East, so it has good morning light. It’s probably a little bigger than what I need. It’s the first space that I’ve had room to actually spread out and have multiple work stations, but it’s good for me. I paint with oil paint mostly, so I need space for it to spread out and dry. It takes about two or three weeks to dry each little layer so it’s the first time I’ve had room for that.

Why did you choose this place?

I was getting to the point where I did need to separate the gallery and the studio. The building where my gallery is is only 10 ft by 20 ft, so I was working out of that space and it was just not conducive to what I needed to do. So it was kind of the basic need of having more physical space. My brother now runs the gallery for me so I actually could for the first time separate studio and gallery.

This space is just very isolated, people leave me alone … I was in another space for a short period of time that I’d cringe every time I’d spill a little bit of paint on the floor. It was just too nice. This was just a storage space before I came along, so I can exist as an artist in this space and feel comfortable. It was rough when I got here, so it’s perfect. There’s no tension, so it’s really great like that.

Did you put time or effort into making your studio the way it is?

Well, I repainted it. I just painted it all white. It’s pretty utilitarian, as you can see. It’s kind of rough around the edges. It’s messy work that I’m doing, so I can’t have anything too nice in this workspace. A lot of the furniture is cobbled together bits and pieces, but it’s stuff I can get grimy and destroy.

There’s not a lot of design thought as you can see. It’s more just function. So my workspace, where I do all the painting, I just find it has the best light in the room. So I do all my painting work there and everything else is kind of various stations and storage.

What kind of work do you do here?

I’m really interested in urban and industrial landscape, so my work rotates around that idea. It’s mostly Saint John landscapes, think of stuff like the harbour. I spend a lot of time at Courtney Bay, the Potash terminal, tankers, that kind of thing. But I also paint [cities]. There are certain aspects of any city I find really interesting, so I spend a lot of time in Halifax and I just did a show in Fredericton, so a lot of back alleys in Fredericton.

I paint a lot with pallet knives, so it’s kind of a loose interpretation of the landscape. You can always pick up elements, but it’s certainly not a realistic interpretation. It’s a thick application of the paint. I paint on board and canvas. I use oil paint but there’s some mixed media stuff as well.

What kinds of things do you surround yourself with to keep you productive?

I like plants. As you can see I have a lot of plants kicking around. It kind of gives me something to go fiddle with, because it’s really hard work. Running out of steam by the middle of the afternoon, it’s really mentally draining. It takes a really high level of concentration. Sometimes I just need a break to wander off and I fiddle with the plants for a while.

I have a little cot, so I do have naps sometimes. Sometimes there are long hours, so you’ve got to have that. I’m a napper. I drink a lot of tea, so I have a little tea station.

Is there anything that you can’t have around?

I’m getting to the point now where I can’t have a lot of noise or distractions. Kind of like Bob [Boyce], I would say people. I used to have an open studio concept when I was first opened on Germain Street. Anybody could come in and talk to me while I was working, but it’s getting to the point now that I’ve got to get this stuff done so I would like to have silence and no interruptions.

Also, can’t have an internet signal. I try to disengage. I have data on my phone that I chew through in three days. I try to put my phone away and do the work. Otherwise, I’ll doddle.

What’s your favourite thing in your workspace?

I listen to audiobooks when I paint … so I have an Audible subscription. I find I have like eight hours to listen, so I can chomp through really long books that I would never read. Having this kind of space allows me to do that now where I am not open to the public. I can just work and settle in for long stretches of time.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.