Ram of the Week: Sarah Grogan

Ram of the Week: Sarah Grogan

Sarah Grogan sits across from me in the Harriton lobby with a straight back and arms gently folded across her lap—it is clear from her posture that Sarah was once a ballerina. We settle into our interview, and Sarah reveals a timid smile as I begin to question.

Grogan is distinguished from her Junior classmates not only as an artist but also as a flute player and a fashionista. From a young age, Sarah has had an affinity for painting, and she began to take art to another level when entering high school.

She is equally dedicated in both her musical and artistic practices; not only has Sarah become a master of the flute, but she also practices the guitar as a hobby.

On a day-to-day basis, once her school work is over, Grogan usually “spends the rest of the day until [she] goes to sleep working on art… some days the focus will be on photography, other days on practicing [her] instruments, and days when [she] will just focus on painting and sketching.”

Grogan’s creations are not limited to the canvas. She turned her garage into an art studio in 2017, reflecting, “I just wanted to have some inspiration so I could go inside feeling really [motivated]… the walls are all white and bright [for this reason] … it is such a space for me. It is a breath of fresh air, especially when I am really stressed about school. I am more of an introvert, and I get anxious when I am surrounded by people for a long period of time. This [studio] is a way of coming in, where I can just focus on the work.”

Her passion for painting is evident as we converse about her style: “Almost all of my work is figurative. I do a lot of portraits, especially females. A lot of my art is a strong emphasis on showing females in a very beautiful way, working with contrast and having a realistic face alongside more abstract and experimental backgrounds and working with bright colors.”

I wonder aloud if art has sparked an interest for Sarah somewhere out of the blue or if it has simply grown on her from a young age.

She tells me, “It definitely accumulated over time. I have been doing art since elementary school. I got serious about it in ninth grade, and that summer I began oil painting. Before then, I was [practicing ballet]. Art was always there, and it was my favorite subject in school. Since oil painting [takes] a lot longer to complete – a couple of weeks – that is when I fully committed myself because I really enjoyed doing it. Taking an oil painting class that summer was [definitely] a trigger.”

Sarah mentions that she practices her craft at least two hours a day, and eight hours a week in both music and painting, mostly practicing on the weekends. As a junior, her schedule seems overwhelming.

When asked how she is able to do it all, Sarah responded, “I don’t know. I think I’m just holding on.”

She nervously laughs. “I am holding on by a thread I guess, it’s the second semester of junior year. Next year I am going to take AP art, IB art, more advanced art classes and just things I enjoy.”

This time-management superpower truly shows what makes her a superwoman.

When people think about art, they tend to only consider and analyze the masterpiece itself. However, when I speak with Sarah about each journey and challenge she faces as an artist, she reveals a behind-the-scenes depiction of the art world, much different from what is displayed on the canvas.

Grogan mentions alone time, and how she copes with spending so many hours solely with her paintings.

“It gets lonely. It’s not too bad right now because of school and art classes, so I am usually surrounded by other students. Sometimes I spend four hours consecutively working.”

However, Sarah has found fun ways to escape the painting bubble and makes sure to spend a lot of time with friends in the big city on days when she needs a break from the studio. Grogan confesses, “I like going into Philly, and I take classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and Moore University. Since I am already there, I visit galleries and museums.”

Like most people, Sarah experiences moments of self-doubt, and she explains one of her deepest struggles after finishing a painting: “I feel that this applies to all artists. Sometimes I [finish] a painting … and it is almost like a breakout piece. But then I do another one and it is not as good as my last one, and I think will I ever do better than my last painting? I must constantly work against that thought and just keep [improving my art]. Sometimes the process is very long, and I must delay it [because of my schedule]. However, when I delay the process, I lose momentum, and it becomes hard for me to get back on track. And then I’m stuck and have to force myself to continue. When I am finally finished, I think Woohoo! This is great! And the cycle repeats.”

Another challenge that Sarah faces is one to which many can relate: focusing on carving out a path when preparing to enter college. Grogan is what some call an anomaly: she is not only talented in art, but also in music. Sarah had to make a decision this year to narrow down and focus on either painting or the flute—but not on both equally.

Sarah explains her decision process: “Music is pretty much a hobby for me. I like playing my guitar … I have been taking music pretty seriously since freshman year. I actually wanted to do it professionally. Right now, I am feeling a switch. At the beginning of the school year, I took the flute more seriously [and took] summer programs [for it.]”

Still, Sarah decided to focus mostly on art this year, explaining, “art is more of a natural thing for me. I haven’t pushed myself to the point where I do not enjoy [it] yet. It doesn’t feel like work. When I work hard for many hours, it doesn’t feel like that because I really like [painting]. But when it comes to music, especially when I see the competitive environment, I find that I put a lot more work into music than I do into my art, yet art is still more of a natural thing [for me].”

As our discussion shifts to Sarah’s future, we speak a lot about how she defines her own success. Grogan explains success as “being comfortable with who I am and what I am doing. The deciding factor of my [pursuit as an artist] is [that] I like it so much to the point where I would be fine if I did not make an [large] income. It does not bother me that I will not make the most money in the world. I will be happy if I do art [regardless.] Also, [I hope to] learn more and maybe pick up another instrument. [I want to] constantly be learning and growing and moving.”

Curious about criticism, I ask Sarah if she ever experiences the “haters.” Grogan responds to my Taylor Swift-esque question with an air of maturity: “I realize that everyone has their own opinions of their art. If I look at another artist and do not like their style, I can still appreciate it as a good piece of art. Hopefully, this is the way that other people can look at my art. Maybe portraits, the colors, or the palette [are not their thing], but they can still appreciate that I did it well. That is what I am hoping the [viewers] will find. But I was never really insecure about my art. Maybe it is because I have been validated ever since I was young. People have been supporting me for a while, so I think I have built up that confidence. I can look in the series of my previous art, and just see the progression for myself. It doesn’t really matter if people do not like it because I can tell that I am [improving].”

With her experience working as an artist, a musician, and a successful student altogether, I ask Sarah for some advice. She directs her wisdom to those working to achieve their goal and discovering their talents, “Just try it. Research and find people that you [enjoy] and [who inspire you.] It is hard, especially when starting out, to carve out the path that you want and what you [hope] to [acquire] from the talent, so find people that you really enjoy and people who you want to be like. That is the thing that pushed me towards art. Talk to people. Find people who inspire you to continue on your path to pursuing your talent.”

Sarah is on a quest to follow her own dreams, and not just to achieve them, but to most importantly enjoy the journey.