Our earliest memories – those that survive the test of time – often reveal bits of who we are and what we hold dear. For Sarah Knotz, her earliest memories are “visually inclined,” so it makes sense that the 30-year-old Ditmas Park resident is building a life and career around creating art – illustrations that reflect the same love of nature, texture, story, and playfulness that she surrounds herself with in life.
That combination has led to Knotz’s work catching the attention of educational and children’s publishers, and also, recently, the Montague Street Business Improvement District, which commissioned her to create a series of seasonally-inspired banners to adorn the lampposts along the popular commercial strip next to Brooklyn Borough Hall.
In considering the requirements for a seasonal theme and an overall narrative, Knotz said she thought about all of her favorite things about the seasons and what would capture the spirit of the area. “My first thought was to ask myself, what do I want to draw that will be compelling and eye-catching and have an impact,” she said. “So I thought that balloons and kites and birds would look really exciting and fun for the area.”
First created and displayed two years ago, the banners were such a hit that they were put up again this year. The autumn narrative – featuring people, animals, and young families taking turns sitting on a park bench – is currently on display.
“I really enjoyed doing [these] banners because they add to the environment in a positive way,” said Knotz, who describes her work as being inspired by printmaking, textual imagery, and things that have to do with the natural world.
That desire to create art that coexists with its surroundings, while also conveying a message or telling a story, has worked well so far due, she said, in no small part to the fact that she lives in Brooklyn. “My number one inspiration is New York and, particularly, Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m really into cities and nature in the cities. If I’m feeling uninspired, I just walk around a neighborhood I haven’t been to before.”
Other inspirations include her grandmother – “an amazing quilter who did intricate details and craftwork art forms” – and children’s books and graphic novels, particularly Allen Fay’s “Grandfather’s Journey” – full of history, comparing and contrasting a Japanese boy’s life in Japan and Southern California in the early 20th century – and Blexbolex’s “Seasons,” which utilizes texture and subject matter in unique ways.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Knotz “did a lot of painting and drawing” in high school and soon came up against her own comfort zone. “I reached a limit and wanted to study things outside my natural tendencies, so [next was] design,” she said. She majored in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design and then worked for a couple of years before getting her MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts and continuing her freelance illustration career, first from an apartment in Greenpoint, and then from her home studio in Ditmas Park.
Some of Knotz’s prints adorn her own walls, some she gives away, and some she sells on her Etsy site. Although she has done hand drawings and woodblock printmaking, her preferred technique is not to “sit down and draw from life” or from her head, so much as it is “to compose things on the computer.” “I draw my images in many layers, scan them, put them together in Photoshop, then do all the colors,” she explained. “So what you’re looking at is a 400-layer image.”
This method allows her to “think about what I want to say and then about a visually compelling way to do that,” and also allows her the freedom to “rearrange the elements I want to put in… experiment with one color next to one another and not be restrained by the material.”
Looking towards her future, Knotz said she wants to develop her style more, to continue “experimenting with other materials, maybe do more self-initiated projects, and push it further.”
While she pursues that, Knotz will continue to peruse new and favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Red Hook, with its “off the beaten path [charm] and little houses down by the water,” Prospect Park’s trails, live music, and room to hang out with friends, and, of course, Ditmas Park – “a great old Victorian neighborhood with amazing landscaping and colors.” “I’m sort of in love with it,” she admitted.
More of Sarah Knotz’s work can be found at www.sarahknotz.com and http://www.etsy.com/shop/SarahKnotz.