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Art Scene – Sarah Reed

Sarah Reed grew up in a small town near Detroit, Michigan. Her father was her first inspiration, and she considers him the best artist that she knew growing up. “He taught me how to draw and what to look for when I create something, like what shapes make up an object and how different colors interact with each other in shading. Since then, I have grown and brought my own style to the table, but I wouldn’t be who I am without him.”

Sarah originally started out as a traditional fine artist and sometimes joined the community theatre productions in her area. In high school, when she was introduced to scenic art, she got to combine theatre and her art together. Every year, she painted the scenery for her high school’s productions.

Sarah earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in scenic design at Western Michigan University and then moved here to work on her master’s degree in fine arts in scenic design at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. The reason why she picked UMKC for graduate school? “I attended a career fair event where I interviewed with multiple graduate schools. I talked with my current UMKC professor, along with a past student, and what really stood out was their passion for the program and the city and how traditional art practices were important to them. That stuck with me and helped me make a decision to join UMKC’s program the following year.”

Sarah loves bringing different styles of art together, including the mix of realistic images with highly stylized patterns and organic shapes. She also enjoys drawing people. “We have a life drawing class in my current program at UMKC, and each year I’m trying to push myself to be more experimental with color and movement while we focus on a live model. This class has definitely helped me to become a better artist and has influenced my style as a designer.”

Her process in designing a set starts with reading a script or discussing a concept and then talking about the overall vision with the director for the production or project. After the first meeting, she does her research on style and creates some initial sketches and models. This could be a physical or a digital white model of the set or a simple line drawing of the project. Then she spends a good amount of time sampling color and texture before any final decisions on the design are made. “This is the aspect of my work that I love the most. When I add color, it’s like I’m bringing to life my design, and it gets me the most excited about the project. Hopefully, the director or employer is pleased when I move on to the process of actually creating it.”

According to Sarah, to be a theater production designer means making the overall look of the show through color, texture, and style. But she also considers herself lucky to have had the opportunity to work on different types of projects such as murals, art installations, and film. “It’s hard to keep my art completely separate from something I’m creating, and you’ll usually see a bit of my ‘soul’ in everything I do.” 

Artists Sarah Reed and Cara Spencer painted Phoenix and Flowers in Graffiti Attic in Union Station Kansas City. 

Artist Sarah Reed posed in front of scenery for Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare In Love.

Paris Opera curtain in blue

Yet, COVID-19 has severely impacted her work. “Because it is unsafe to gather in large groups, theatre has been put on hold until we can find a way to safely operate. So many people in the entertainment field have been impacted, which is something to think about when you’re binging on your favorite show or listening to your favorite musical. Most likely, these people are without jobs. Theatres around the city are struggling to keep their doors open and don’t know when they can have performances again.”

Theatre will always be Sarah’s passion, but recently she has been studying different avenues where she can make it more accessible to everyone while staying safe. She has started looking into designing for virtual reality. “I think it has so much potential for my industry and I’m excited to explore it more in this upcoming year.”

Sarah has been working on murals for a couple of years, and her training as a scenic artist and designer has helped her immensely. “It’s definitely one of my favorite types of projects to get hired for. Going back to my obsession with color, I tend to bring a lot of it into my murals as well as play with contrast and line. I’m comfortable working in a lot of different art styles so all my murals are very different. Besides painting, I think my favorite part of working on a mural is the people I paint with and meeting new people through the project. I’ve had the honor of working with some amazing artists here in the city, and I hope it continues.”

Old masters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet have influenced Sarah due to their use of color and textured brush strokes. But one artist who has inspired her is Alphonse Mucha, who was part of the Art Nouveau movement in Paris. “His work is gorgeous and breathtaking with his use of color, shape, and realism. I’m currently helping to create a mural influenced by one of his works.” 

Lucid Dreams

Some production/scenic designers who she admires are Derek McLane and Scott Pask, who are Broadway designers of shows such as Moulin Rouge and The Band’s Visit. “Their incorporation of style and texture is incredible.” 

Sarah feels there are so many amazing artists in Kansas City. “I am constantly blown away by the amount of talent and creativity as well as how nice and welcoming everyone has been to a random girl from Michigan. I have learned so much from them and my current MFA program. I have grown more confident in my style as an artist, and the techniques I have learned will help me with any job. Depending on where my work takes me, I may not be here for a long time. But I will always have a love in my heart for this city, and I will stay for as long as I can!”

Also featured in the September 19, 2020 issue of The Independent
By Ann Slegman

Ann Slegman

Ann Slegman has thoroughly enjoyed her various positions at The Independent since she started in 2006. She has been the managing editor and editor and is now a contributing writer for the magazine. She and her husband, Tom, are parents of two adult children who live in Brooklyn, David and Kate. Ann enjoys reading, traveling, playing tennis, bridge and Mahjong, watching Netflix shows, and walking her Havanese dog, Morris. She has written a novel, Return to Sender, and a collection of poems, Conversation.


Bailey Pianalto Photography


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