Painting a path of her own

Katie Kowalski,
Posted 8/1/17

Áine Sandford says her upcoming art show at the Spice & Tea Exchange will be like walking into a room in her head.

“The whole room’s going to be dripping in color and texture,” the …

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Painting a path of her own


Áine Sandford says her upcoming art show at the Spice & Tea Exchange will be like walking into a room in her head.

“The whole room’s going to be dripping in color and texture,” the 24-year-old artist said.

Sandford said she’ll be working on the show up until opening Aug. 5, and imagines having paintings large and small, of different styles and different mediums. Sketches and drawings on scraps of paper will be mixed with trinkets and other things that inspire her, she said. Many of the paintings may still be wet when she hangs them.

“I’m going to just enjoy every single second of this process,” Sandford said.


Sandford, who has been in and out of art and graphic design schools since high school, moved to Port Townsend from Boulder, Colorado, about a year ago to be closer to her family. She started working at Better Living Through Coffee in November, and when she wasn’t behind the counters of one of the busiest coffee shops around, she found herself on the other side, alongside coffee-drinking customers, painting watercolor cards.

Watercolor is a new medium for Sandford, who has in the past been an oil painter only, working on large canvases. Turning to watercolor developed out of a necessity; she didn’t have a way to transport those canvases or immediately afford the amount of oil paints needed to cover them.

On each card, she would practice a different watercolor technique.

“It was fun – it was difficult,” she said of the new medium.

“I rely so much on heavy texture created by thick oil that it was really hard to paint with watercolor. So, it taught me more about creating depth in perspective, instead of relying on texture.”

Sandford started selling the originals, which became a way of letting go of each attempt at something new. “It was a really nice way to discard,” she said, laughing at the unintended pun.


While working at Better Living, she caught the eye not only of business-owning customers who wanted to help promote her work, but also of coffee shop owner Ben Cook. Cook asked her if she’d like to design Better Living Through Coffee T-shirts and also invited her to paint the chalkboard mural that graces its entryway.

“She’s a very gifted individual,” Cook said. “She’s incredibly detail oriented; the longer you look at the [chalkboard] painting, the more you see,” he said.

“The chalkboard painting is like nothing I’ve ever done before,” said Sandford. The completed mural, painted with liquid chalk, represents about 15 hours of work done on site over a monthlong period.

“I really love painting in front of people,” she said. “Hearing life happen around me is really inspiring.”

Sandford especially enjoyed having kids watch her work. “It’s wonderful to see them mystified [about] something that I take for granted every day,” she said. “I’ve been trying and practicing for so many years that I forget how much work has gone into it. And they think it’s incredible.”


Sandford said her artistic process is to “just go for it, every time.”

“It drove my art professors nuts,” she said, laughing.

She’d jump right into the large-scale oil paintings without sketching out any idea beforehand. “I’ll just paint,” she said. “I do what feels right – I choose what colors and textures feel right.”

Her only foundation is to start with a skill she’s good at, like painting clouds. “I love clouds,” she said. “They could be anything, any shape; they can be any color. No sunset is the same.”

Relying on her skills, she’d make other elements of the painting work. “Everything – besides that skeleton of what I believe I can do – is just playing,” she said.

And if something doesn’t work out, she’ll improvise: An odd shape could become a tree. “Everything I make is from a mistake,” Sandford said. The process of letting go and treating art like meditation has also been a way to combat inner criticism. “I don’t project what I want [my art] to be. I let it form on its own.”


That artistic process, she said, mirrors the way she handles life, too. “Art has been my way of dealing with the world,” she said.

It’s become a way for her to communicate.

Growing up shy and struggling with mental health issues, she has found art to be her therapy. “It was a safe haven, and I think it still is today,” she said.

“My whole life, I have encountered many teachers, mentors and friends who pick on me for being shy.”

Being able to respond, “I’m an artist,” became armor, protection. While being shy is not socially acceptable, being an artist is, she said. “I find myself miscommunicating a lot with the world – it’s nice to have something that [communicates] for me.”


“If I could do anything, if I could have anything in this world, it would be a place – preferably my own – a nice healthy community, healthy land to run an artists’ retreat.”

Sandford imagines a place that would bring together people to camp out and create art under the stars.

She also hopes to get her work into a gallery someday, but with the state of galleries as they are, especially Port Townsend’s tourist-oriented ones, she’s not sure how she’ll make that happen.

“None of my work looks the same – that’s my main critique from the art world,” she said. “And they’re right. It doesn’t. And I don’t want it to be, because I don’t have a style yet.”

When an artist walks into a gallery and doesn’t have a clear, concise direction and vision for his or her work, that artist is turned away, Sandford said.

“I’m sure there are galleries out there who take young artists, but it is highly competitive and it’s a business,” she said. “Most galleries take 60-70 percent of your profit, and they’re betting on you. If they don’t think that you’re good enough to bet on, they’re not going to take up their space with you.”

While she finds fault with the system, she can’t help wanting to be a part of it. “It’s recognition,” she said. “It’s a gold medal in art to be included into that community.”

Right now, she’s not willing to compromise her eclectic, mismatched, colorful style, even though she’s tried.

“Maybe [getting into a gallery] is not right for me right now, but who knows what’s going to open up.”

Sandford’s show is to be on display at the tea shop, 929 Water St., through the end of the month. For more information about her work, visit


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