Career counselors sometimes advise people to think back to what they loved doing as a child. Those early passions can give hints to lifelong strengths and proclivities.
That’s certainly the case for Sarah Hamlett, an artist and senior designer with Catherine French Design in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who recently debuted a collection of paintings and related accessories with Splashworks, a wall art and accessories company in High Point. The new collection of about 30 pieces features abstract color studies and saturated paintings of flora and fauna. Decor News Now met Hamlett and Splashworks owner Tom Van Dessel in the company’s gallery space to talk to them about their collaboration.
“I’ve been creating and drawing since I can remember,” Hamlett says. “At one time, I wanted to be an architect. For a while, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I would draw houses and draw people in outfits. … Both my parents were artists and they encouraged all of that. They’d let me do murals on the walls.”
Hamlett likes playing around with her art and works in a variety of styles. She might create a Jackson Pollock-inspired work with paint splashes and drips one day, a traditional portrait another day or — going back to those large-scale paintings her parents encouraged — a mural.
But the colorful paintings for Splashworks well represent her current work.
“I’m a little on the quirky, weird side. I’m a colorful person and I love bright colors that make people happy,” she says. “I want people to walk in and see my paintings and think, ‘That makes me happy.’”
“This is your brights period,” Van Dessel says, chiming in.
Throwing herself into her art
When Hamlett was old enough to start working over the summers, a former junior high school art teacher hired her to paint enormous canvases for a company she’d started. “She would lay out these canvases on the floor and we’d get down on our hands and knees and just paint. They were essentially backdrops for photographers. So, I spent my summers throwing paint around. I loved it, though now I have terrible knees and wrists,” she says with a wry laugh.
Hamlett planned to study interior design in college but it wasn’t the right fit for her at the time and she went back the scenic backdrop company, working there for more than a decade. Lots of life happened during that time — marriage, kids — and the company eventually moved its operations to China. “I was sad because I thought it was the best job in the world but that’s when I decided to go back to school,” she says. She earned a two-year degree in interior design, working first for an architectural engineering firm (recall her childhood drawings of houses) and then joined Catherine French Design about five years ago.
Through it all, she kept painting, often on the kitchen table, though she now has a dedicated studio space for when she has time to get out a canvas and paints. More frequently, she creates on her iPad, using Apple’s Procreate app. “I get out my little Apple pencil and start drawing away,” she says. “It has hundreds of brushes — an oil brush, a watercolor brush, a dry brush — that all give you the same effect as the real thing. I love it because I can do it anywhere. If I’m tired after a long day at work, I just plop down on the couch with a glass of wine, get the iPad and go to my happy place.”
Hamlett brings her artist’s eye to her work at Catherine French Design. Her bio on the firm’s website describes her this way: “A creator all of her life, Sarah is an artist herself and focuses her talent and vision into every part of her work. With a background in scenic painting, Sarah brings together beautiful, inspired spaces for each and every client.”
As part of her design work, Hamlett will sometimes create custom art for a client’s home, as does firm founder Cat French, whose also is an artist.
She recalls an unusual custom installation for a client who loves American abstract painter Mark Rothko. “He wanted a board in his home office where he could write things down with dry erase markers but something beautiful. So, I created a giant canvas and we had a carpenter frame it into the wall with wood and top it with a piece of glass. (The client) can write all over it during the day, erase it and always underneath is a beautiful piece of art.”
A collaboration is born
Hamlett’s interior design work first introduced her to Splashworks. She and French visited the company during a High Point x Design event and started using the company to turn original pieces the two designers had created digitally into wall art for the firm’s clients.
“I love Splashworks because it’s affordable art,” Hamlett says. “Original art is wonderful. It’s beautiful. But not everybody can afford an $8,000 original. This gives people a custom piece they can afford.”
Around Christmastime last year, Van Dessel recalls, “I said, ‘Sarah, I really like what I’ve seen coming through as commissioned pieces for your clients. Would you be interested in putting together a collection for us to show at (April High Point) Market?’”
Van Dessel was drawn to Hamlett’s skill and creativity with color. “You can see Sarah’s background as a designer (in her paintings),” he says. “She does a phenomenal job with color combinations and, to me, that’s a skill good designers have.”
She’d never shown her work in a gallery before but she and Van Dessel pulled paintings from her personal collection and she created a few new pieces to reproduce in time for market. The paintings and a clutch of pillows are still on display at Splashworks’ gallery space. You can see more of her work on Instagram (@sarah.e.hamlett).
Splashworks uses dye sublimation printing on a variety of fabrics, matching the style of the art to the material. Hamlett’s wall art is printed on the company’s Felix, a fabric with a soft, velvety hand that enhances the color saturation of her paintings.
Hamlett is accustomed to seeing her work in a client’s home but she acknowledges the thrill she got from attending an opening reception at Splashworks.
“It was so fun to stand back and watch everyone and hearing them say, ‘Oh, I love this.’ ‘Look at the lines on this.’ ‘Look at the colors on this one,’” she says.
“I just enjoy creating beautiful things, and I want to evoke a bit of emotion, not just have people see a painting covering space on a wall,” she continues. “Whether it’s color studies or florals, I just want someone to look at my painting and feel joyful.”