Sara Alex Mullen knew she had found her artistic calling when she made the final brushstroke on her first landscape painting. The local artist has been painting for 15 years, but discovered her real affinity for capturing the Canadian outdoors while taking courses at the Ottawa School of Art in 2009. Luckily for us, over the last two years Mullen has made painting a professional focus. Mullen is represented in Ottawa’s Santini Gallery and is a rising star within the Capital’s artistic community.
For those who have not already been struck by the elastic contours or piqued by the energetic colours, Mullen’s landscapes evoke the spirit of the land from which they come.
“I paint classic Canadian landscapes and I like finding my inspiration in my everyday surroundings.” says Mullen. “To describe it I would say I’m Impressionistic–using bold strokes and vibrant colours.”
To anyone who’s been to a Canadian art gallery, these landscapes may recall the work of the Group of Seven painters, and rightly so.
“I love the Group of Seven,” says Mullen. “I love how they show so much underpainting through. I cover more of my canvas but I’m definitely inspired by them.” Underpainting, as the name suggests, is the process of layering the stages of a painting, gradually adding detail to the base colours which block out the scene’s compositions. The Group of Seven is famous for leaving chunks of these base shades visible underneath the detail, creating a collage of complementary colours. While Mullen’s local scenes recall this impressionistic approach, her work exudes a more youthful tone, with unrestrained brushstrokes and splashes of turquoise and yellow.
For her, finding inspiration in the everyday means never leaving the house without her camera. Working by photograph in her studio, Mullen then sits down to sketch and underpaint. Often planning the painting is what takes the longest, Mullen says.
“I like to put a lot of energy in my pieces so I like to complete a painting in one sitting. I try to paint different moods of nature and my mood is often reflected in the painting.” This kinetic energy visible in her work has becomes her signature, and her paintings owe their captivating quality to it. “I find if I pick up on a different day I have a different energy and it comes out disjointed,” she says.
Looking at Mullen’s paintings, you can trace her instinctive and intuitive process in every brushstroke. Mullen mixes colours before even setting brush to canvas, picking and choosing what to use as she goes. Painting with a limited colour palette of only four to five colours, and simplifying her scenes down to variations of the two main hues lets her kinetic and bravely intuitive energy shine from within the art’s surface.
“Once I sketch from the photograph, I never look at it again. Instead I paint based on my instinct and intuition, recalling my interpretation of colours from the live moment or letting my artistic senses take over,” says Mullen.
Mullen’s exciting career is expanding through a recent commission for 16 paintings by the new Opinicon resort, nestled among the Rideau Lakes. Her vibrant landscapes will be hanging above the fireplaces in each of the resort’s newly renovated guest rooms. The quiet but poignant energy that they exude makes Mullen’s work the perfect fit for the historic site’s reopening.
Another exciting spot on Mullen’s horizon is an event of her own organizing—a New Edinburgh Studio Tour (NEST). From September 17 to 18, Mullen, along with a dozen other neighbourhood artists, will be opening her studio to the public to give them a glimpse behind closed doors, and enjoy a free chance to engage with the artists in their space.
“Studio tours are a great way to engage with the public in a new way and make new connections with artists in the neighbourhood,” Mullen says. For this rising star, being active in the community and looking for opportunities to grow and evolve is an important key to her success.
For budding artists, she offers sage advice. “Study the art that you love. I spent a lot of time in the museum just studying Group of Seven paintings – looking at every brushstroke, dissecting them, thinking ‘how can I recreate that or interpret it?’” She suggests seeking out opportunities to grow, to challenge yourself, and engage with what’s around you.
With such a bright future, it looks like this young artist’s career is only just getting started. Mullen’s story can stand as a valuable lesson to those hoping for similar success. With such a positive attitude, obvious talent, and cheerful ambition, it’s no wonder that Ottawa is responding so well to the charming achiever. Needless to say, we wish the artist luck on her future plans, and will be keeping an eye out for more news of her success.
As well as her position in the Santini Gallery on Preston Street in Little Italy, Sara Alex Mullen and her body of work is taking flight on social media. You can find her online at saraalexmullen.com, on Instagram and on Facebook for sneak peeks of upcoming works.