Painter Sarah Madeira Day goes full-time
“Maine is a fiercely beautiful place that’s constantly changing,” says painter Sarah Madeira Day. “We get four pretty incredible seasons that offer equally incredible landscapes.” Those ever-shifting landscapes have long inspired Day’s eye for art and design.
Day comes from a long line of artists and designers, including her father, grandmother and aunts, who’ve spent their lives renovating and designing homes with their own unique styles. Day grew up in Southwest Harbor, admiring the design of Mount Desert Island’s historic Claremont Hotel, which her father has managed for the last three decades. She also draws creative inspiration training for long-distance runs along Maine’s coastline, often snapping photos along the way to use as inspiration for her paintings.
She first sold work at her senior art show at Wheaton College and “puttered along from there,” creating a couple of commissioned pieces a year. “It was always just bonus cash and a good exercise to remind myself that my super expensive education wasn’t a total loss,” she says. Like many other 30-somethings, Day has pursued a variety of careers and jobs since college, from waitressing, working as an editorial assistant and, most recently, as a part-time design assistant for e4 Interior Design in Cumberland and part-time event manager for The Refinery Events and Marketing in Camden.
This past May, after having a child and realizing that “growing up was happening,” Day decided to return to her art and pursue painting full time. “Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Guy Raz and his intoxicating stories of entrepreneurial heroism in ‘How I Built This,’ but I figured it was time I gave the painting thing a real try,” Day says. “I cleaned up my neglected website, moved all the crap around in my house to designate one room as my studio and started painting.”
She keeps her eye on market trends, including the “big art” trend for large-scale prints and gallery walls and clients who want “finished framed artwork at an affordable price point that ships to you for free.” That latter service, offered by companies like Minted, Artifact Uprising and Framebridge, is hard to compete with as a small fish in a big sea. “My hope is to create original art that I can sell at an affordable price point with the bonus of offering the finishing process,” she says. “I can’t compete with a Minted or Framebridge, but I can offer an original piece of art that comes to you ready to hang.” She offers clients the choice of using Framebridge or a custom frame that her husband Wes builds.
Day has also carved out her own niche in another market trend: tiny art. She makes 4-by-4 inch and 5-by-5 inch paintings that are affordable and easy to produce, offering buyers an original framed canvas painting for as little as $20. “I want to make art for everyone, whether you have $40 to spend or no budget at all. To me, art is as important as music. We need it in our lives.” She cites a recent 4-by-4 painting of Crescent Beach, created as a wedding gift for friends, as a piece she loves. “I made it very quickly and without many corrections. For the most part, pieces made this way seem to be my favorites.”
In addition to growing her business organically via word of mouth, Day uses Instagram to reach a broader audience. “I love that anyone around the world can view your work and it’s mainly pictures,” she says. She recently launched an Instagram giveaway of one of her paintings in exchange for followers sharing her page. As a result, she got three commissions and 80 new followers. Day has also sought out local businesses to inquire about showing her art, and her work is currently on display at Black Cat Coffee in Portland and Riverside Butcher Company in Damariscotta.
Day mixes her love for art with her passion and eye for design. She and her husband recently bought and renovated a 1729 Cape in Cumberland Foreside, a property in need of serious TLC. The project has been an undertaking, including knocking down ceilings and walls and opening up the space to expose 200-year-old timber beams, but Day says it has been worth the effort. She says the key to renovating and decorating a home is being savvy about decision-making. “Set a budget and pick your battles: if you can do something yourself, do it.” When designing interior spaces, she suggests “mixing and matching the new with the old, the expensive with the inexpensive, the colorful with the neutral and so on. It’s all about balance. Spend your time and money on things you love and will use.”
One DIY project she is proud of is their upstairs bathroom, which they renovated for under $2,500. “We hunted down a plain white base from Jet.com for $288, an undermount sink from Mr. Direct for $60, a cross handle faucet from Signature Hardware for $190 and leather pulls from Etsy for $23.85.” They also scored a deal on a scrap piece of marble countertop from Wes’ dad’s company, Bangor Wholesale Laminates. “Most of our house was addressed this way, making it work with a tight budget,” she says. We take simple things and try to find a way to highlight them. White walls always help, and finish work that is done properly. You can make anything look pretty sharp when you take away the clutter and display it in a simple, clean room.”
Day hopes to eventually combine her art and design interests into one business venture, and she dreams of working alongside Wes, whose DIY building knowledge and handiness pair nicely with her vision for interior design. “It would be wonderful to be both an artist and renovator and work with my husband full time,” she says. “You can always wish for a candy jar and, at the least, hope you end up with a solid handful of Swedish fish.”
To learn more about Sarah Madeira Day and her work, see her website:
www.sarahmadeiraday.com. Also be sure to follow her on Instagram: @sarahmadeiraday
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.