Blakeney Sanford is one of those women you meet and you immediately want to know more about her. There is something inspiring about her presence, an individuality, a creative depth that draws you in. And then you see her work...her magical reflection of the feminine, of nature, of modern mixed with the past and now you want to know even more about her! Blakeny works with all sorts of different mediums; she paints, she builds installations, she designs, she sculpts, she pretty much does it all!! We are honored to be having our wreathing class at Alma Rosa Tasting Room in which Blakeny and her father designed. The space makes you feel like you are outdoors and appreciating nature all the while you feel warm and cozy. Below is our interview with Blakeny, we hope it inspires you as much she inspires us! See more of Blakeny's work at www.blakeneysanford.com and follow her on instagram @blakeneysanford.
WHS: Please tell us about your childhood. Have you always been artistic?
Blakeny: My childhood was full of travel, nature, family and friends, all ripe ingredients for inspiration. Being an artist was not only something I wanted to be, it was something I was. I have forever identified myself as a creative person. Maybe this was because I was always encouraged or told that I was but I also think it was because I felt it inside. As an only child, I spent my childhood years in the presence of adults, surrounded by creatives: winemakers, chefs, authors, filmmakers, writers, painters, sculptors and entrepreneurs. Following one’s passion was never a question. Limitations were foreign to me because my role models didn’t acknowledge them. I learned through my parents’ hard work and dedication that you could always figure out a way to make something happen. I was taught to be inventive, creative and resourceful.
WHS: We know you help create the beautiful space for the tasting room. Please tell us about how your vision developed and how you made it happen.
BS: The vision for the space was born out of a lifetime in the wine industry. The first tasting room my parents built was in a derelict dairy barn that we adapted to work as an office and tasting space. The windows were made of 2x4’s and plastic to keep the wind and rain out and the small rooms were heated by wood stoves. Over the years, this dairy barn evolved into a beautiful, magical, sacred space where people could escape the craziness of their lives and the city and decompress while enjoying the fruits of my family’s labor. And then, as with all things, there came change and 33 years later we had to say goodbye to our beloved barn. However, this was an opportunity for an evolution, and in keeping with our connection to nature we decided to “take the ranch to town.” I collaborated with my Dad, a true dreamer and visionary, in the vision for the tasting room, imagining details large and small that would evoke a sophisticated sense of place, a grown up version of our treasured dairy barn. Buellton has evolved so much over my lifetime and our goal was to build a space that translated the soul of our special ranch, making it accessible for people coming to town. We worked with Blackbird Architects and together with our management team, we were able to bring our vision to fruition.
I had not worked as a creative on a building project before and man there were a lot of decisions to be made! This was challenging for me. Deadlines and expectations were difficult, but finding a creative way to bring ideas to fruition was exciting and part of the problem solving aspect that I love as an artist. What are your limitations? What are your resources? How can you adjust your vision to make something work?
Building a thoughtful, sustainably focused space was without question the priority. Every element, down to the last detail, has been thoughtfully implemented: the tables and benches are custom designed and fabricated from first-growth fir remains from a past winery project, denim insulation fills the walls and in the center of the room is an olive tree, the ultimate attempt to bring the outside in. The Rumford fireplace in the back of the tasting room is the hearth or the heart of the space, an efficient design that makes for a cozy gathering place.
Ultimately, we wanted to space to feel warm, inviting, un-intimidating and to be educational. My father is a winegrowing pioneer in the area and he wanted the space to be a non-judgmental learning environment for visitors who are curious about wine and the region that he helped establish, the Sta. Rita Hills Appellation.
WHS: So much of your work feels inspired by surfing, will you please tell us about your connection to the ocean?
BS: I find the ocean to be endless inspiration: color, light, texture, mystery, the unexplored literal edge of the continent. The ocean is in my blood, my grandfather and father were naval officers and my parent gravitated towards water when I was a child: lakes, ocean, rivers and creeks.
I find the ocean to be so cleansing. Seawater is so cleansing. It is like nectar, washing away the weight of life. Couple that with surf, gliding quietly across the ocean’s surface and I’ve found a recipe for joy. My family can attest that there is seldom a time that I feel as happy and grounded as when I finish a surf or take a dip in the sea.
This first body of work really came from the sea and I have made an effort to translate all that I gain from water into something that everyone can enjoy and be inspired by.
WHS: You work in so many different mediums, painting, sculpture, installations...How did you begin exploring these different mediums?
I have never felt limited in terms of mediums. My inspiration is really what drives this. I love working on developing my relationship with a medium and a style or a body of work, and then I get inspired in another direction.
Problem solving also drives a lot of this. I love calculations and figuring things out. Some of my best work has arrived when I have worked with what I have. There are times when my location or my resources create limitations and then I figure out how to work within these boundaries and this introduces me to different mediums.
Typically I have an inspiration and then I set out to find or invent materials to bring the vision to fruition. This blue resin series evolved in this way. I had the vision to create an environment that evoked the feeling of being on a wave or under water. I envisioned using translucent panels in various shades of blue. Having rebuilt a sailboat, I knew that resin could help me achieve this so I invented a way to create the panels, pouring each and every one of them myself. I have really spent this first part of my professional career focused on this Blue Resin series. I am now in a time of transition. Who knows what will come!
WHS: Is there a different creative process for each medium?
BS: I’d say instead that there is a different creative process for each inspiration.
Let’s be real. Being an artist is not an easy career choice. It is not glamorous. Or stable. Or safe. It is rugged and tiring and painful and emotional. But it is also joyful and inspiring and beautiful. (Did someone say manic?)
That childhood bliss of knowing I was creative and the strong message from my parents that I could do anything was steered in other directions as I became an adult in the world, with the voices of self doubt and expectation ringing through my head. And so I distracted myself with other jobs and interests. Until I couldn’t anymore.
I found the courage to commit to my career through a wakeup call. I remember lying in a hospital bed and I had a vivid vision that I was 85. It happened so quickly, my life. And at 85, I had never actually done what I was here to do. Because I hadn’t had the courage to begin it. Because I believed that other people thought I should be doing something else. And I was ignoring this gift, this part of myself. And so with this vision, I realized that it was time to stop ignoring and to start creating.
At that time I had pursued other fields, primarily in education in the field of mathematics, which I loved. I loved being connected to people and inspiring young adults and supporting them. I would weave creativity into lessons and problem solving techniques, but I realized eventually that I was ignoring a very large part of myself. And so I felt like I didn’t have an option. If I continued to ignore myself, I would become sick again.
So, I committed to my career as an artist. I poured every ounce of my being and my resources into this. And became invigorated, fed, and I couldn’t stop. I made massive art, huge pieces that enveloped spaces, transforming people and their experiences. I felt no boundaries, nothing could stop me. And it felt so GOOD!
And then, six years later I burned out. I had given all that I could. I was maxed. Every ounce of me was exhausted. The thought of creating made my stomach hurt. And I rejected it again, in the way that one might reject an old friend when they are upset, knowing that someday I would make amends. Because I have no option but to make amends with it. I tried very hard to plug into the system again. And this gave me rest in a sense. And I was able to be creative in a different way and to learn, building the beautiful tasting room and documenting other people’s projects through photography and videography. And this worked for awhile. This distracted me and entertained me in a different way. But there was a voice that returned. Arriving softly, and becoming louder. And eventually, there was no denying it. NOT making art became unbearable.
And so here I am again. Trying to meld my worlds. Taking the knowledge that I have gained from stepping away and putting that back into my work. And this time around I do not know what will come of it. Inevitably it will be new work, a new series, a new direction. And so I go on, with courage and with faith and with dreaming and believing, trusting in the process.
WHS: What is next for you and your work?
BS: I am trying to get back into a creative routine. I am working on a few commissions and as a creative consultant on a few outside projects. This gives me flexibility and time to allow for inspiration, which is arriving in many forms: painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, small-scale work, large-scale work and more... My husband Bennett and I are also working on some collaborative projects with wood, photography and videography.
WHS: If someone feels inspired to create, what advice would you give them?
BS: Trust yourself, give yourself space, arrive without expectation, be gentle on yourself, and get out of your own way!
It is so easy to make excuses. I find myself doing this all the time. I’ve thought, ‘maybe if I had a bigger studio or a specific space or an organized office or more time or a different paintbrush or another kind of paper, then I could create.’ The reality is, I often create better just using what I have, in unassuming places and beautiful unexpected work emerges. I’ve tried big, idyllic artist studios: no luck. I’ve tried tiny spaces: super success. Believe me, your creative space can be anywhere, the kitchen counter, the living room floor, your back yard, and you can make art with anything.
Everything that you have done in your life, up to this point, will contribute to what you create. Your jobs, your experiences, your inspirations, your highs and your lows are all part of the beauty that you will bring into this world. Enjoy it!