Moving shadows are cast on the walls by the low winter sun glinting through the window, which together with the watchful gaze from Sarah Sharpe’s paintings and prints creates an almost dreamlike atmosphere in her home.
The artist is busy fetching hot drinks which allows me a quiet moment to enjoy the contemplative work all around.
Her studio, which is in a conservatory to the side of the rambling Victorian house, has a Miss Havisham quality about it, with ruched net curtains draped dramatically across the room and armfuls of artists’ materials everywhere.
When Sarah returns with the coffee she tells me with a grin that normally the studio is not as neat as this as she has tidied up especially for me.
“I am quite a messy artist and tend to spread myself all over the house but I do try to work mostly in here,” she said, pointing out that the family haven’t changed the room since they moved into the Sheffield house 16 years ago.
“I do sometimes consider what it would be like if we had new windows and took down those curtains but actually I quite like it as it is,” she added.
Sarah, a member of the Peak District Artisans, was born and brought up in Sheffield and says she has always been a maker of things
She remembers as a child going to an art club in Graves Gallery, but she didn’t study art seriously until she was in her late 30s having started work as a nurse and later a counsellor while bringing up her family of three children.
It was while she was a counsellor that Sarah realised what she really wanted was to be an artist.
In part her decision was brought about by her need to work from home so she could care for her middle child, 21-year-old Edward, who suffered a brain injury as a baby.
“He will always need to be cared for and it has been a huge personal challenge for me, but one which has helped me choose a way of life I might not otherwise have had and I feel very blessed about that.
“I was always painting and sewing but I thought being an artist was too much of a nice thing to actually do – much too indulgent. Now I am, and it is just a different world.”
Sarah’s distinctive, award-winning work is created from her imagination and is inspired by people and nature, but mostly by women. Much of her work features mothers and their children or characters from fairy tales and books such as Jane Eyre and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“I try to capture their personal stories. I love to imagine what a character may have felt or looked like – I really do like to get into their minds as the spiritual side of things has always interested me.
“The gaze of my subjects is always a significant part of my work as their eyes somehow tell the story.
“To be honest I find inspiration all around me in a poem, a snatched conversation or something unexpected, such as the time an owl fell down my chimney. It took me by surprise and we spent several minutes looking at each other. He will end up in a painting at some stage.”
The artist has even painted a charming, peaceful picture of a mouse she found dead on the floor of her studio.
For the past year Sarah has teamed up with an artist friend Kay Aitch working on a project called Analysis of the Woods. One day each week the pair immerse themselves in Eccleshall Woods in the city and the resulting work will be exhibited at the Great Sheffield Art Show.
“Creating art is normally a personal, solitary experience and I have really enjoyed working on this project with Kay, it has been an absorbing experience,” she said.
Sarah’s work can be seen at the Sir Richard Morris Lounge in Derby’s Cathedral Centre until the end of January and at the Peak District Artisans’ exhibition at Chatsworth from January 6. She has work in the Small Print International touring exhibition which will be at Gallerytop in Rowsley from January 7-February 12.
For more details go to http://www.sarahsharpe-art.co.uk