The author and her family own and operate a 570-cow Holstein and Jersey dairy near Berlin, Pa.
From almost the first time she picked up a pencil as a child, Sarah Williams has been capturing real-life images on paper. Instead of taking notes in class, she would fill up notebooks with drawings, always improving her skills. Today, she creates original works of art while balancing life as a busy dairy farmer’s wife and as a mom.
Located in south central Wisconsin, Williams and her husband, along with her mother-in-law, own and operate a 60-cow dairy on 80 acres. With her three young children, she helps with morning chores, calf and heifer care, and “odds and ends” while still making time for her art business.
A family of artists
Williams creates intricate sketches of animals, tack, and landscapes featuring churches, windmills, and barns. “Art runs in my family, and my parents were very encouraging of my drawing,” she said. One grandmother was a painter, a grandfather was a cartoon artist, and another grandfather sketched as well.
She received her first professional pencil set from a horse trainer and mentor whom she worked for during high school vacations. Sixteen years later, she still has some of those pencils but has also branched out into colored pencils, charcoal, pastel pencils, and acrylic paints.
“Graphite was always my go-to medium until I took the plunge and purchased my first set of professional colored pencils only a few years ago,” she said. “I’ve been hooked ever since, though I can’t say if I prefer one over the other — I have become comfortable drawing with both.”
While Williams admits that horses are her first love, having cattle close by has allowed her to expand her skills to include dairy cattle, steers, and even buffalo.
“I only planned on drawing horses, but when people started asking me to draw dogs, I found out I could draw dogs and other animals just like I could horses and I never looked back,“ Williams said. “You have to challenge yourself if you want to grow in any business. Now, most of the custom pieces I draw are of dogs or horses, but I’ve also drawn cats, cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, houses, landscapes, people, and farmscapes.”
She has expanded her inspiration to creating custom pieces for clients who send her photos of their animals. Many clients ask her to create a “memorial piece” for pets that have passed away, and these can take from a couple of days up to a couple of months, depending on the final size and the medium she works with.
“Being able to create a keepsake to help a person remember an animal that they loved is extremely meaningful, and I’m honored to be entrusted with such a task,” she said. “I didn’t intend to focus on memorial pieces; I think that’s just where my clients led me. Pets become part of our families, whether it’s a horse, cow, dog, cat, or hamster.”
Though she has been sketching most of her life, Williams only decided in 2016 to go public with her art. Looking for a way to bring in extra income, and with encouragement from family and friends, she posted some of her previous work on an equine Facebook page.
“It was really just for kicks,” she said. “I never really expected it to take off so quickly, not to mention to grow like it has.”
She admits that balancing family, farm, home, and art can be tricky. Some days she can draw for several hours, and some days there isn’t time for any drawing. “Juggling it all is a constant challenge, but I love it,” she said. “I get the best of both worlds — my art and working from home where I can be with my kids.”
Details help deliver results
Attention to detail — the hair on a steer’s face, the individual whiskers on a pony’s nose, and the design of a saddle or harness — bring Williams’ sketches almost to life.
“I love being unique with my artwork, as does every artist out there, but I truly strive to bring something new to the table with every original piece I create,” she said. “Drawing tack on a horse is probably one of my favorites; creating the cracks in bridle leather or the tooling in a saddle is challenging and it draws out the realism in a piece. It’s the little details that count.”
Williams takes many photos as she goes about her farm life and her travels, or even as she finds time to ride her own horse, to use as inspiration for future artwork.
“Sometimes when an idea hits me, I have to sketch it out and go from there,” she said. “Most of the work I do is custom and requires photos from my clients, but a lot of times, I take my own photos for my original works like my sunset and silhouette paintings.”
She plans to continue to expand her portfolio with original pieces and still create artwork for clients as well. She only attends one public event to showcase her originals, the Midwest Horse Fair, and instead uses social media as a primary way to spread the word about her art.
“All of my client drawings hold a special place in my heart, specifically for the fact that most of them are memorial pieces, but there are several that were really hard to let go of,” she said. “I’ve received some amazing messages from clients after they’ve received their drawing, but the videos I’m sent of the recipient seeing it for the first time as a surprise from a friend or family member are the most touching.”